Immigrants, Muslims, Mormons, Jews: From Small Atrocities to Large Massacres

Recently news outlets across the country have been lighting up like a Christmas tree with stories of  beloved family and community members facing deportation (see here and here for just a couple examples). This, along with items like the Muslim travel ban, have led to widespread rebuke among progressives in the United States – with some even invoking Hitler. While cries of internment camps and extermination orders may seem outrageous and hysterical, it’s important to look back on history to see just how far-fetched these ideas are.

1900s Germany

While antisemitism was already brewing in Europe during the 1930s, an economic crisis brought it boiling over. In Germany – with concerns about poverty, inflation and unemployment – antisemitic groups such as the Nazi Party found an ideal scapegoat in Jews. Once the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, the true, horrifying scope of their antisemitic agenda revealed itself slowly over the course of a decade.

Legislation restricting places Jews could work at was the first to come. After that came restrictions on the political rights of Jews. Then came segregation laws, which forbid Jews from doing various things in the public sphere while outlawing Jewish culture and materials made by Jews. Finally, laws requiring Jews to register their property, change their names to be more easily identifiable, carry special passports, and otherwise make themselves identifiable as Jews were passed.

The first mass slaying of Jews happened in 1938 when the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party clashed with Jews, resulting in 91 Jewish deaths, damage to hundreds of Jewish businesses and synagogues, and 300,000 Jews being placed in internment camps. In 1941, mass killings of Jews became commonplace and in 1942, nearly 10 years after the Nazi Party’s rise to power, the “final solution” to transport all Jews to concentration camps for extermination was proposed and implemented.

1800S UNITED STATES

In the 1830s a new religious movement formed in the United States: Mormonism. Mormons were seen as peculiar at best and sinister at worst. Among other things, there were concerns about Mormon religious beliefs, their loyalty to their prophet, and their growing numbers. These fears eventually led to persecution and clashes between Mormons and other Americans – and eventually led to government actions (including an extermination order) that forced Mormons to flee from the United States to the relative safety of what is now Utah in the 1840s.

Even then, concerns about Mormons did not end. In 1879, President Hayes told U.S. diplomats to seek help from European governments to keep Mormon converts from travelling to the U.S. Later, in 1883, President Cleveland asked Congress to ban Mormon entry into the United States – essentially instigating a Mormon version of Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

MODERN-DAY LESSONS

Rhetoric today surrounding refugees, immigrants and Muslims is largely the same as it was for Jews and Mormons during these two time periods: There are concerns about increased crime and terrorism, growing movements, and worries about American jobs being taken. But, just as with the Mormons and Jews, these fears are overblown or completely unfounded.

Statistics show that undocumented immigrants commit less crime proportionally than U.S. citizens. Similarly, people are more likely to be killed by a white supremacist or anti-government fanatic than be killed by an Islamic terrorist. As for jobs, statistics show that the presence of undocumented immigrants actually raises wages for U.S. citizens and creates nearly as many jobs as they occupy (maybe even more). On top of this, illegal immigrants pay into our tax system without being able to reap most of the benefits.

SNOWBALL EFFECT

Generally one of the most prevailing themes in stories about undocumented immigrants being deported or Muslims being arrested and held at airports is how much they are valued (and needed) in their community. Right now, we are tearing away people who are clearly productive and contributing members of our society. We are tearing them away from their families, neighborhoods, churches and colleagues – leaving only a painful gap with absolutely no discernible benefits.

It wasn’t right in the 1800s and 1900s and it’s not right today. And while there haven’t been any extermination orders yet, if we don’t realize we’re heading down the same dark path we’ve been down before, it can easily happen again. As history has shown us, everything always starts small – but all it takes for small atrocities to snowball into large massacres is the silence of good people.

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DNC scandal, Republicans a boon for Bernie Sanders campaign?

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Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally. Photo courtesy Nick Solari.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign has been in hot water lately. After Sanders’ staffers illegally accessed campaign lists for Hillary Clinton, the DNC swiftly moved against the Sanders campaign – revoking their access to all campaign data, including the data Sanders’ campaign compiled itself.

However, despite the seriousness of what the Sanders campaign did, Sanders himself seems to have come out of the DNC scandal relatively unscathed – and possibly even stronger from it.

The Sanders campaign fired at least one staffer directly connected to the breach and attacked the DNC for denying them access to their own data – saying they were damaging the democratic voting process. The DNC ultimately backed down from the Sanders campaign and access was restored relatively quickly.

Even with the DNC’s about-face, the Sanders campaign is now suing the DNC for their actions. Additionally, rumors have swirled about the DNC favoring the Clinton campaign – with one Sanders campaign official even insinuating that the campaign staffer who accessed Clinton data was a DNC/Clinton saboteur.

No-nonsense diplomacy

The quick response to firing those deemed responsible for accessing Clinton’s campaign data, the DNC quickly caving to the Sanders campaign and restoring their data access, and the Sanders campaign’s continued pursuit of the DNC via lawsuit – all while Sanders himself maintains tact in regards to Hillary Clinton – makes Sanders come off as a quick-acting, diplomatic candidate with little tolerance for wrongdoing.

Even Donald Trump – who has had plenty of negative things to say about Sanders himself – seemed to stand behind Bernie Sanders in the debacle, applauding Sanders’ tact while attacking Clinton for her lack of it.

Trump is not the only Republican who has seen virtues in Sanders either. The presidential candidate seems to have far wider Republican appeal than Clinton. While the Facebook group Republicans for Bernie Sanders boasts over 19,000 members despite just being created this year, a Republicans for Hillary group that has been around since 2012 has a mere 319.

Multiple articles have been written about Republicans’ love affair with Bernie Sanders as well, while articles about Hillary Clinton and Republicans tend to be antagonistic. Reasons for backing Sanders differ among Republicans – some love his idea to audit the FED and go after big banks, while others back his views on education and the economy. Others simply believe he is the most likely candidate to upset the status quo.

Cross-party candidate

While the reasons for backing Sanders may differ among people, it seems that more and more people are eyeing him as the most likely Democratic nominee – and, even among Republican pundits like Ann Coulter, the most likely to win the presidential election if he clinches the Democratic nomination.

The race is far from over, but with Sanders’ cross-party appeal and demonstrated ability to weather at least one scandal without getting messy, it’s clear voters, other candidates, and the media (another thing he has in common with Republicans) will want to watch him closely.

Family vs. the world (How buzzwords can kill thoughtfulness)

Words are incredibly powerful. Even small nuances and phrases can unconsciously influence the way someone acts or thinks.

One of the recent refrains heard by religious establishments these days is some form or another of “Families are being threatened by the world.”

Us vs. Them

Without even realizing it, by using the phrase “the world” one sets themselves apart from everyone else – thereby absolving themselves of their own involvement in the world’s issues, while simultaneously propping up the idea that if everyone just did what they did it would fix everything.

This also reinforces the belief that it is unnecessary – and even counterproductive or dangerous – to let others live differently in the way that is best for them, to reach across the aisle, or to think outside the box to help tackle and solve the world’s problems.

Nevermind the fact that there are people the world over who have had families or relationships strained and complicated due to a religious dynamic (whether it be lack of religion, losing religion, or finding religion).

Family: Isn’t it about time?

That’s not to say that religions don’t have some great ideas about keeping families and community strong. Notions of togetherness such as family dinner, a day of rest from work and investing in family members are fantastic and necessary.

But even those are only good if they’re practiced, yet…

…too many people wait outside temple doors during a family member’s wedding simply because of a difference of belief.

…Sundays, a day of rest and family togetherness, are often one of the busiest days of the week – splitting up families for hours on end as they attend to different meetings and church duties. Weekdays are often a mad scramble between work/school and church activities and responsibilities with serious family time often getting pushed to the side or discarded.

…too many people have disowned or shamed family members who walk a less religious path for their own health – or have tried to coerce them into a religious way of life rather than loving them and encouraging them on the path that makes them happy.

…couples who would make great parents and want to start families, and could help alleviate the overcrowding in foster care and adoption systems, are unable to do so because they can’t legally marry or adopt children.

Us and Us

There are a lot of things that threaten families and we’re all to blame for the state of the world today. And while religion certainly holds some good ideas about how to run a family, it’s going to take a world full of different ideas, compassion and fearlessness to find solutions to the world’s problems. We can’t separate ourselves or close ourselves off in fear or prejudice.

Live and let live: Religion, atheism, and being caught in-between

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Religion has been a part of human life in some form or another for at least 4,000 years. It has provided support for communities, given people a common cause to group around, and been a source of charity and service.

Yet, for those who do not belong to a religion or believe in a God, it has often been a source of pain and suffering. And certainly there have been a number of atrocities committed in the name of God.

The discord between these two groups, I think, doesn’t just stem from a fundamental communication problem, but a fundamental difference in the way both are wired.

A brain hardwired for God

Even 4,000 years later, it’s true that religion continues to be beneficial to humanity. Charity, social support during times of crisis, and a sense of purpose are just a few of the ways religion enriches the lives of many today. There are even indications that humans are hardwired for religion.

So it’s understandable when religious people get angry when Atheists attack their convictions with statements like “Your church isn’t true” or “God is a lie” and retreat into their trenches, often destroying all hope for fruitful and progressive discussion.

But make no mistake, there are certainly things that need to be discussed. While people should be able to believe what they want I firmly believe they must square those beliefs with facts. And the fact of the matter is that religion has also contributed to some truly gut-wrenching things in our modern day: rape culture, suicides and homelessness (especially among gay youth), mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, and more.

The ways that religious denominations contribute to these and other pressing issues deserve criticism and discussion. And religious people need to understand that criticisms are not a personal attack, or even necessarily an attack on their church.

I’d be happy to see religion flourish more, but I want to see it happen while lessening the damage and hurt it unintentionally contributes to for both faithful and non-faithful people.

But while some of the problem is communication, the other problem is simply how differently we are wired — which never appears to be taken into account on either side.

While religious people may be hardwired for faith, non-believers are just as likely to be hardwired differently. Just as the idea that someone who attends church is an unintelligent sheep is grossly inaccurate, the idea that someone who doesn’t want to go to church is evil or amoral is flat-out wrong and can be incredibly damaging.

In religion, but not of religion

When I was young, church taught me about the golden rule, being thy brother’s keeper, turning the other cheek and judging not lest ye be judged. I feel that I learned some of my most cherished ideas about humanity and life from church.

But even when I was young, I felt oddly out of place in church settings. The older I got the more my anxiety in church settings grew. I felt constantly on guard — that I could not be myself. I was constantly wearing a mask and it was suffocating me. I began to drift away from the church. My family, many of my peers, and my church leaders were understandably upset by this development. After all, my very soul was at stake.

Church leaders handed me responsibility after responsibility, trying to give me a sense of purpose and place within the church. Unfortunately, these responsibilities only compounded the stress I already felt from church and, truthfully, pushed me farther away.

The more I stressed out, the more I found myself thinking, “Is this what God would really want from me? Isn’t church supposed to be a place of serenity and happiness rather than protocol, stress and anguish?”

My parents tried to prod me to attend services. When gentle pokes didn’t work, I was given ultimatums. When those just pushed me away further, they tried gifts and niceties.

The disapproval about my drifting from friends and family was palpable and created a vicious cycle. I could not be at peace in church — and it appeared I could not be at peace outside of church either. The stress of the paradox furthered the anxiety, depression, guilt and anger issues I had been experiencing in church for years. I had already been self-mutilating throughout the latter half of my high school years as a form of self-medication. Shortly after high school I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Up until this point I had tried to maintain some sort of church presence, even if it was a limited one, partly to placate my family and partly because I felt it was what I was supposed to do. However, I soon realized I could not live a double-life. I finally made it clear that I didn’t want or plan to continue attending church.

Immediately, there was an incredible weight lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t feel like I had to hide myself anymore. It was like finally breathing after spending 19+ years suffocating.

Technically, it was a great first step toward sobriety and a healthy life.

However, I still felt a lot of guilt over who I was because of my upbringing. It would be several more years before I’d begin to heal the remaining emotional scars with therapy and finally stop using alcohol and drugs, becoming truly okay with the person I am.

Live and let live

I know my family and friends always wanted what was best for me. The things they did came from a place of love, but ultimately also of ignorance about who I was. They were so worried about my soul that they didn’t understand the way they were damaging me.

I often wonder how differently my life would have been if I had been nurtured to be myself, simply be a good person, and make the most of whatever it is I do believe in. Would I have ever turned to drugs or alcohol? Would I be further along in my career?

Religion can be an incredible force for good and, I believe, even necessary for some people. But just as it may be hardwired into some people, I think there are others who are simply not wired for religion. I hope someday people on both sides will understand to “live and let live” and embrace those who live differently and have found their own way to truth, happiness and health.

The Religion Test: Homosexuality vs. environmentalism and charity

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There is a lot of talk these days about how homosexuality, transsexuality, gender roles, and the like are leading us on a road to ruin. Apocalyptic predictions are full of omens of increasing disasters — earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and famine.

And I can absolutely see all of that happening. But not for the reasons you may think.

Wailing and gnashing of teeth

It’s no secret that our society is in turmoil — fighting about who can marry who, women’s roles, etc. And it’s seriously holding us back. We’re putting so much energy, money, and time into these fronts when it could be used to help solve world hunger, cure cancer, clean up our own planet and propel us toward other planets. We are destroying ourselves with our preoccupation for the way others choose to live — suffocating our ability to question, learn and innovate.

It’s the 21st century and we’re still dabbling in medieval dogma. We’ve put men on the moon, but we can’t deal with two men in the bedroom. So yes, I can see how, if we don’t move past this, these things could absolutely cause the collapse of our society. But I think it will be because of the people who spent their time and energy oppressing others rather than working with them to tackle truly important issues. Issues like taking care of our people and planet.

Fracking and brimstone

Interestingly enough, there are several biblical passages that address the environment. Among them:

I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.

Jeremiah 2

The consequences of such defiling and careless regard are truly terrible:

The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.

Isaiah 24

It sounds dire, but it’s pretty much what scientists have been telling us will be the result if we don’t start getting serious about reducing pollution, cleaning up our environment, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and being wary of fracking and drilling.

Similarly, there are multiple passages about helping those in need.

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. … For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

Deuteronomy 15

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Ezekiel 16

Sodom is often cited as being destroyed because of homosexuality. Yet, this verse seems to indicate that it was destroyed because its people were rich yet cold-hearted, neglecting those around them who needed the most help.

Even from a non-religious standpoint, it’s clear to see how neglecting parts of our society could lead to a decline. A healthy society requires a healthy and contributing populace — not a populace trying to just scrape by.

The religion test

“Question after question I’m stumped. The paradox: Is God racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic? Or is God testing to see if I am?”

I’ve often wondered, if God is out there and if this life is a test, is religion part of the instruction manual, or part of the test?

Perhaps once we have increased our love for each other, once we have returned Earth to a pristine condition, once we have mastered a deeper understanding of the universe through science … perhaps that is when God will return. Because that is when we will truly be ready.

Even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, we’ll be in a much better place than we were before.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, America’s golden age, and science’s place in religion

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I recently got the chance to attend a lecture presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson — a rock star in the science world and well known even among those without an inclination toward science.

The lecture dug into some of the most depressing traits of humanity, but also some of the most empowering and uplifting.

Humanity’s highs and lows

Among the most depressing things Tyson discussed was our current state of affairs, especially here in America — a state many former civilizations found themselves in before disappearing off the map.

Failing infrastructure, a lack of dreaming and imagination, and an increasingly cold shoulder to the scientific pursuit that opens so many doors for us. We’ve lost our curiosity and creativity and no longer seem to foster an enthusiasm for questioning and wondering. As we create, question and wonder less, solutions to current problems remain just out of reach as our society and infrastructure collapses around us.

However, at the same time we’ve accomplished so much with so little. Tyson mentioned that we understand about 4% of the universe: Matter. The remaining 96% of the universe is made up of dark energy and dark matter, things we’re just barely beginning to wonder at and grasp for.

With that 4% knowledge we have cultivated our entire planet. We have tamed beasts and land and even the atom itself. We’ve reached into space and our work has reached beyond the solar system. Imagine what we could do if we keep questioning and wondering and learning!

Golden ages going and gone

Tyson mentioned the golden era of Islam in a clear parallel to America today. The golden age of Islam gave us some of the most important tools we use today. It gave us algebra, our numeral system, the concept of zero. It mapped the stars and gave us advancements in biology and medicine. In all, it lasted for about 300 hundred years before collapsing around 1260 A.D.

Tyson attributed the collapse of this golden age not so much to a Mongol invasion, but to a fundamental shift in the way people in the Middle East thought. Toward the end of the golden age, rules and credos took the place of questions and curiosity. The ability to openly discuss, criticize, refine, toss out, endorse, and applaud different ideas and ways of thinking fell to one way of thinking and one way to do things. The will to science was replaced by the expectation to obey.

Today, the Middle East is known more for extremism, terrorists, bloodshed, and strict Sharia law than for being a world superpower or hub of innovation and creation. What will the United States be known for in 750 years?

Religion and Science

Almost every religion believes that this life is a test to prepare us for something — whether it be our next life, Heaven, God or something else. If that’s true, I think a major component of our preparation is getting left out at the pulpit: science.

In the Bible there is a parable about a master and three servants. In the parable, a master gives one servant five bags of silver, another servant two bags of silver, and his final servant one bag of silver.

The man with five bags earns five more. When the master sees this he is pleased saying “You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!”

The man with two bags of silver earns two more. The master has similar praise for this servant.

The final servant takes his bag and buries it from fear of losing the money. The master scolds him saying “You wicked and lazy servant! … To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Indeed, as we have learned and gained more through science our responsibilities have exponentially grown. Look at the incredible responsibility needed for the atomic bomb, the true epitome of our scientific knowledge to date. As our technology has increased to give us the internal combustion engine and supercomputers, our responsibilities to not pollute the planet and help others have also increased.

As long as we have taken what we we have and continued to ask questions and learn more we have been provided with an abundance. This country has been a superpower because of our science and curiosity.

If we decide to neglect what we have and do nothing with it, another country will become the new world superpower. Infrastructure continues to crumble and people are fighting about marriage instead of working together to figure out what dark matter is, question the universe, or envision the next great discovery.

The weeping and gnashing of teeth has already started, but there’s still time to reverse it.

Counting votes and votes that count: The caucus system vs. the primary

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There is a battle raging right now all over social media, in the news, and on the streets: The caucus system vs. the primary. I’ve always been a proponent of the primary, and found the caucus system leaving a bad taste in my mouth after what many called “extremist” candidates were propelled into office due to so-called “extremist” citizens using the caucus system to “game” the voting process.

However, I’ve had some second thoughts about my enthusiasm for a primary, and I find myself wondering if the issue I’ve had with the caucus was actually due to any flaw in the system, or more a problem with our society.

The Caucus System

The caucus process is certainly more complicated and involved than a primary. It starts with a precinct meeting, which typically makes up about 1,200 to 1,300 homes (typically your neighborhood). Participation varies depending on whether the caucus is open or closed. In an open caucus, anyone in the precinct can take part. In a closed caucus, only members of the political party that is holding the caucus can take part. In either case, those that can participate are encouraged to do so. At these meetings, constituents discuss the candidates and political issues they feel are important and delegates are chosen to represent and vote for the precinct at the county and state levels. These delegates then relay their precinct’s concerns, questions, and ideas directly to the candidates — creating a dialogue between the constituents and the candidates.

While the process is involved, there are certain advantages to it. It forces political candidates to pay attention to all precincts and interact with their delegates personally — no matter how much money they have or how great their campaign machine is. This also ensures rural areas, as well as metropolitan areas, are heard.

Many people have seen the caucus system as favoring those already in power and extremist political factions — myself included. But I’m starting to feel this is a case of “correlation, not causation” so to speak. The caucus system certainly favors the politically active and knowledgeable — which will of course favor the two aforementioned groups. Extremist factions tend to be very politically active and politicians up for re-election already have a base of activists to draw from.

This, to me, is the biggest failing of the caucus system: Our uneducated, apathetic society. In 2012, only 57% of eligible voters voted — and that’s just to get to a booth and put check marks on a ballot. It’s no wonder the caucus system has been overrun by so-called extremists who actually pay attention and get involved in politics. But that’s not a failing of the system, that’s a failing of the voting public.

Primaries

Like the caucus, a primary can be either open or closed. And that’s pretty much where the similarities between caucuses and primaries end.

Primaries are a lot more simple than the caucus. It’s a straight “one person, one vote” deal — which is, I think, the best way for a candidate to be selected.

Because there is less time required from people in a primary it means everyone can truly take part too. Busy parents, educators, and working-class people who might not have the opportunity to take part in a caucus system can easily take a few minutes to vote in a booth.

But there are some notable downsides to this system as well.

Since there are no precinct meetings or delegates, candidates instead focus on raising money for advertisements to reach constituents, largely scaling back one-on-one or local interaction and focusing on high-population areas. The focus on advertisements and fundraising can also turn primaries into a battle of money, with the candidate who has the most all too often coming out on top.

It also reduces the involvement and political acumen needed from voters. Everyone can vote, but not necessarily everyone should. Too many voters, it seems, vote without comprehensively researching or discussing candidates and public policy.

Education and openness

Regardless of whether we ultimately use a caucus system or primary, the key thing that needs to be emphasized is education and open discussion. Politics needs to become something every citizen takes part in and actively discusses with friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues.

Just as important, we need to be able to openly discuss politics. Too much political discussion devolves into shouting matches or hyperbolic rhetoric.

The American political landscape has become a series of echo chambers. Friends, family and neighbors have stopped discussing politics with those who have a different stance, saving their political thoughts for like-minded individuals. Without proper criticism or a different view on things, there’s no way to refine each other’s viewpoints or truly figure out what makes each other tick.

We need to turn off the vitriol of Fox News and MSNBC and talk plainly, but passionately, about the issues that affect our country, especially with those who think differently than us.