The Poverty of Conservatism

 

A continuing crisis plagues Arkansas. Like a snake eating its tail, poverty, addiction and mental illness, teen pregnancy, sexual violence against women, and low educational achievement perpetuate themselves as a result of entrenched conservative thinking. Costs for addressing these problems continue to skyrocket while the state’s earning power lingers near the bottom.

Where do we cut the snake?

Arkansas ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of poverty. In 2015, 19.1% percent of the state’s households—one fifth—have incomes below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.[1]  For 2016, the state’s population of 2,887,337 included 550,508 people living in poverty.[2]

In a direct correlation to the poverty rate, the state ranks 39 out of 50 states in how well students are educated.[3] The state slips further down the scale for persons 25 years of age when considering the following factors: Only 84.8% graduate high school. Only 21.1% obtain a bachelor’s degree, a ranking that puts Arkansas at 48th out of 50. And only 7.5% obtain graduate degrees, a rank of 49 out of 50.[4]

We hover near the bottom at 46 in terms of mental illness in a compilation of 15 factors including all ages, availability of treatment, and addiction rates.[5] Between 2010 and 2014, over one third of teens in need of mental health treatment did not receive it while over 53% of adults did not. Only 20% of Arkansas residents with drug dependence and 10% with alcohol dependence received treatment.[6]

The state consistently ranks in the top five for teen pregnancies with up to 80 births per 1000 occurring among teen girls ages 15 to 19. Of these, 60% are white, 27% are black, and 11% are Hispanic. Counties with the highest rates included Sevier, Nevada, Arkansas, St. Francis, Mississippi, Jackson, and Randolph.[7]

According to a 2014 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Children born to teen parents are more likely to enter the child welfare or juvenile justice systems and to become teen parents themselves. Every year, thousands of young Arkansans enter one or both systems. Research shows that, nationwide, the children of teen mothers are twice as likely to be placed in foster care as their peers born to slightly older parents. Sons of teen mothers are 2.2 times more likely to be incarcerated than the sons of mothers aged 20 to 21.[8]

The crisis becomes most apparent in the number of Arkansas children in foster care. From March 2015 to March 2016, the total number of available and in-use beds in foster homes increased from 2,801 to 3,306, but the number of foster children also increased, from 4,178 to 4,791. A 2016 report states that substance abuse by caregivers accounts for over 50% of children in foster care.[9]

Despite such high rates of teen pregnancies, many Arkansas school districts do not provide any sex education. Many others offer abstinence-only education including a virginity pledge (14 districts[10]), a ridiculous non-starter since census records show that over 52% of Arkansas teens are sexually active. Only seven school districts provide comprehensive sex education addressing contraceptives, sexually transmitted infection, abortion, and sexual orientation.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 37.4% to 38.5% of women in Arkansas experience at least one event of sexual violence during their lifetimes. These experiences include rape, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.[11] Among sexually active teens, 18% of females report acts of violence (being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose by someone they were dating) and 16% reported being raped.[12]

Are Arkansas citizens somehow genetically predisposed to suffer these conditions? Is it something in the water? Or might the answer be found in the conservative mindset of a majority of Arkansas citizens?

Arkansas ranks 5th in the number of churches per capita. Seventy percent of adults define themselves as ‘highly religious’ with 65% saying they pray daily and 77% saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.[13] The predominant religion practiced in Arkansas is Southern Baptist, a conservative Protestant sect which believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Predictably, any push for sex education and contraceptives in public schools provokes conservative outrage. By religious thinking, unwanted pregnancies serve as punishment for illicit sex. The burden borne by women in unwanted pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare is God’s retaliation for the sins of Eve. As stated in Southern Baptist doctrine, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”[14] Prevention either through birth control or abortion upends the natural order of things as ordained by God.

The prevailing idea of conservative parents is that talking about sex and especially advocating for birth control of any kind creates a permissive attitude wherein teens are more likely to have sex. Data clearly dispute this belief. But the refusal to accept widely accepted evidence about the effectiveness of sex ed fits perfectly with the greater mindset of religious conservatives: willful ignorance about any and all information that doesn’t square with religious teachings.

Under the belief that addiction or non-marital sexual activity are moral failings, many efforts to address non-marital sex, sexual abuse or substance abuse rely on faith-based programs. Yet as noted by a counselor with twenty years in faith-based addiction treatment, “Often times, Christian programs view the secular approach to recovery as counterproductive to their message and will often discredit and even disregard medical or empirical based advice to addiction recovery.”[15]

While embracing some aspects of modern science and the advances of civilization such as automobiles, cell phones, DVRs, and medical progress, conservatives refuse to acknowledge other key findings of our times. Early religions strictly regulated a woman’s sexual activity out of concern for proving paternity and reducing conflict between competing males, among other things.  None of that matters today. Genetic testing quickly solves questions of paternity. But religion has become so institutionalized its practitioners can’t back up far enough to consider its origins or usefulness.

There’s a blind adherence to the tradition of making babies as the primary goal in life.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that teen pregnancy leads to lack of education which in turn leads to poor employment opportunities, or that a state with a high rate of poorly educated adults won’t attract many employers. It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that poorly educated people with poor job opportunities are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol or suffer other forms of mental illness. Inadequate nutrition also plays a role, another cause and result of mental illness and poverty.

Further, an embattled position in poverty with subpar education leads people directly to unreasoned fear of Other—xenophobia and racism.

We have to start with the head of the snake. If we hold any hope of interrupting this vicious cycle, our state and national educational standards must require sex education. Such requirements must be imposed even in private, religious, and home school settings.

The requirements can’t stop there. All children must be required to learn the basics of science, history, political science, and other fields that serve as major elements in critical thinking about the modern world. While the state cannot dictate whether someone embraces any particular religion, we can dictate that our children are adequately prepared to make an informed choice about what to believe.

We cannot allow reactionary religious beliefs and tribalism to undo what civilization has achieved thus far.

The hue and cry against such reforms in education will be loud and long. State and federal legislators will be hard pressed to maintain a firm stance in the face of entrenched dogmatic beliefs. It will take true leaders to enact reforms in a time when leadership seems missing from public life. That means we must elect educated progressives who will carry the weight. The future of our nation depends on it.

~~~

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_poverty_rate

[2] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/arkansas-2016-report/

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education  The

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_educational_attainment

[5] http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/ranking-states

[6] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2015_Arkansas_BHBarometer.pdf

[7] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach,” Ginny Monk. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Sunday September 24, 2017. Page 1.

[8] http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/teen-pregnancy-in-arkansas.aspx

[9] “Children in foster care in Arkansas reaches all-tine high.” Brian Fanney. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 22, 2016. Online access October 18, 2017

[10] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach”

[11] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-StateReportBook.pdf

[12] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescent-reproductive-health/arkansas/index.html

[13] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=arkansas

[14] http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp

[15] http://www.addictioncampuses.com/resources/addiction-campuses-blog/3-reasons-christian-rehabs-dont-work-according-to-a-pastor/

 

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Behind Chroma

Feedback from readers of my novel Chroma: Light Being Human has revealed the need for some clarification. Specifically, there’s an issue with the character names, which are a series of numbers along with color names. As one reader said, the numbers made it hard to remember the characters and reminded her of the Dewey decimal system.

While her point of reference here might have something to do with her career as a librarian, I realize that many readers may not ‘get it.’

So here’s the thing. The characters are manifestation of sound and light. The numbers refer to frequencies of sound waves as measured in Hertz. The light is broken into the spectral array of the rainbow. They are called  the Aspects of Chroma in the story because they are aspects of electromagnetic and sound energy, ‘chroma’ meaning ‘chromatic’ as in all the notes of a musical scale and also ‘chroma’ meaning color.

With the main character B4 Indigo, her frequency of ‘B’ refers to the note in our Western musical scale that falls on the keyboard just below Middle C. But as most know from exposure to keyboards, there are several ‘B’ notes on a keyboard. B4 is the 4th B when you start counting from the bottom. Her kinsmen are all the B range; the next B up the keyboard would be B5.

B4’s color is indigo, a bluish purple color at the far end of the electromagnetic spectrum of visible light between 420 and 450 nanometers. At this point, she is the fundamental waveband, a role that drives her story.

Several connotations of Indigo as a spiritual aspect, as a cited in Wikipedia, are:

  • The color electric indigo is used in New Age philosophy to symbolically represent the sixth chakra (called Ajna), which is said to include the third eye. This chakra is believed to be related to intuition and gnosis (spiritual knowledge).
  • Alice A. Bailey used indigo as the “second ray,” representing “Love-Wisdom,” in her Seven Rays system classifying people into seven metaphysical psychological types.
  • Psychics often associate indigo paranormal auras with an interest in religion or with intense spirituality and intuition. Indigo children are said to have predominantly indigo auras.
  • People with indigo auras are said to favor occupations such as computer analyst, animal caretaker, and counselor.

To an aware reader, these spiritual connotations add depth to the understanding of B4 Indigo’s character and her role in the story of Chroma.

The premise of Chroma is that light energy traveling through space/time sought the experience of embodiment. In reaching the threshold of this pursuit, they came into the physical by forming in sound and color light energy. Their explorations after this threshold comprise the rest of their story, at least to the point of full embodiment. If I live long enough, I hope to write a couple more books that continue this story line into the year 2540.

I hesitated to delve into these details in any kind of preface for the book and hoped that readers would be able to enjoy the story by accepting the character names such as B4 Indigo, D3 Red, A4 Blue, etc. But I concede that these names especially in their full presentation as B493.883 Hertz or D293.665 or especially B4’s ancient partner F369.994 (F-sharp) may not immediately appear in an understandable way to the average reader. For those who don’t have a musical background, I can only say that B and F-sharp are acoustic partners in what is called a perfect 5th, and conversely, they are a perfect 4th, thus their inescapable partnership in acoustical phenomena.

Similarly, Indigo and Yellow are complimentary on the color wheel. In the mid-1600s, Isaac Newton linked the seven notes of the Western scale with the array of prismatic colors. In painting, complimentary colors yield useful applications. For example, when painting in yellow or gold, to create shadow effects, the artist would not darken with gray or black, but rather indigo or purple.

A reader’s understanding of these arcane details is not necessary to enjoy the story of Chroma. But for those like the librarian who are frustrated by the apparent nonsensical nature of the naming, hopefully this explanation will be helpful.

Chroma wasn’t an easy story to write. How do you assign emotion to sound and light? The main characters can’t cry or hit or sleep, at least not for several millennia. Yet emotional responses and physical actions form traditional elements in fiction, so that  norm further complicates the telling of this alternative-history story.

I wanted to present a creation story of humanity on Earth that explored possibilities of extraterrestrial influence that didn’t involve little green men. Some form of man does appear, but those are visions of a future or a past that isn’t fully revealed. I also wanted to express the idea that music and its deep appeal to us on a non-verbal level suggests that there may be more to our connection to musical tones than we have previously known. Same theory applies to our appreciation of color.

Chroma is a story that wouldn’t go away. I chewed on it, wrote it, tossed it, recreated it and labored over it for over twenty years. I’ve never been completely happy with it. I’m tormented with the second book, partially written, elusive, and inescapable. I have to do it, so please–wish me luck!

 

Conscious Evolution

Conscious evolution. We know enough. We know why. We know how.

Back when we wore skins and only knew our own tribe, we needed clues to identify the ‘Other.’ They would kill us, take our women and homes and food. We noted their skin color, how they dressed, what insignia they carried. We didn’t need to greet them or get to know them. We killed them before they had a chance to kill us.

Our fear and hatred of Other has followed us. It’s embedded in our DNA. Our survival depended on it.

Today, our survival no longer depends on fearing and hating Other. Now our survival depends on recognizing shared humanity. The majority of people understand this. But there’s that tiny minority, emboldened now by Trump, who just don’t get it.

We need to investigate what some white men fear that pushes them to march in the street with torches. Why they resort to violence. Why they feel oppressed.

They fear losing their concept of themselves as the best, most important, top-of-the-food chain guy. Their very identity is threatened.

Their fear derives from

  • Ignorance, a failure of our public schools in educating about history and anthropology. Supremacists assume that because whites have been predominant in the development of machines and other hallmarks of modern civilization, whites are therefore superior. This view fails to acknowledge the advanced machinery of ancient cultures like China, India, and the Middle East—non-white civilizations. This view also fails to reflect the harm machines have brought to all life forms on the planet—pollution, disease, and arguably a pace of living that destroy human peace and health.
  • Rapid change in requirements for earning a living. It’s no longer enough to hunt, fish, manage livestock, plow fields, and stack rock fences, occupations that served men well for thousands of years.
  • Loss of primacy in male-female relationships. That’s not to say alt-right men don’t seek out submissive women who will stroke their egos. Many do, and sadly there are plenty of women who accept, even enjoy, this kind of relationship. But in the workplace, on the streets, and elsewhere in our culture, women have gained a more equal position. They can vote, earn a living, and walk away from men who refuse to relinquish outdated ideas. They can abort rape impregnation, an age-old tool of male domination.
  • Loss of control over formerly subordinate groups. Such as slaves (African). Such as field workers (Hispanic). Such as ethnic groups (Jew). Now their kids go to school together. At least, until pressure from the alt-right succeeds in shifting sufficient tax dollars to private and ‘religious’ schools to allow low and middle income racists to send their kids to the same segregated right-wing private schools that the more affluent racists have been sending their kids to since integration.
  • Loss of power to control the terms by which our society operates. Through the courts, America’s promise of liberty and justice for all has gradually gained greater implementation. This has fueled the swelling alt-right push to place sympathetic right-wingers on the SCOTUS as well as lower courts across the country. They want courts that will give men the primacy they once enjoyed over women. They want courts to reinforce alt-right beliefs about marriage, sexuality, race, and all the other arenas where white male dominant beliefs have been challenged.
  • For many modern men, their ability to consider themselves men has been compromised by loss of sexual function or diminished genitalia as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals. This is only going to get worse as exposures increase. If such exposure doesn’t affect them personally, it may affect their sons. If they have any. Researchers confirm that sperm count continues to drop at a rapid pace. They also remark on the increase of boys born with compromised genitalia, now up to one in 350 male births. ‘Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are substances present in the environment that can interfere with normal hormonal balance and thus exert potentially adverse health effects on the human organism. Male reproductive system development and function may be susceptible to the effects of such environmental toxicants.’ Endocrine disruptors include multiple chemicals routinely appearing in pesticides, herbicides, plastics, and many other products as well as in chemicals that have now been outlawed such as PCBs, DDT, and atrazine, to name a few. Effects of exposure to these chemicals can carry through to subsequent generations.  (Also this article.)
  • Fear of Other derives from conscious and subconscious effects. A man may have a normal penis size and function fine sexually yet still feel insecure about his sexuality. He may experience urges that he can’t explain, which repulse him and defy his religious beliefs, such as same-sex attraction. In many cases, a man’s ability to feel secure in his sexuality depends on his ability to see himself in a dominant role both at home and in society. Yet many jobs require men to work under the supervision of a woman or a gay man or a racial or ethnic minority, all of which some men consider subordinates.
  • Desire for clear lines of authority. Hierarchy serves men well by defining exact ranks of dominance. Men can accept not being at the top of a hierarchy if at the same time they see that others rank below them. With hierarchy come prescribed methods of moving up through the ranks as well as methods for working within the system. Complaints flow up the chain of command. Men know who they’re working for and what to do if problems arise. In our modern world, traditional chains of command have been interrupted. Even in the military, men today may find themselves working alongside or even in lower rank than a woman or a transgender person. This flies in the face of many men’s instinctive expectation that those within the hierarchy are their peers, their own kind. Admiration and support for Trump derives in part from his authoritarian stance, his willingness to invoke violence, and other aspects of his personality which hearken back to old white hierarchical traditions. Hierarchy as a mind-set also dictates that people believe what their parents believed, and before that their grandparents.
  • Authority for racist views are encoded in the Old Testament, at least as alt-right adherents believe. “Genesis 9:18–29 has been popularly understood to mean that Ham was cursed, and this understanding has often been used to justify oppression of African people, the descendants of Ham. In this view Ham offended his father, Noah, and because of this his descendants are also cursed, and Ham is presented as the father of African people. The text does give the impression that Ham was cursed, but a more careful reading of the passage reveals that this is not so.” (quote source)

Efforts to stamp out alt-right beliefs only succeed in escalating the problem. We must re-think our approach to this threatening yet benighted portion of the population and consider them as injured children who must be nurtured through a re-training process. Many are under-employed, and must be taught how to perform jobs that fit into the modern workplace. Many are suffering severe emotional and psychological problems and need the best therapy our professionals can provide. Many also suffer illness including obesity, sexual dysfunction, and other medical conditions that impinge on their ability to feel whole. Many may suffer the effects of poor nutrition either from ignorance about proper diet or insufficient income.

For all these ills, men of the alt-right seek someone to blame other than the person they see in the mirror.

  • It can’t possibly be that they themselves have fallen into poor health through lack of exercise or poor nutrition. Rather, the reason they feel bad is that ‘commies’ and Jews have taken over their country.
  • It can’t possibly be that their workplace exposure to hazardous endocrine-disrupting chemicals has caused their impotence. Rather, it’s ball-busting women in general.
  • It can’t possibly be that their lack of curiosity or inability to learn has caused them to slip to the bottom in job skills or educational achievement. Rather, it’s the government sending their jobs overseas. It’s immigrants taking up jobs they might have had.

The alt-right is a manifestation of a pervasive illness affecting a certain portion of our population. They are the unevolved among us. We need to immediately start to design interventions that will effectively address their fears and failings. We need to tighten the standards of education to significantly limit homeschooling and improve curriculum for political science and history. We need to implement laws that punish those advocating violence against others and require attendance in appropriate therapy, job training, and/or health and nutrition treatment, just as in earlier years we have required certain groups to attend ‘sensitivity’ training.

These challenged humans suffer from delusions that they alone see the truth. Without an effective strategy to encourage their conscious evolution, there will be more blood in the streets.

Those Southern Baptists!

Behold the Southern Baptists! Meeting recently for their annual conference, they decided to extend the warm hand of evangelical brotherhood to Blacks and Native Americans. As one headline put it: “American Indians seen in need of evangelism.” Because, you know, those folks are struggling. Who better to help than the Baptists?

Surely this benevolence isn’t due to the continuing drop in the denomination’s membership. No, surely not. And with that drop, we might point out, tithes flowing to the denomination’s treasury also dropped.

Oh my God!

Okay, there are undoubtedly those within these ranks who honestly and sincerely want to help the downtrodden. But the group’s recent convention exposed a painful truth: on a personal level, racism is alive and well among the Southern Baptists.

There’s nothing new about the Southern Baptist’s narrow-minded view. While they’re courting membership from Blacks and Natives, they’re at the same time refusing to have anything to do with the LBGTQ community. Guess they don’t need membership that bad. Yet.

It’s only been 170 years since the Southern Baptist denomination sprang into existence to embrace racism. In a 2015 article in The Atlantic by Emma Green, she reviewed that year’s Southern Baptist convention, citing the founding rationale:

In 1860, a Southern Baptist pastor from Virginia, Thornton Stringfellow, defended the institution of forced enslavement of millions of African men and women in Cotton Is King, and Pro-Slavery Arguments, with the full force of scripture: “Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command. … Under the gospel, [slavery] has brought within the range of gospel influence, millions of Ham’s descendant’s among ourselves, who but for this institution, would have sunk down to eternal ruin.”[1]

To the Southern Baptists (and many others), God’s chosen people are white, descended from God’s favored sons of Noah. That was not Ham. As the story goes, Noah got pretty deep into the wine and passed out naked. Ham saw this and told his two brothers Shem and Japheth. These two backed up to their father with a blanket between them so as to cover Noah without looking on his nakedness. So when ole Noah sobered up and learned what had happened, he cursed Ham as the progenitor of Canaan:

And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 26 And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

Multiple interpretations of this scripture lead pretty much anywhere you’d want to go. Noah was supposedly over 500 years old when this happened and pretty tight with God. Why God let him get away with cursing one of his sons for something he himself did remains an unanswered question. Some interpretations claim the event actually involved Ham giving his dad oral sex. Another says he castrated Noah. These quirky ideas are based on scholars’ erudite studies of Biblical text.[2]

This is why there are over 33,000 Protestant denominations, a number argued when the concerned parties take a breath from discussing what happened with Noah and Ham as well as countless other minutia preserved in religious writings. According to one Catholic observer, 33,000 is an inflated number.[3] Be that as it may, the point is that when modern-day beliefs, laws, and actions are based on materials passed down orally for centuries before ever gaining the permanence of writing, and then those written records are subjected to successive centuries of translation, revision, and interpretation, these beliefs might as well have been snatched out of midair.

Which is exactly what happens when people formalize their spiritual beliefs in a way that excludes, discriminates, and otherwise separates them from other groups of people. These aren’t spiritual teachings. They are an outward expression of the smallest darkest part of primitive humans, fearful and ready to do violence. The only legitimacy such beliefs can claim is that our animal instinct assesses threat from another human first by how they look. If they look like us and talk like us, then there’s less chance they’re going to harm us.

In the times of slavery, any spiritual belief system other than the Baptist belief was counter to God’s will. Any effort to see minorities as ‘equal’ came hard up against the reality of life circumstances of minorities, a self-fulfilling prophecy of a sort, that there they are, those ignorant Africans, not well educated, not able to even clearly speak English, living in poverty—how can you say we are equal?

Or the Natives, living like savages in shelters made of skins, painting their faces, hunting with spears. They’re not like us.

A rational analysis points out that as slaves, Blacks were purposefully kept from learning to read or write, denied the right of marriage, and not taught skills of any trade other than the manual labor for which they were kept. In their homelands of Africa, from which they were torn against their will, they enjoyed well-established social order. They had family structures, spoke their language fluently, and otherwise had achieved a culture that succeeded for millennia.

As whites, we’ve got a few more millennia to go before we can say the same.

The same level of prejudice supported violent racism against Native Americans. Aside from genocidal acts such as outright slaughter or distributing blankets contaminated with smallpox, white invaders of the North American continent mitigated their murderous inclinations with attempts to bestow a “relationship with Christ” upon the Natives.

Take, for example, the ripping away of Native American children from their parents and forcing them into residency at schools where they were forbidden use of their native language. The schools intended to teach them to live like white men. In all ways—clothing, language, and worship—Native children were cut off from their ancient heritage and forced into a social construct for which they had no foundation or kinship.[4]

Like taking Africans from their successful societies and forcing them to labor at white’s man pursuit of wealth, ripping Natives from their ancient traditions and cramming them into reservations under the supervision of white law destroyed their foundations of belief and self-worth. They held value only by the metric of white civilization. In that, they hardly reached the scales.

Which makes it all the more outrageous that now, in 2017, as Southern Baptist membership continues to plummet, the conference decides to target reservations because “American Indians are 510% more likely to die of alcoholism and 62% more likely to commit suicide in comparison with the rest of the U. S. population.”[5]

Gee, can they possible be more ridiculous?

It’s not that the Southern Baptists don’t understand that their predecessors were wrong in declaring slavery the will of God or in trampling the ancient traditions of the Natives. They do. Some even claim to pray for forgiveness for their previous ignorance and the misdeeds committed against these minorities.

It’s that no matter what they do, these and other religionists seem to always conclude that their current decision is righteous and unerring and God’s will. They embrace their decision with fervor, rushing out to force the rest of the world to follow.

This is the hubris that created the Southern Baptists in the first place, and all the other evangelical denominations, and arguably every single religion that has plagued the world since such organized activities began. With the force of God’s blessing behind them, they have mounted wars and inquisitions and executions, overthrown governments and imprisoned the wayward, and marched across the globe leaving devastation in their path.

~~~

Recently with the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, Arkansas’ own Southern Baptist Pastor Ronnie Floyd opined that this level of violence against the Trump Administration is a new and abominable level of hatred.

In my life, I have never seen a more volatile political environment. Hyperbolized speech, wild accusations and blatant character assassinations have taken stage front and center … as a society we must be able to recognize that celebrating an ideology that says violence, especially against our elected officials, affects the way we think. Words have power. As the ancient biblical proverb says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

Floyd never once blinked in the face of the hypocrisy of his remarks despite living through eight years of outrages perpetrated against former-President Barack Obama that included effigies of Obama being lynched and burned, his daughters and wife smeared in every possible way, and the conservative Christian stance embodied in a Republican Party that obstructed every effort of Obama’s rightful governance.[6]

This year’s Southern Baptist conference heard a resolution put forth by Dwight McKissic, a black pastor from Texas, that would have affirmed the denomination’s opposition to white supremacy and the so-called ‘alt-right.’ At first, the committee in charge of resolutions refused to advance McKissic’s contribution to the full assembly. After all, they had resolutions about Planned Parenthood and gambling that needed consideration.

The next day, McKissic attempted to present it on the floor. According to one observer, “Chaos reigned.”

Once more attendees realized what had happened (and the glaring hypocrisy of their actions), “a number of leaders started lobbying to get the motion reconsidered.” After emotional debate on both sides of the issue and another twenty-four hours to confront the situation, leaders brought an amended version of the resolution to a vote.[7] Newly-elected leader Steve Gaines announced the results: “The affirmative has it. Praise the living God.”[8]

Oh yeah, membership.

~~~

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/southern-baptists-wrestle-with-the-sin-of-racism/389808/

[2] Wikipedia article on Ham: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ham_(son_of_Noah)

[3] http://www.ncregister.com/blog/scottericalt/we-need-to-stop-saying-that-there-are-33000-protestant-denominations

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Indian_boarding_schools

[5] Quoting the National Congress of American Indians, from an article by Francisca Jones, “American Indians seen in need of evangelism,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Pages 1 and 4.

[6] http://www.christianpost.com/news/america-dont-forget-words-have-power-188393/

[7] Amended resolution may be found at https://static.coreapps.net/sbc-am2017/documents/f618b2f02b1fc085697b4f5d147cb58e.pdf

[8] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/06/14/532998287/southern-baptist-convention-votes-to-condemn-white-supremacy

Do the Ends Justify the Means?

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Following 2015 charges against “19 Kids and Counting” star John Duggar for molesting his sisters and the rape of a young girl at the hands of a former employee of Rep. Justin Harris who had adopted the girl then ‘rehomed’ her to the man who would rape her, the latest moral scandal in Arkansas has to do with a scheme of kickbacks in exchange for funneling state tax dollars to a tiny religious college. Earlier this week, former Sen. Jon Woods, Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III, and a business consultant friend of the two, Randell G. Shelton, were named in federal indictments.

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Former Rep. Micah Neal

Previously indicted on several counts in the same scheme, former Rep. Micah Neal entered a plea of guilty to taking kickbacks. Other indictments may follow for additional persons, one of whom is referred to as “Businessman A” and for Ecclesia College, assumed to be “Entity A.”

The federal investigation has been ongoing for a couple of years and covers a period from 2013 to 2015. Until news of the investigation leaked out in the summer of 2016, Neal had been running for county judge. He dropped out of the race, citing residency concerns as his reason. News of his indictment came later.

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Former Senator Jon Woods

Woods announced in November 2015 he wouldn’t run for re-election, possibly due to knowledge of the investigation.

Here’s the set up. An Arkansas law allows leftover money from the General Improvement Fund to be allocated for pet projects in legislators’ home districts. If approved, grant requests disperse the money through economic development districts toward worthy nonprofits. It’s a system ripe for abuse.

Currently in session, the legislature is expected to take away this honey hole at the urging of our rather embarrassed governor, Asa Hutchinson, a former Congressman, head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and more recently, head of Homeland Security.

But the cash cow is already out of the barn, at least for this highly religious group. A total of thirteen indictments against former Senator Woods alleges he committed fraud and took a bribe of $40,000 plus “an undetermined amount of cash” in exchange for helping funnel more than $350,000 to Ecclesia College, purportedly for land on which to build student housing.

But there was no need for student housing. The grant request claimed that the college needed housing due to “rapid growth.” The college with an enrollment of less than 200 mostly off-campus students already owned 200 undeveloped acres. Records show that the GIF money paid for about fifty additional acres at an inflated price. To date, no building permits have been sought to build on any of this land, so evidently the ‘urgent’ need for housing wasn’t so urgent after all.

While indictments do not constitute a conviction, chances are good that plea deals will follow. The money was there and they wanted it and they had a handy nonprofit, namely Ecclesia College, by which to obtain it. According to the indictments, as early as January 2013 these three men “devised a scheme and artifice to defraud and deprive the citizens of the honest services of a public official through bribery.”

A March 3 write-up in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reveals a tangle of people eager to get their sweaty hands on state tax dollars. Never mind that Woods and Neal, as elected officials, both swore to uphold the state’s constitution. Never mind that Paris served as president of a college presenting itself as a Christian institution. The elaborate diversions through which the money flowed portrays clear evidence these men knew they were doing something wrong.[1]

But it’s worse than that. It’s not just greed at work here. A text message from college president Paris to Woods is cited in the news article:

Good selling point to conservative legislators is that (Entity A) produces graduates that are conservative voters. All state and secular colleges produce [a] vast majority [of] liberal voters.”

Woods replied: “Agreed.”

This blatant agenda to brainwash students toward conservative views fits right in with the apparent right-wing philosophy that the ends justify the means. These men were leaders of their communities and their church. As such, the highest standard of ethical and moral behavior would be expected. Yet they apparently had no qualms about perverting the intent of GIF grants in order to enrich themselves as well as serve their ultimate goal, that of furthering the Christian agenda in taking over the nation’s political institutions.

I recently wrote that the right-wing effort to make the United States a “Christian nation” constitutes treason.  This latest incident is only a tiny glimpse of a pervasive delusion rampant in that group that whatever is done in the name of God is acceptable, even praiseworthy.  The text of Oren Paris III clearly states the intent to increase the number of conservative voters in order to bring the country closer to their ideal Christian Nation.

This type of thinking is no different from that of ISIS leaders who justify acts of terror by claiming that it pleases God. They know what Allah wants and the ends justify the means.

Aside from minor inconveniences like federal indictments, Wood, Neal, Paris et al may suffer little consequence among their peers. Shortly after the indictments hit the news, Ecclesia College board chairman Phil Brassfield posted a letter on the college’s Facebook page stating, in part:

While the allegations made against Oren [Paris] are to be taken seriously, we are confident once all the facts and the truth are made known, all will come to understand as we on the Board of Governance believe, that Oren has acted at all times with absolute integrity and always in the best interest of Ecclesia College. We are at peace in the knowledge that Oren is a godly leader, a loving husband and father, a vigilant shepherd and a faithful servant. It is in this confidence that we as a board remain loyal and steadfast with our brother in Christ.[2], [3]

Clearly, right-wing Christian Republican hypocrisy stretches from the lowest levels of government all the way to the top where–at this very moment–perjury, lies, and dissembling of every order permeate the executive and legislative branches. In the name of God. Because the ends justify the means.

~~~

[1] See also a write-up in the Arkansas Times.

[2] In the Arkansas Times article cited above, a testimonial written by Oren Paris’ wife regarding his meeting with then-presidential candidate Ted Cruz, states, in part: “At one of the meetings Oren was able to attend Senator Cruz and his wife Heidi shared how the Lord led them to run for the Presidential Office. I remember Oren sharing with me how the love of Jesus shone through Heidi as she told of her prayer to God whether she should do this for Ted (leave her job and dive into a campaign) or not. The Lord spoke to her and said, “No you should not do it for Ted. You should do it for Me, for my glory.” That meeting lasted more than 7 hours and was filled with Senator Cruz and Heidi (daughter and granddaughter of missionaries) sharing their hearts, answering questions, and joining in prayer for revival in our nation.”

[3] In unanimous agreement, the board confirmed Paris’ continuing role as college president. The letter was signed by board members including the newly elected Washington County judge, Joseph Wood. When former Rep. Micah Neal suddenly dropped out of the county judge race in the summer of 2016, for reasons later revealed to be his federal indictments, Joseph Wood stepped into the candidacy despite concerns about whether such a move was legal. His questionable activities since taking office, including breaking several regulations about appointees, remain under scrutiny. For more, check this article at the Arkansas Times.

 

Yes, Get Over It — Constructively

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Rep. Steve Womack addressing an overflowing crowd at town hall Feb 21, 2017

Yesterday I attended a town hall meeting sponsored by Rep. Steve Womack (Republican) of our 3rd Congressional District (Northwest Arkansas). The room would comfortably hold thirty people. Over 200 showed up. With the hallways and doorways and standing room thronged, half the people ended up standing outside in the parking lot for the 1.5 hour event. In light rain and a heavy temper.

Womack could have taken charge of the situation by reconvening five blocks away in the much larger community center. He chose not to do so. He could have opened the meeting by immediately taking questions, but instead he spent at least twenty minutes talking about his agenda. His primary concern was the national debt which he elaborated citing numbers and projections intended to shock and awe.

Not surprising for Col. Womack, a 30-year national guard veteran who commanded the 2nd Battalion, 153rd Infantry, 39th Separate Infantry Brigade in the Sinai, Egypt, between 2002 and 2009. He’s a member of Cross Church, earthly kingdom of Ronnie Floyd who has served in a leadership role of the world’s largest Southern Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, with over 15 million members as of 2016. Womack is a poster child for the right wing.

The Arkansas 3rd district rolled to the Republican side in 1967 following continuous Democratic control since Reconstruction and has remained in Republican hands ever since. Only a couple of times have strong Democratic candidates come close (1992: 47.2% to 50.2%) to regaining the seat while generally Republicans enjoy over 70% majority on Election Day. Womack is serving his fourth term.

Despite this position of strength for Womack, the crowd wasn’t having it. In a surly mood in a room whose temperature approached one hundred degrees due to severe overcrowding, people jostled signs, interrupted, and talked over Rep. Womack in what became the norm for the entire exchange. His temper flared on occasion, telling people to shut-up and reiterating his party line position on issues ranging from the EPA to National Endowment for the Arts to Medicare. Less than a quarter of those who wanted to ask questions were actually able to do so before his ‘drop dead’ quit time of 10 a.m.

Driving home, I kept wondering what people actually expected. Did anyone think for an instant that he would agree to demands that he personally ‘do something’ about the ‘man-child Trump,’ as one speaker requested? Did anyone think that he would suddenly veer off the positions in which the political right has grown increasingly entrenched for the last fifty years?

I didn’t. I know lots of people like him. They’re my relatives and my neighbors. They’re positive they’re right. Nothing is going to change them.

But after a lifetime of advocacy on various impossible causes (women’s rights, environment, and most recently drug policy reform), I remain optimistic that in some small demilitarized zone between right and left, a productive dialogue can lead to some understanding. At the least, a grudging mutual respect.

Few in the crowd seemed to understand that philosophy. They had an ax to grind in their outrage over Donald Trump and his agenda. They wanted to shout and hurl accusations. Whatever ground might have been gained in building a tenuous link of communication died under the stomping feet of those who only wanted to protest what has come to be the current reality: Republicans control the government.

Despite a few well-considered questions that earned a thoughtful response from Rep. Womack, less than a quarter of those who kept raising hands ever had a chance to speak. Womack avoided replying to demands for increasing taxes on the so-called ‘one percent’ as he explaining how government had exceeded its mandate and was spending two-thirds of its income on ‘mandatory’ programs compared to the 1960s when mandatory only consumed one third.

Womack, along with the Republican majority, condemn food stamps and other social support programs as well as protections for waterways and the air we breathe. This isn’t a new conflict. It’s been picking up steam for five decades. Aligned on the side of the protesters are the progressives who—many of them—have worked to enact those very programs. Aligned on Womack’s side are those who see those programs as a symptom of moral decay.

Railing about the national debt is a convenient cover for such moralistic thinking. Every president since Calvin Coolidge had added to the national debt, most recently George W. Bush by 101% and Obama by 68%. The elephant in the room (literally) is the wars started by Bush after 9/11. The cost of the Iraq War tops two trillion and in Afghanistan, over four trillion with no end in sight.[1]

As we all know, financing what we want when we want it ends up with the ugly reality of paying off debt without getting anything in return. With interest. This is the staggering problem keeping Womack and other legislators awake at night, Democrats among them. But while the portion of national revenues dedicated to mandatory spending has increased, military spending now gobbles up fifty percent of discretionary spending. So while Womack et al set their sights on cutting other discretionary spending such as public broadcasting,[2] none of them mention the possibility of letting the Middle East sink or swim on its own.

Republicans seem hell bent on continuing to wage war on behalf of Israel and oil, throwing in the specter of terrorism and a nuclear Iran for good measure. The truth is, none of these ‘reasons’ hold water. The U. S. could fully withdraw from the Middle East without suffering any real threat here at home.[3] But that would outrage the special interests: military contractors, oil sheikdoms, the Israel lobby, and a hypnotized electorate who equates patriotism and war.

Unless we culturally divest from war, even a massive cut in non-military discretionary spending would do little to offset the debt, much less make a dent in the mandatory side of the scales.[4] And while Social Security and Medicare are theoretically paid for through payroll tax deductions, the increasingly longer projected life expectancy of Americans means that people far outlive the amount they’ve paid in.[5] Fewer workers paying for increasing numbers of retirees leads to the brick wall ahead.

One of the main arguments raised against Womack’s insistence on cutting programs, including ‘restructuring’ mandatory spending programs, was the repeated cry to increase taxes on the rich. He never once acknowledged the question or attempted to answer. The facts are that in the 1950s and ‘60s, the time praised by Womack when mandatory spending only constituted about a third of the national revenue, the wealthiest Americans paid a top income tax rate of 91%. Today, the top rate is 43.4%. In 2014, after deductions, the richest one-percent paid an effective federal income tax rate of 24.7%.[6]

Loopholes which allow billionaires like Trump to pay zero taxes have been skillfully placed into the tax code by cooperative legislators benefiting from generous campaign contributions and other perks. These same legislators prize their own interests above their constituents, catering to corporate profits instead of forcing lower prices on essentials like prescription drugs. This outrages Americans, causes distrust in government, and propels a demagogue like Trump into power.

Meanwhile, in the guise of addressing the debt, Republicans gleefully set about righting the perceived moral decay they’ve campaigned on since Ronald Reagan. They’re eager to cut federal spending for Planned Parenthood (further restrict abortion rights), public radio and television (stifle the progressive agenda), and especially social support programs like unemployment and food stamps (force slackers to work), but such changes promise little more than a drop in the bucket of deficits.

As in yesterday’s meeting with Womack, progressives repeatedly fail to make a strong case for their agenda or provide meaningful solutions to the nation’s fiscal distress. Angry demonstrations only delay what progressives must do to take back leadership of the political spectrum. We must show why improving conditions for the poor, the jobless, and the weakest among us is the only path to solvency, why strong environmental protection must be preserved, why women must be allowed to decide who gets born.

These arguments must be made, and in order for them to gain purchase in the near term, dialogue with elected officials like Womack is essential. Public tantrums are counterproductive. In the long term, refinement of and spirited advocacy for progressive policies will form the platform by which a progressive political party can regain control. Among us, we must find those willing to sacrifice themselves to the public arena as candidates capable of inciting voters’ imaginations with such an agenda.

Then will be the time to shout.

~~~

 

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/09/cost-wars-iraq-afghanistan/499007/

[2] https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/military-spending-united-states/

[3]  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-faux/why-are-we-in-the-middle_b_7301370.html

[4] https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending/

[5] https://www.thebalance.com/current-federal-mandatory-spending-3305772

[6] http://americansfortaxfairness.org/tax-fairness-briefing-booklet/fact-sheet-taxing-wealthy-americans/

 

Treason In The Name of God Is Still Treason

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The United States now faces a Republican government whose members openly state their wish to make the country a Christian nation. Vice President Pence, among others, has proudly proclaimed that his God comes before country. Legislators compete to ‘out-Christian’ each other in conservative Congressional districts.

What are these people thinking?

The Founding Fathers set down rules about this new nation. The constitution specifically restricts government establishment of religion. Do Pence et al not know this? Or are they too wrapped up in zealotry to realize what’s at stake?

A recent Pew Research Center poll delivers the news that while only 71% of Americans identify as “Christian,” over 90% of legislators do so.

Why have the ‘nones’ grown in the public, but not among Congress?” asked Greg Smith, associate director for research at Pew, referring to people who check “none” on surveys asking their religion.

One possible explanation is people tell us they would rather vote for an elected representative who is religious than for one who is not religious.[1]

Evidently voters assume that a religious legislator is more trustworthy, this despite the fact that a long list of religious elected officials have been indicted and/or convicted of  crimes ranging from sexual abuse to fraud. In the Obama Administration alone, the dirty laundry of seven legislators (three Democrats, four Republicans) came to light. Under George W. Bush, six legislators fell from grace (three and three) while five members of his executive branch—all Republicans—also were found guilty of various crimes.[2]

That doesn’t touch the continuing eruption of scandals involving Christian church leaders. In 2015, Christian TV celebrity Josh Duggar was outed for molesting his younger sisters and was soon thereafter found to have joined (twice) an online service for cheating on your spouse. In 2016, just one of many church leader sex eruptions involved another Arkansas preacher, lay pastor David Reynolds, “who in addition to “discern[ing] the will of Christ through study, mutual exhortation and prayer,” to quote his former(?) church’s website, allegedly had a habit of exchanging child pornography on the Internet—with irresistible social media screennames ‘sweetoothcandy3,’ ‘Ethanluvsts,’ and ‘Luvsomecandy.’”[3]

Then there are the Catholic priests and little boys.

You’d think that some of this would tip off the voting public that Christians hold no moral high ground. Religion and morality are not synonymous. Morality does not depend upon religion, though for some, this is “an almost automatic assumption.”[4]

Yet the cognitive dissonance between the reality of Christian misdeeds and the public’s continuing belief that Christians are somehow less flawed than the average human continues unabated. Add that to the decades of Republican strategists wielding hot-button issues like abortion and prayer in schools, and it helps explain how well-intentioned voters simply do not understand that the foundations of our great nation cannot be trusted to Christians.

If Republican voters read a bit more history, they would appreciate the context of our constitutional mandate. They would understand that it was state-sponsored religion that drove early colonists to brave the Atlantic Ocean. History has a lot to teach about our hard-won freedom to live and worship as we see fit.

In 300 AD, the late Roman Empire enforced Christianity at the point of a sword. The useful concept of government empowered by God’s will spread through Europe. Those who wouldn’t swear fealty to a Christian God and the anointed King died a brutal death. Along the way, compulsory tithing (crops, coin, whatever you’ve got) supported both kingdoms.

As Europe descended into the Dark Ages (450 – 1100 AD), only the priests knew how to read and write. People were captive of whatever the priests told them. Religion became a tool of strong men who gained power and wealth at the expense of the working man. It’s a model that apparently hasn’t lost its usefulness.

This week for example, Trump and his Congressional minions installed an education secretary who plans to divert tax dollars toward religious schools that don’t have to meet standards.

… In a 2001 interview for The Gathering, a group focused on advancing Christian faith through philanthropy, [DeVos] and her husband offered a rare public glimpse of their views. Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.[5]

The European religious wars between 1524 and 1648 erupted after Martin Luther protested Catholic corruption such as buying forgiveness and ignoring priestly orgies with prostitutes. In response to this heretical bunch of Protestants, the Catholic inquisition targeted anyone who questioned the teachings or practices of the church. Thousands of Protestants, Jews, and other heathens were tortured and burned at the stake.[6]

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, the uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics …[7]

In 1659, the first enactment of religious liberty in the new colonies, the Maryland Toleration Act, drafted by Lord Baltimore, provided: “No person or persons…shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.”

This became the central theme of the First Amendment which states, in part: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

All this is lost in the inflamed rhetoric of today’s evangelical right-wingers. Hard lessons won over the centuries leading up to the founding of the United States are now at risk of being entirely forgotten in a growing rush to create a Christian nation.

The 20th century saw the most rapid social and economic change of any time in human history. Conservatives, by definition, loath change. Spotting opportunity amid the fear provoked by such radical change, Republican strategists began inciting certain segments of the voting public. The so-called Silent Majority elected Reagan on the promise that their traditional lifestyles would once again become the national norm.

Despite the impossibility of this promise, Reagan’s 1983 “evil empire” speech—one of the most significant speeches of the 20th century—was delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals. That speech included references to C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, “a great spiritual awakening in America,” America’s own “legacy of evil,” school prayer, the Ten Commandments, and this telling litany: “an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of adultery, teenage sex, pornography, abortion, and hard drugs.”[8]

In the face of such resistance and without pretending to be a religion, progressives have pursued very Christ-like goals for generations. Ending slavery was part of that. Banning child labor was another. The long string of progressive political change has produced everything from a five-day work week to Social Security. There’s no equivalent political agenda whose objective is to benefit the human condition. All the conservatives can offer is an appeal for the good old days.

The great American experiment has been a fraught journey of defining what it means to offer ‘liberty and justice for all.’ The courts have relied on the constitution and its amendments in deciding what those promises meant. Their decisions have confirmed the rights of women, minorities, and homosexuals and sharpened the separating line between church and state.

Not happy with how all that has filtered out, extremists now want a ‘go-back’ option that takes away those rights and blurs the line so that teachers can lead prayers in schools, churches can campaign for candidates, and Christian teachings dictate national policy. Too many have been led to believe this is possible, thanks to Republican strategy in motivating voters through inciting religious passions.

Well, it is possible. We can make the United States a Christian nation. But it won’t be the nation our Founders intended. It would be like primitive nations where students are told what—not how—to think, where nonbelievers are subject to torture and brutal execution, where religion instead of reason dictates policy.

By overturning the fundamental concept upon which this nation was founded, every effort to convert the United States into a Christian nation is an act of high treason.

~~~

[1] http://religionnews.com/2017/01/03/religious-make-up-of-the-new-congress-overwhelmingly-christian/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_federal_politicians_convicted_of_crimes#Executive_branch

[3] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/22/why-do-conservative-christian-clergy-keep-screwing-around.html

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality_and_religion

[5] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/betsy-devos-christian-schools-vouchers-charter-education-secretary

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_wars_of_religion and  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition

[7] https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.htm

[8] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/juneweb-only/6-7-12.0.html