Tuesday, July 30, 2013

No 'Normal' Anymore

Patty had sent me out to weed the flower bed by our driveway, and I was taking a hard pull on a cold one while I tried to decide whether yet another green thing was a flower or a weed.  Fortunately, my neighbor Gordon came by, walking his Doberman “Hercules,” and when Hercules sprayed the plant, I decided it was best left where it was.

“Looks as if everything is shooting up,” said Gordon, gawking at the teeming mass of plant life.  “Guess that’s what you get with longer growing seasons and the fertilizing effect of all that CO₂.  Global warming’s not all that bad.”

“Probably not,” I agreed, “except maybe for the rising oceans and the bigger forest fires and longer droughts and growing deserts and disappearing glaciers and dying coral reefs and plants facing extinction.  Things like that.  But I thought you didn’t believe in global warming?”

“I’ve gotta admit I used to be a climate change skeptic,” he said, nodding his head.  

“What changed your mind?” I asked, curious.  “You were pretty adamant about it, I remember.  Was it all those warnings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?  The record high ocean temperatures?  The ice cores that showed the planet is the hottest it’s been in 12,000 years?  The warning last week that melting permafrost could set off a runaway temperature climb?”

“Nah, I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff,” he said.  “I still think those scientists are in cahoots with liberal politicians in waging a war on the coal industry.”

“Yeah?” I said.  “What do you suppose is in it for them?”

“Who knows?” he said.  “Maybe they all have investments in solar panels or wind farms.”

“Well, if you don’t trust the IPCC, and you don’t trust the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and you don’t trust the politicians, and you don’t trust the 97% of climatologists who say that this global warming is real and caused by humans, what exactly was it that changed your mind?” I asked.

“God,” he said.


“God.  My sister lives in Oklahoma.  Their two Senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, are two of the biggest deniers of climate change in the country.  In 2011, Oklahoma had their all-time low temperature at 31 degrees below zero, their biggest 24-hour snowfall at 27 inches, 93 tornadoes in the month of May, a foot of rain in a single day in June, and then the western part of the state had an 11-month drought that was the driest ever recorded in the state.  In 2012, they had 64 temperature records broken in July--including 113 degrees at Chandler.  This year, of course, a huge tornado hit Moore in May and flattened it, killing 24 people.”

“And you think..?”

“God’s doing his darnedest to get people’s attention.  You can think Al Gore is a pompous jackass all you want--and I do--, but God’s sending a message.  We’re desecrating God’s green Earth, and He’s seen enough.  Enough pillaging, enough poisoning, enough polluting.  I just don’t know if Inhofe and Coburn and their kind are opening their heavenly mail.”

“But that’s Oklahoma,” I ventured cautiously.  “They have crazy weather there anyway.”

“Not that crazy,” he said.  “Besides, it’s everywhere.  Don’t you pay attention to what goes on around you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just open your eyes!” he said.  “Read the signs!  Spring is coming three weeks sooner here than it did forty years ago, and fall weather comes later.  Tree species on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Shenandoah National Park are migrating northward.  We had a tornado rip through town in June of 2010, an ‘extreme weather pattern’ with dangerous winds and thunderstorms blowing down trees and damaging houses in June of 2012, a deadly derecho in July of 2012, and a “Frankenstorm” with high winds and heavy rains in October of 2012.  This year we’ve had the ugliest, most humid first half of July I can remember, and it rained nearly every day.  It was like living in the tropics at the start of rainy season.  Now the second half of July it’s been cool and pleasant, as if we’re heading into autumn.  It’s spooky.  It’s like there’s no ‘normal’ anymore.”

“You sound like a real convert,” I said.

“Born again again,” he agreed, as Hercules began jerking him down the street.

© Tony Russell, 2013

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review: The Terminal (2013)

This summer’s blockbuster is a remake of Steven Spielberg’s 2004 romantic comedy The Terminal.  The main figure in the earlier film, Viktor--played somewhat awkwardly by Tom Hanks, affecting a nondescript all-purpose Eastern European accent--is trying to immigrate to New York.  He becomes stranded in Kennedy Airport, however, when his home country suddenly undergoes a violent coup and no longer officially exists.  

In this 2013 remake, director Glenn Greenwald reverses the East-West aspects of the earlier plot and blends the Spielberg film’s storyline with elements of the 1998 Will Smith/Gene Hackman  action flick Enemy of the State.  Result: instead of a comedy we now have an international thriller.  Edward Snowden plays a former U.S. spy agency contractor who is stranded in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after he reveals that an invisible coup has occurred in the United States, and the US government is no longer what its citizens think it is.

The thread connecting the two films is that both central figures--Viktor and Edward--are so honest, straightforward, and devoid of hidden motives that their simplest words and acts make the officials trying to deal with them look bad by contrast.  When the officials continue to operate as rule-bound, duplicitous, and sometimes vindictive servants of the institution, we become appalled by both the bureaucracies they serve and their own limited moral imaginations.

Snowden, depicted as a computer systems expert employed first by the CIA and then by giant private contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, is moved by conscience and love of country to reveal to the public “that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”  Fearing reprisals from the administration and its security apparatus--correctly, as it turns out--, Snowden travels abroad before his revelations are released.  He first takes refuge in Hong Kong, where he believes (mistakenly) he will be granted asylum.  There he issues a series of disclosures, each more shocking than the one before, and becomes the target of an international manhunt.

The manhunt is standard thriller material, with a range of international locations reminiscent of the Bourne series.  This is supplemented by the usual obligatory “romance.”  

Spielberg’s 2004 film used a contrived love interest between Viktor (Tom Hanks) and Amelia (a stewardess who passes periodically through Kennedy, played by the entrancing Catherine Zeta-Jones).  This 2013 version of the boy-girl angle is even more contrived.  Snowden is supplied with an off-screen girlfriend, who presumably remains in Hawaii and never figures in the plot.  

The girlfriend’s father--Jonathan Mills, in a brief but effective appearance--offers his observation, however, that Snowden “ always had very strong convictions of right and wrong.”  His comment is artfully balanced with the following scene, in which an irate neighbor says, “He’s lucky someone didn’t shoot him.”

In a misguided plot twist, the film introduces a second romance angle which quickly fizzles out, and serves only to get the mini-talented Anna Chapman, a former Russian spy, her moment on screen and in the tabloids.  Chapman, host of the weekly Russian TV show Secrets of the World, Twitters “Snowden, will you marry me?” and then poses coyly while flashbulbs pop.  They never meet.

Although the new Terminal has drawn widespread media attention, the film ultimately founders on its basic premises, which are so preposterous as to undermine the “willing suspension of disbelief” necessary for a film to touch us emotionally.

We are asked to believe that, unknown to the American people, the US’s security apparatus has constructed over the previous seven years a vast, illegal, all-encompassing electronic eavesdropping system which conducts surveillance of every citizen in the country, as well as of global communications.  

We are furthermore asked to believe that, instead of responding to Snowden’s revelations with outrage and huge demonstrations, U.S. citizens remain as passive as stunned beef cattle dangling from a moving rack while it carries them toward their slaughter. The film asks us to believe that half of the people in the country are comfortable with the idea that every snip of their electronic communication is monitored, recorded, and stored by government employees and private contractors.  

We are also asked to believe that mainstream media, instead of praising Snowden’s courage, his willingness to sacrifice his career, and his scrupulous care to avoid endangering the security of individuals and the country, actually collaborate with the government in portraying him as a coward and a traitor.

We are asked to believe that Congressional leaders rise to defend the government’s giant criminal conspiracy instead of condemning it.  Here Nancy Pelosi needs to be singled out for her outstanding performance.  Playing herself in a cameo role, complete with pearls, she defends the secret mass surveillance as entirely legal under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.  Appearing on a staged version of Meet the Press, she attacks Snowden and delivers a chilling portrayal of a hard-line party apparatchik endorsing governmental spying on its own citizens. 

Finally, we are asked to believe that sovereign nation after sovereign nation abandons any sense of international law or moral responsibility and bows to threats by the U.S., refusing Snowden asylum.  In one particularly far-fetched scene, the governments of France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain all collude with the U.S. to force a plane carrying the president of Bolivia (played by Evo Morales) to land in Austria, based on nothing more than a rumor Snowden is aboard.  There the plane is stormed and searched by Austrian police--only to find, in a comic denouement, that after all the hoopla, Snowden isn’t on the aircraft.

Snowden’s performance is a revelation.  The unknown, in his first feature role, is utterly convincing as a thoughtful thirty-something with a strong sense of patriotism and an even stronger sense of right and wrong.  Instead of a thriller with the requisite sexpot thrown in for romance, he manages to turn the film into a love story--a tale of genuine love for his country's ideals and for freedom.  There is talk of an Oscar, and he has already been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Producers and directors are besieging him with additional projects, but those remain on hold so long as the threat of a lifetime prison sentence or execution hangs over his head.

I won’t cheat people who haven’t yet seen the film by revealing its stunning conclusion; be advised that it is Hollywood to the end.  The real world could never match this.

© Tony Russell, 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013

High School Civics: First Quiz

This column is a lightly-modified version of one that first appeared back in March of 2006.  The Bush administration was the focus of that earlier column.  It’s only fair to apply the same standards now to the Obama years.  Readers are encouraged to take the quiz themselves.  I’d be delighted to know your scores, if you would like to self-report.  And I’d welcome your suggestions for additional questions that might be used in a third version of the quiz.
                                               -  Tony

* * * *
I was sitting in the coffee shop, working on my second cup of starter fluid, when Rog stormed in, red-faced, with steam pouring out of his ears. 

“Have you seen this?” he demanded, throwing some sheets of paper down on the table.

“Have a seat, Rog,” I said. “Ask Angie for a couple of ice cubes to cool you down.”

“This is no laughing matter, Ace,” he fumed. “Look at this thing. It’s a disgrace!”

“What is it, Rog?” I asked.

“It’s a quiz from my boy’s high school civics class,” he said.  “The thing is nothing more than a piece of anti-American propaganda! Every question on there is a deliberate slap at the administration and Congress!  It’s brainwashing, is what it is! It’s a blatant attempt to portray the political leadership of this country as undemocratic, and I won’t stand for it!”

“My gosh, Rog,” I said. “Let me have a look at the thing. Is it really that bad?”

“You’re darned tootin’ it is,” he bellowed. “Take a look for yourself.”

* * * *

QUIZ # 2: The Differences Between Democratic and Totalitarian Governments

With the opening chapter of our textbook, we discussed the differences between democratic governments and totalitarian governments. The quiz below contains ten pairs of statements. Write “democratic” in the blank space for the statement in each pair which accurately describes a democratic government, and “totalitarian” in the blank space for the statement in each pair which accurately describes a totalitarian government. 

1.A. Under a _____________________ government, the free flow of information is essential so people can make informed decisions. Every effort is made to see that the public receives the most complete and most accurate information possible.

1. B. Under a ____________________ government, numerous important decisions are made in secret, funding for programs is concealed, and vital information is hidden from the public. The government propagandizes its own citizenry.

2.A. Under a _____________________ government, whistleblowers are valued for their important role in exposing inefficient, corrupt, illegal, or undemocratic activities.  They are protected against retaliation from those whom they have exposed, and are honored for playing a vital role in helping keep government honest and open.

2.B. Under a _____________________ government, whistleblowers are feared, despised, persecuted, and prosecuted by those whom they have exposed.  The full power of the government is unleashed on them so that the example of their punishment will prevent others from disclosing the failures and crimes of those in power.

3.A. Under a _____________________ government, the right to know the charges against you, to be represented by effective counsel, to be given your day in court in a timely manner, and to have a fair trial before a jury of your peers are all guaranteed to every person accused of a crime.

3.B. Under a _____________________ government, certain prisoners can be held indefinitely, imprisoned without being charged with a crime, denied the opportunity to counsel, and denied a chance to defend themselves in an open court.

4.A. Under a _____________________ government, prisoners are recognized as human beings, worthy of basic levels of respect and dignity. They are treated humanely and granted fundamental rights, regardless of their crimes.

4.B. Under a _____________________ government, certain prisoners are demeaned and degraded. They are treated with contempt, tortured, and brutalized.

5.A. Under a _____________________ government, people’s private reading, writing, correspondence, e-mails, computer searches, and phone conversations are their own affair, protected from governmental intrusion except in limited, specified, carefully supervised circumstances.

5.B. Under a _____________________ government, people’s private reading, writing, correspondence, e-mails, computer searches, and phone conversations are subject to secret government scrutiny, with little or no control over whose privacy is invaded, or why, or when.

6.A. Under a _____________________ government, the right of citizens to assemble, to protest peacefully, and to demand change is valued and protected.

6.B. Under a _____________________ government, peaceful protest is hindered and suppressed. Legal obstacles are created to frustrate citizens’ protests.  They are harassed, intimidated, even arrested when they attempt to make their contrary views known.  Federal officials conspire with corporate interests and local authorities to infiltrate peaceful organizations and suppress dissent.

7.A. Under a _____________________ government, the leader is subject to the rule of law and constrained by the checks and balances of the legislature and judiciary.

7.B. Under a _____________________ government, the leader ignores or dismisses inconvenient laws, and is unchecked by the legislature and judiciary.

8.A. Under a _____________________ government, every effort is made to extend the right to vote, to remove obstacles to voting, and to ensure that votes are counted accurately.

8.B. Under a _____________________ government, the right to vote is curtailed, obstacles are deliberately created to deny certain classes of citizens the right to vote, unverifiable electronic voting machines may be used to facilitate voting fraud, and voting irregularities may be ignored.

9.A. Under a _____________________ government, extrajudicial punishment of individuals is explicitly forbidden.

9.B. Under a _____________________ government, high government officials may target individuals for kidnapping, torture, and murder, using “national security” as an excuse to clothe operations in secrecy and avoid all accountability. 

10.A. Under a _____________________ government, decisions on taxation and expenditures are made with the intent of promoting the common good, protecting the weakest citizens, increasing access to opportunity, and rewarding effort and merit rather than birth.

10.B. Under a _____________________ government, decisions on taxation and expenditures are made with the intent of promoting the interests of the powerful, protecting their lives of privilege, increasing their share of the nation’s wealth, and passing their wealth and privilege on to their heirs.

FOR EXTRA CREDIT: Given your answers above, is the country in which you are now living best characterized as democratic or totalitarian?  Support your opinion with reference to current events which illustrate specific statements listed in the quiz.

* * * *

“I don’t know, Rog,” I said. “Those look like pretty standard distinctions to me. And I don’t see any references to particular politicians or parties. Sounds as if the teacher is just trying to get kids to think a little.  Why do you see it as an attack on Mr. Obama and his administration?”

“Because all the ones that are supposed to be identified as ‘totalitarian’ are obvious references to things the president and his people have done to keep us secure, you numbskull!”

“So what are you saying, Rog?  That loyalty to a political party is more important than its policies?  That totalitarian governments are preferable to democracies? That you’d rather be safe than free?  That you’d rather just turn a blind eye toward intolerable behavior?  I’m having a hard time following you here.”

“Listen, Ace. The president is just doing his job. And I’m going to see that this loose cannon does his. Or loses it.”

“You could just suggest he switch the labels that go with the descriptions in each pair,” I suggested. “Maybe that would give you something you’d be more comfortable with. How did your boy do on the test, by the way?”

His face turned grim. “That’s what really cheeses me off,” he said. “He aced it.”

Scoring note:  All “A” blanks should be “democratic” and all “B: blanks should be “totalitarian.”  Give yourself 5 points for each blank filled in correctly.

© Tony Russell, 2013

Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Rest of the World Barely Exists

Vienna, July 2 ~
U.S. President Barack Obama’s plane, headed home after his visit to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, was forced to land in Austria today when French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese officials refused to let Air Force One land and refuel as needed for its transAtlantic flight.  Once the plane touched down, it was boarded and searched by Austrian officials before being permitted to refuel and continue on its way.  

It is widely accepted that the forced grounding and search were orchestrated by the Bolivian government, which is said to have received a tip that its ex-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada was aboard the flight.  Sánchez de Lozada, as it turned out, was not aboard Air Force One.

Sánchez de Lozada--a U.S.-backed ruler who faces charges at home for ordering the indiscriminate killing of dozens of peaceful protestors in cold blood--has been living in asylum in the U.S. since he was driven from office in 2003.  The U.S.’s willingness to harbor an alleged mass murderer for the past decade is no surprise, given that he received advice in his 2002 campaign from Democratic strategists James Carville,  Stan Greenberg, and Bob Shrum, and was known, during his tenure as president, as "Washington's most stalwart ally in South America." 

The Obama administration just last year refused Bolivia’s request for Sánchez de Lozada to be extradited so that he might stand trial for genocide. 

U.S. officials reacted with fury to the downing, boarding, and search of Air Force One.  President Obama, who still appeared somewhat shaken when he arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, adopted the high moral tone he normally employs in public, describing the incident as “shocking,” “intolerable,” “personally offensive to me as the leader of a free and sovereign nation,” “an insult to the people of our great country,” and “an unacceptable violation of standards of common decency as well as international law.”  

“Is this how they treat one of their sister-countries in the Americas?” Mr. Obama asked rhetorically.  “We try to be ‘good neighbors’ to our friends in the South, but such criminal behavior makes a nation a pariah in the global community.”

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned “the cowardly behavior of those countries who bowed to Sucre’s will in carrying out this outrage.”   The U.S. has demanded a formal apology from Bolivia and from each of the nations complicit in forcing Air Force One down.

Following instructions from the president, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel immediately put U.S. forces in the region on “High Alert,” and ordered a list of bombing targets be drawn up for the cities of Santa Cruz, El Alto, La Paz, and Cochabamba.  

Major newspapers and TV networks in the U.S. have taken up the drumbeat for a military response, calling the incident “incendiary” and “an act of aggression tantamount to an act of war.”   

The average person on the street echoed such sentiments.  “Can you believe they’d do something so high-handed?“ asked Stephie Barone, a receptionist with an international mining firm headquartered in Colorado.  “The lack of respect for other nations?  Talk about a double standard!  How would they feel if the shoe were on the other foot?”

“Bolivians think they can get away with anything,” said Don Bling, an over-the-road truck driver from Chicago.  “The normal rules don’t apply to them.  They’re a rogue state.  It’s time they looked at their behavior through other people’s eyes for a change.”

“I don’t blame ordinary Bolivians,” said Angela D’Alessandro, a beautician in the Bronx.  “They live in a media bubble.  All they know is Bolivia.  As far as they’re aware, the rest of the world barely exists.”

© Tony Russell, 2013

Monday, July 01, 2013

Subjugation Theology

“...the church ought to be a community of liberated people, committed to the liberation of all....”
            • Fr. Bernard Haring

* * * *

“Congratulations on the success of your most recent book, Rev. Verkslaven,” I said.  “I appreciate your willingness to grant me an interview.”

“Not a problem,” he said, glancing at his watch.  “It’s free publicity, and publicity sells books.”

“I’m pleased to meet you too,” I said.  “Look, this is a bit awkward, but I haven’t been able to read Subjugation Theology in advance.  My editor assigned me to meet with you, but he wouldn’t approve the $249.95 for the book, and I couldn’t afford to buy it myself.  If you don’t mind my saying so, that price seems a little steep.  Don’t you think it might cut into sales?”

“Not at all,” he sniffed.  “It’s priced for a niche market.  My  buyers have the wherewithal.  In fact, the book has been sitting at the top of the Forbes Best Sellers List for more than twenty weeks.  Many people buy multiple copies to bestow upon their friends.”

“So a lot of people are reading it?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t quite say that.  The good news is that, among the upper class, it’s become another status symbol--like a Cartier diamond-encrusted crucifix, dangling from a gold necklace.”

“Then it doesn’t bother you if people don’t open it once they have it?”

“People who own the book don’t have to read it.  The book is simply a systematic explication of what they already believe--a theological validation of the way they live their lives.”

“Well, I guess that works out well for both you and them,” I said.  “But I have to admit I’m on the outside looking in here.  I don’t know where to begin. It’s hard to ask intelligent questions when I haven’t been able to read the book.”

“That’s one factor, I’m sure,” he said with a grimace.  “Fortunately, I’ve prepared a brief ‘cheat sheet,’ if you will, that I keep for just this kind of situation.  Not a new concept, for a person of your type, I suspect.”  And he handed me a couple of laminated pages.

“Thanks,” I told him gratefully, “that’s a big help,”  and he stood there while I hastily skimmed the notes.

* * * *  

Subjugation Theology:

Main theological tenets: 
    • Wealth is a sign of God’s favor, bestowed upon those whom he loves most
    • Worldly authority accrues to God’s favorites
    • All people are created unequal
    • Creation is God’s gift to humans, to manage, dominate, and exploit

Core operating principle:  “A preferential option for the rich” 

Biblical highlights:
    • “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”  Genesis 1:28, King James version
    • “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.”  Proverbs 10:22, NIV /  “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, And he adds no sorrow to it.”  Proverbs 10:22, King James version
    • “The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys.”  Job 42:12, NIV

Other sacred texts:  
    • The Wall Street Journal 
    • Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 
    • Trump: How to Get Rich; see also Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life  [both by Donald Trump]
    • Collected works of Ayn Rand 

Sacraments: Incorporation, mergers and acquisitions, appointment to Boards of Directors, military coups

Holy sites:  Gated communities; banks; investment firms; corporate boardrooms; U.S. Supreme Court; cathedrals; country clubs; Wall Street; the Pentagon; Washington, DC

Prayer list:  tax cuts, tax shelters, tax breaks, military spending [for]; tax hikes, entitlement programs, unions, whistleblowers, government spending for housing, health, and education [against]   

Saints: The Forbes 400 (“The Richest People in America”); Alan Greenspan 

Existential focuses:  Net worth, success, security, power, social status

Primary symbols:  Walls, weapons, precious metals and gemstones, trophy wives, multiple homes, private schools, servants (gardener, nanny, cook, cleaning person, dog walker, personal trainer, etc.)

Style:  Hierarchical, triumphal, centralized, authoritarian, exclusive, aggressive, repressive, abusive, punitive, manipulative, secretive, dogmatic, opaque, violent, intolerant, self-indulgent

TV evangelization: The Apprentice

Compatible economic and political themes: 
    • Privatize, privatize, privatize
    • Tax breaks for the wealthy spur the economy
    • Poverty is caused by individual weaknesses and failings, and by genetic inferiority
    • Social Security, unemployment payments, and other entitlements rob people of the necessary initiative to work and succeed
    • National security trumps humanity
    • Monarchs and right-wing dictators make the most reliable allies
    • The best firms are too big to fail and too big to be held accountable
    • Forgiveness is for the rich, punishment for the poor
    • The American Dream is to rise from poverty to wealth within a free market framework
    • Extremism in the defense of wealth is no vice

* * * *

“This is pretty heavy stuff,” I said when I had finished reading.  “It’s a lot of theology to take in at one swoop.  But let’s start with the title of the book--‘Subjugation Theology’--and the subtitle, ‘A Theology in the Service of the Powers That Be.‘  Could you elaborate on that for me?” 

“Certainly.  ‘Powers that be’ are the traditional ecclesiastical and secular authorities.  Subjugation theology simply acknowledges that God has given people unequal skills, abilities, effort levels, and ambitions.  Over the course of human history, a natural sorting out has taken place, resulting in a hierarchy, with the most able at the top and the less able below.  Subjugation theology recognizes this as God’s plan, which concentrates decision-making power, authority, and fiscal benefits at the top, where they rightfully belong.  ‘The Divine Right of Kings’ gets at the idea, but it’s too narrow in compass.  Subjugation theology applies the same concept throughout all human endeavors--in governance, in business, in the arts, in the church.”

“I think I see.  So those at the top subjugate those below because God has designed it that way.  And the duty of those below is...?”

“To know their place. To obey.”

“And if the people below get resentful or jealous or restless or something...?”

He nodded.  “You can call it ‘communism,’ you can call it ‘socialism,’ you can call it ‘rebellion,’ you can simply say ‘the Devil made me do it.’  Whatever you call it, it’s evil and needs to be stamped out.”

“‘Stamped out’ as in...?”

“God doesn’t pull punches.  You’re talking about Someone who flooded the entire planet and wiped out all of humankind except for one family when He lost His temper.  Remember the Book of Deuteronomy, 28th chapter, too, where God pledges vast sicknesses and plagues, and condemns people to lives of exile and fear and sorrow and despair.  When God loses it, He means business.”

“When you say ‘business,’ do you mean ‘business’ as in ‘business’ or...?”

“This is theology here; let’s not get lost in semantics.”

“Uh, sure.  So if I get you right, you’re saying that when the people at the top are carrying out God’s intent, using God’s behavior as a template, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy?”

“Exactly.  The gloves are off.”

I hesitated.  “Look,” I said, “don’t take this the wrong way.  I’m certainly no Biblical scholar.  But did you ever consider the possibility that there’s something self-serving about your theology?”

He stared at me, obviously puzzled.  “Of course not,” he said.  “What makes you ask a thing like that?”

                                © Tony Russell, 2013