Five Fold Today

The Cult Of Trump - Revival of Hate - Are Your Words Prophetic or Poisonous? - The Man In the White House Will Bring About the Ruin Of Your Land - Evangelizing a Lukewarm Church - How God Works Through Desert Experiences - Recalling Pete Seeger

November 3rd, 2018

The Cult Of Trump

Chris Hedges

Cult leaders arise from decayed communities and societies in which people have been shorn of political, social and economic power. The disempowered, infantilized by a world they cannot control, gravitate to cult leaders who appear omnipotent and promise a return to a mythical golden age. The cult leaders vow to crush the forces, embodied in demonized groups and individuals, that are blamed for their misery. The more outrageous the cult leaders become, the more they flout law and social conventions, the more they gain in popularity. Cult leaders are immune to the norms of established society. This is their appeal. Cult leaders demand a God-like power. Those who follow them grant them this power in the hope that the cult leaders will save them.

Donald Trump has transformed the decayed carcass of the Republican Party into a cult. All cults are personality cults. They are extensions of the cult leaders. The cult reflects the leader´s prejudices, worldview, personal style and ideas. Trump did not create the yearning for a cult leader. Huge segments of the population, betrayed by the established elites, were conditioned for a cult leader. They were desperately looking for someone to rescue them and solve their problems. They found their cult leader in the New York real estate developer and reality television show star. Only when we recognize Trump as a cult leader, and many of those who support him as cult followers, will we understand where we are headed and how we must resist.

It was 40 years ago next month that a messianic preacher named Jim Jones convinced or forced more than 900 of his followers, including roughly 280 children, to die by ingesting a cyanide-laced drink. Trump´s refusal to acknowledge and address the impending crisis of ecocide and the massive mismanagement of the economy by kleptocrats, his bellicosity, his threats against Iran and China and the withdrawal from nuclear arms treaties, along with his demonization of all who oppose him, ensure our cultural and, if left unchecked, physical extinction. Cult leaders are driven, at their core, by the death instinct, the instinct to annihilate and destroy rather than nurture and create. Trump shares many of the characteristics of Jones as well as other cult leaders including Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles, the founders of the Heaven´s Gate cult; the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who led the Unification Church; Credonia Mwerinde, who led the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda; Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong; and David Koresh, who led the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. Cult leaders are narcissists. They demand obsequious fawning and total obedience. They prize loyalty above competence. They wield absolute control. They do not tolerate criticism. They are deeply insecure, a trait they attempt to cover up with bombastic grandiosity. They are amoral and emotionally and physically abusive. They see those around them as objects to be manipulated for their own empowerment, enjoyment and often sadistic entertainment. All those outside the cult are branded as forces of evil, prompting an epic battle whose natural expression is violence.

“A cult is a mirror of what is inside the cult leader,’ Margaret Thaler Singer wrote in “Cults in Our Midst.’ “He has no restraints on him. He can make his fantasies and desires come alive in the world he creates around him. He can lead people to do his bidding. He can make the surrounding world really his world. What most cult leaders achieve is akin to the fantasies of a child at play, creating a world with toys and utensils. In that play world, the child feels omnipotent and creates a realm of his own for a few minutes or a few hours. He moves the toy dolls about. They do his bidding. They speak his words back to him. He punishes them any way he wants. He is all-powerful and makes his fantasy come alive. When I see the sand tables and the collections of toys some child therapists have in their offices, I think that a cult leader must look about and place people in his created world much as a child creates on the sand table a world that reflects his or her desires and fantasies. The difference is that the cult leader has actual humans doing his bidding as he makes a world around him that springs from inside his own head.’

George Orwell understood that cult leaders manipulate followers primarily through language, not force. This linguistic manipulation is a gradual process. It is rooted in continual mental chaos and verbal confusion. Lies, conspiracy theories, outlandish ideas and contradictory statements that defy reality and fact soon paralyze the opposition. The opposition, with every attempt to counter this absurdism with the rational—such as the decision by Barack Obama to make his birth certificate public or by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to release the results of her DNA test to prove she has Native American ancestry—plays to the cult leader. The cult leader does not take his or her statements seriously and often denies ever making them, even when they are documented. Lies and truth do not matter. The language of the cult leader is designed exclusively to appeal to the emotional needs of those in the cult.

“Hitler kept his enemies in a state of constant confusion and diplomatic upheaval,’ Joost A.M. Meerloo wrote in “The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing.’ “They never knew what this unpredictable madman was going to do next. Hitler was never logical, because he knew that that was what he was expected to be. Logic can be met with logic, while illogic cannot—it confuses those who think straight. The Big Lie and monotonously repeated nonsense have more emotional appeal in a cold war than logic and reason. While the enemy is still searching for a reasonable counter-argument to the first lie, the totalitarians can assault him with another.’

The cult leader grooms followers to speak in the language of hate and violence. The cult leader constantly paints a picture of an existential threat, often invented, that puts the cult followers in danger. Trump is doing this by demonizing the caravan of some 4,000 immigrants, most from Honduras, moving through southern Mexico. Caravans of immigrants, are, in fact, nothing new. The beleaguered and impoverished asylum seekers, including many families with children, are 1,000 miles from the Texas border. But Trump, aided by nearly nonstop coverage by Fox News and Christian broadcasting, is using the caravan to terrify his followers, just as he, along with these media outlets, portrayed the protesters who flooded the U.S. capital to oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as unruly mobs. Trump claims the Democrats want to open the border to these “criminals’ and to “unknown Middle Easterners’ who are, he suggests, radical jihadists. Christian broadcasting operations, such as Pat Robertson´s The 700 Club, splice pictures of marching jihadists in black uniforms cradling automatic weapons into the video shots of the caravan.

The fear mongering and rhetoric of hate and violence, as I saw in the former Yugoslavia, eventually lead to widespread acts of violence against those the cult leader defines as the enemy. The 13 explosive devices sent last week to Trump critics and leaders of the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, along with George Soros, James Clapper and CNN, allegedly by Cesar Sayoc, an ex-stripper and fanatic Trump supporter who was living out of his van, herald more violence. Trump, tossing gasoline on the flames, used this assault against much of the leadership of the Democratic Party to again attack the press, or, as he calls it, “the enemy of the people.’ “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,’ he tweeted. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its acts, FAST!’

It should come as no surprise that on Saturday another enraged American white male, his fury and despair seemingly stoked by the diatribes and conspiracy theories of the far right, entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and massacred eight men and three women as he shouted anti-Semitic abuse. Shot by police and arrested at the scene was Robert Bowers, who believes that Jewish groups are aiding the caravan of immigrants in southern Mexico. He was armed with a military-style AR-15 assault rifle, plus three handguns. The proliferation of easily accessible high-caliber weapons, coupled with the division of the country into the blessed and the damned by Trump and his fellow cultists, threatens to turn the landscape of the United States into one that resembles Mexico, where at least 145 people in politics, including 48 candidates and pre-candidates, along with party leaders and campaign workers, have been assassinated over the last 12 months, according to Etellekt, a risk analysis firm in Mexico. There have been 627 incidents of violence against politicians, 206 threats and acts of intimidation, 57 firearm assaults and 52 attacks on family members that resulted in 50 fatalities. Trump´s response to the mass shooting at the synagogue was to say places of worship should have armed guards, a call for further proliferation of firearms. Look south if you want a vision of our future.

Domestic terrorism and nihilistic violence are the natural outcomes of the economic, social and political stagnation, the total seizure of power by a corporate cabal and oligarchic elite, and the contamination of civil discourse by cult leaders. The weaponization of language is proliferating, as seen in the vile rhetoric that characterizes many political campaigns for the midterm elections, including the racist robocall sent out against Andrew Gillum, an African-American candidate for the governorship of Florida. “Well, hello there. I is the negro Andrew Gillum and I´ll be askin´ you to make me governor of this here state of Florida,’ a man speaking in a caricature of a black dialect accompanied by jungle noises said in the robocall. Cults externalize evil. Evil is embodied in the demonized other, whether desperate immigrants, black political candidates and voters, or the Democratic Party. The only way to purge this “evil’ and restore America to “greatness’ is to eradicate these human contaminants.

The cult leader, unlike a traditional politician, makes no effort to reach out to his opponents. The cult leader seeks to widen the divisions. The leader brands those outside the cult as irredeemable. The leader seeks the omnipotence to crush those who do not kneel in adoration. The followers, yearning to be protected and empowered by the cult leader, seek to give the cult leader omnipotence. Democratic norms, an impediment to the leader´s omnipotence, are attacked and abolished. Those in the cult seek to be surrounded by the cult leader´s magical aura. Reality is sacrificed for fantasy. Those who challenge the fantasy are not considered human. They are Satanic.

Meerloo wrote:

The dictator is not only a sick man, he is also a cruel opportunist. He sees no value in any other person and feels no gratitude for any help he may have received. He is suspicious and dishonest and believes that his personal ends justify any means he may use to achieve them. Peculiarly enough, every tyrant still searches for some self-justification. Without such a soothing device for his own conscience, he cannot live. His attitude toward other people is manipulative; to him, they are merely tools for the advancement of his own interests. He rejects the conception of doubt, of internal contradictions, or man´s inborn ambivalence. He denies the psychological fact that man grows to maturity through groping, through trial and error, through the interplay of contrasting feelings. Because he will not permit himself to grope, to learn through trial and error, the dictator can never become a mature person. … It is because the dictator is afraid, albeit unconsciously, of his own internal contradictions, that he is afraid of the same internal contradictions of his fellow man. He must purge and purge, terrorize and terrorize in order to still his own raging inner drives. He must kill every doubter, destroy every person who makes a mistake, imprison everyone who cannot be proved to be utterly single-minded.

Behavior that ensures the destruction of a public figure´s career does not affect a cult leader. It does not matter how many lies uttered by Trump are meticulously documented by The New York Times or The Washington Post. It does not matter that Trump´s personal financial interests, as we see in his relationship with the Saudis, take precedence over the rule of law, diplomatic protocols and national security. It does not matter that he is credibly charged by numerous women with being a sexual predator, a common characteristic of cult leaders. It does not matter that he is inept, lazy and ignorant. The establishment, whose credibility has been destroyed because of its complicity in empowering the ruling oligarchy and the corporate state, might as well be blowing soap bubbles at Trump. Their vitriol, to his followers, only justifies the hatred radiating from the cult.

The cult leader responds to only one emotion—fear. The cult leader, usually a coward, will react when he thinks he is in danger. The cult leader will bargain and compromise when afraid. The cult leader will give the appearance of being flexible and reasonable. But as soon as the cult leader is no longer afraid, the old patterns of behavior return, with a special venom directed at those who were able to momentarily impinge upon his power.

The removal of Trump from power would not remove the yearning of tens of millions of people, many conditioned by the Christian right, for a cult leader. Most of the leaders of the Christian right have built cult followings of their own. These Christian fascists embraced magical thinking, attacked their enemies as agents of Satan and denounced reality-based science and journalism long before Trump did. Cults are a product of social decay and despair, and our decay and despair are expanding, soon to explode in another financial crisis.

The efforts by the Democratic Party and much of the press, including CNN and The New York Times, to discredit Trump, as if our problems are embodied in him, are futile. The smug, self-righteousness of this crusade against Trump only contributes to the national reality television show that has replaced journalism and politics. This crusade attempts to reduce a social, economic and political crisis to the personality of Trump. It is accompanied by a refusal to confront and name the corporate forces responsible for our failed democracy. This collusion with the forces of corporate oppression neuters the press and Trump´s mainstream critics.

Our only hope is to organize the overthrow of the corporate state that vomited up Trump. Our democratic institutions, including the legislative bodies, the courts and the media, are hostage to corporate power. They are no longer democratic. We must, like liberation movements of the past, engage in acts of sustained mass civil disobedience and non-cooperation. By turning our ire on the corporate state, we name the true sources of power and abuse. We expose the absurdity of blaming our demise on demonized groups such as undocumented workers, Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, liberals, feminists, gays and others. We give people an alternative to a Democratic Party that refuses to confront the corporate forces of oppression and cannot be rehabilitated. We make possible the restoration of an open society. If we fail to embrace this militancy, which alone has the ability to destroy cult leaders, we will continue the march toward tyranny.

Revival of Hate

Noam Chomsky

Revival of Hate Is Encouraged by Trump´s Rhetoric

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I´m Amy Goodman. The nation is continuing to grieve the 11 Jewish worshipers who were gunned down at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday in what´s being described as the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. Funerals were held Thursday for three more victims of the shooting: husband and wife Sylvan and Bernice Simon, and Richard Gottfried.

Robert Bowers, who´s accused of the mass shooting, pleaded not guilty Thursday. He´s charged with 44 counts—including murder and hate crimes—over 30 of which could be subject to the death penalty. Bowers has a history of posting anti-Semitic and xenophobic content and was posting on the far-right social media site Gab until just before the shooting. He referred to the migrant caravan as an “invasion,’ repeating the words that President Trump uses.

We continue our conversation now with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned professor, linguist and dissident. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—Chomsky was. I asked him about the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and other recent right-wing attacks.

NOAM CHOMSKY: When I was a child, the threat that fascism might take over much of the world was not remote. That´s much worse than what we´re facing now. My own locality happened to be very anti-Semitic. We were the only Jewish family in a Irish—mostly Irish and German Catholic neighborhood, much of which was pro-Nazi, so I could see it better on the ground.

What we´re now seeing is a revival of hate, anger, fear, much of it encouraged by the rhetorical excesses of the leadership, which are stirring up passions and terror, even the ludicrous claims about the Nicaraguan army ready to invade us—Ronald Reagan—the caravan of miserable people planning to kill us all. All of these things, plus, you know, praising somebody who body-slammed a reporter, one thing after another—all of this raises the level of anger and fear, which has roots.

The roots lie in what has happened to the general population over the past 40 years. People really have faced significant distress. An astonishing fact about the United States is that life expectancy is actually declining. That doesn´t happen in developed societies, apart from, you know, major war or huge famine. But it´s happening because of social distress, and not necessarily impoverishment. The people who are demonstrating this fear and resentment may be even moderately affluent, but what they see is they´re stagnating. In the past, there was—you had this dream: You worked hard, you could get ahead, your children would be a little better. Now it stopped. It stopped for the last 40 years as a result of very specific socio and economic policies, which have been designed so that they sharply concentrate wealth, they enhance corporate power, that has immediate effects on the political system in perfectly obvious ways, even to the point where lobbyists literally write legislation. This onslaught has literally cast a bunch of the population aside. They´re stagnating. They are not moving forward. They see no prospects. And they´re bitter and angry about it.

And this anger and bitterness can take pathological forms. It could take very constructive forms. It could lead to popular organized movements, which would dedicate themselves to overcoming these blows against decent human existence, which certainly can be done. The groundwork for that has been severely undermined, for example, by the destruction—careful, planned destruction—of labor unions, the main force, historically, for leading the way towards more progressive, humane policies. All of these are a package. They´ve all gone together for 40 years—there´s precursors, of course—and it has led to a situation where you get an outburst of what Gramsci once called morbid symptoms, pathological developments, of the kind that you mentioned, growing out of a soil that is rich in incitement to such things happening.

AMY GOODMAN: So, and then, if you could talk about specifically the targeting of the Jewish worshipers, I mean, and the clear connection that the shooter made between this temple and HIAS, what´s formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the group that has helped to resettle refugees of any religion for well over a hundred years? And he repeated words that Trump has begun using more and more about, you know, they´re helping the “invaders’ come in. If you could respond specifically to that?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think it´s pretty clear that he´s whipping up terror about invasions, people pouring across the border to plan to kill us all, to destroy our civilization. You take people who are already somewhat disturbed and living under harsh conditions, this can incite them to acts of extreme violence against targets like the Jewish temple. All the anti-Semitic tropes are pointing in that direction, but most—also against Afro-Americans, immigrants, any vulnerable population or population that´s easy to target for lots of cultural and historical reasons, all this amplified by the loud speaker up in the White House and his minions, who are doing what they can to terrorize the population, create the conditions under which you can get something like the attack on the synagogue.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted to turn, then, to a clip of the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, who was interviewed by Ayman Mohyeldin on MSNBC on Sunday, so it was soon after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. Dermer was asked if Trump´s rhetoric is in part to blame for the massacre.

RON DERMER: I see a lot of bad people, on both sides, who attack Jews. This is not the first time that a Jewish community has been attacked. It is the worst anti-Semitic attack in, oh, 200 years in the United States, that you have 11 dead.

AMY GOODMAN: Dermer said no world leader had made stronger statements against anti-Semitism than Trump. And then he went on to blame both sides.

RON DERMER: To simply say that this is because of one person or it only comes on one side is to not understand the history of anti-Semitism or the reality of anti-Semitism. One of the big forces in college campuses today is anti-Semitism. And those anti-Semites are usually not neo-Nazis on college campuses. They´re coming from the radical left.

AMY GOODMAN: This is right after the white supremacist attack on the synagogue, and the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. is now injecting, saying this comes from both sides. If you could respond to this? Interestingly, two days later, when Trump and his family went to Pittsburgh, the only—and this is pointed out in The New York Times—the only public official standing there to greet him was Israel´s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. People like the Pittsburgh mayor and the others said this was not the time to come.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think it´s quite easy to understand. There is an alliance of reactionary repressive states developing under the U.S. aegis. Israel is a leading member of it. Saudi Arabia is another, one of the most brutal, regressive, harsh states in the world; United Arab Emirates; Egypt under the harsh, brutal dictatorship; the United States; Israel.

And the United States, of course, very—especially under this—the alignment goes way back, but the Trump administration has gone way out of its way to lend support to Israeli crimes, Israeli expansion. And the Israeli right wing, of course, which is increasingly dominant, is delighted. So, the fact that, say, the Israeli ambassador would come out and say that is really no more surprising than the fact that John Bolton would praise the election of a strong advocate of torture, murder and repression. It all fits the same pattern.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of the number of people who died this weekend, the horrific massacre—11 Jews died. The model of the coverage, of knowing who each person was, hearing their names, their life stories, their ages, who their families were, knowing when the funerals are taking place through the week—what about this being a model for what´s happening in Gaza? I mean, for example, on, I think it was, Friday, six Palestinians were killed, with those ongoing protests near the separation wall. Israeli military has gunned down more than 200 Palestinians. That was Friday. Six Palestinians died. And on Sunday, three Palestinian teenagers were killed in an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip. Your thoughts on Dermer trying to make this connection to get away from the issue of white supremacy and, somehow, someway, blame the left?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, remember, all of this in Gaza is being done with overwhelming U.S. support, even U.S. weapons, literally.

Gaza is on the verge of becoming, literally, uninhabitable. The international monitors—U.N. and others—have warned that within just a few years, it may be literally unlivable. I mean, right now, there´s virtually no potable water. The sewage pours into the sea, because Israel has bombed and destroyed the power plants and the sewage plant.

Back in 2005, when Israel withdrew its illegal settlers in Gaza and moved them to illegal settlements in the West Bank, it imposed a siege on Gaza. The official terms for that—official, not making this up—are “We have to impose a diet on Gaza, not harsh enough so they´ll all die’—implication being that wouldn´t look very good—’but harsh enough so that they can barely survive.’

And there have been—quite apart from the brutal siege, there have been repeated attacks on Gaza by the Israeli army. Gaza is virtually defenseless. This is one of the strongest armies in the world, lashing out to devastate Gaza.

There´s always pretexts. There are pretexts for everything. Hitler had a pretext for invading Poland: He was protecting Germany from the wild terror of the Poles. And the Israelis, with U.S. backing, have concocted pretexts—no time to go through it here, there´s plenty in print about it. Every one of them collapses on inspection. It´s just a punching bag.

And the effect on the people of Gaza is to create utter desperation. The current march is just an attempt to somehow break the siege, make life possible. The problem could be overcome easily, simply by providing them with the opportunities for survival. That´s it. Not trying to block every attempt at political unification of the factions. It´s often been a pretext for another attack.

Some of what´s gone on—parts of it we´ve seen—are just grotesque, like when a highly trained Israeli sniper murders a young woman far from the border who´s trying to help—a Palestinian volunteer medic, young woman, who´s trying to help a wounded man, and a sniper murders her. Highly trained snipers. They know what they´re doing. The international monitors who have gone through the hospitals are shocked by the kinds of wounds they´re finding, purposely designed to maim people so they´ll barely—not kill them, but maim them, so they won´t be able to have a—even take part in the minimal life that exists there.

Actually, Trump had a solution to this, to the misery of Gaza and the prospect that 2 million people, half of them children, will soon be in a situation of, literally, beyond the possibility of survival. They had a lifeline, what´s called the UNRWA support, international support, which was barely keeping them alive. So, Trump´s reaction is to cut it, cut support for it. And he even had a reason. He said, “They´re not being grateful enough to me for my efforts to give them the ultimate deal that I´m planning.’ Ultimate deal, which means give up all your rights and forget it.

Two leading American political analysts, specialists on the Middle East, with long government service, Robert Malley, Aaron David Miller, really encapsulated the Trump program very simply, said the Trump message is to the Palestinians, “You have lost. Forget it. Go away. You´re done. And because the people of Gaza are not sufficient—on the West Bank—or, sufficiently appreciative, let´s cut the lifeline.’ In fact, let´s even—as he did—cut support for underfunded Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank. Let´s cut the funding for the UNRWA school in the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, still reeking from the hideous Israeli-run massacre there back at the end of their invasion in '82. You see little kids playing in the mud in dark alleys. They'll never get out. Their children will be there, and so on. They had one hope: the UNRWA school. Good, let´s kill that. All of this, these things are, just one after another, taking place. Indescribable.

I mean, the war in Yemen, which finally, at last, is getting a little bit of attention, has been a major horror story. The most careful estimates of the killing, that are now just coming out, show that there may be seven or eight times as high as what has been—the numbers that have been given. They´re on the order of 70,000 or 80,000. The analysis of these Saudi-Emirate programs, a long study that came out of the Fletcher School of International Diplomacy at Tufts University recently, showed, quite persuasively, that the policies of the attackers are aimed at destroying the food supplies, making sure the population starves to death. They´re also trying to close the port through which some supplies come.

All of this is fully backed by the United States. U.S., and Britain secondarily, supply the arms. The U.S. supplies the intelligence for the Saudi Air Force, which is carrying out massive atrocities. All of these things are happening. For years, they´ve barely been discussed. Now, finally, you´re seeing pictures on the front page of starving Yemeni children, even a call for a ceasefire—much belated, little attention to our crucial responsibility for it.

Just like our responsibility, which is overwhelming, for the plight of the miserable people trying to escape from the troika—Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala—the three countries that have been completely under our thumb and are suffering bitterly for it, now trying to escape. So we turn them into an invasion mob planning to destroy us. All of this is surreal. It only is overshadowed by the failure to attend even minimally to the literal existential threats, that are not remote.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you consider this one of the gravest times, in your lifetime, in U.S. politics, Noam?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It´s one of the gravest times in human history. Humans have been around for 200,000 years. For the first time in their history, they have to decide—and quickly—whether organized human society is going to survive for very long. And that´s not in the remote distance.

Again, there are two—with all the problems and horrors in the world which should be attended to, there are two existential threats, both being increased. One is the threat of nuclear war, which is terminal. The other is the threat of severe environmental catastrophe, which doesn´t destroy all human life, but it does undermine the prospects for organized society.

And you mentioned earlier a third threat, also dating back to the end of the Second World War. The end of the Second World War was the opening of the nuclear age. And as I mentioned, it´s kind of a miracle that we´ve survived it. It´s also the opening of what geologists are now calling the Anthropocene, the age in which human activity is radically affecting the environment. There´s been debate about its origins. The World Geological Society more or less settled on the end of the beginning—the end of the Second World War, the late ´40s and on, where there was a sharp spike in damage to the environment.

The third is what´s called the sixth extinction, the extinction of species. The fifth extinction was around 65 million years ago, when it´s assumed that a huge asteroid hit the Earth and ended the age of the dinosaurs. It destroyed most of the species on Earth. We´re now in the midst of the sixth extinction, with very rapid destruction of other species and of the kind of environment in which they can survive, like wilderness, for example. We are pushing to the edge of not only our own survival, but that of much of the—much of life on Earth.

So, is it the most gravest moment in my life? Yes. But also in all of human history. And things like the election next week will have an impact on this.

Are Your Words Prophetic or Poisonous?

Joe Kay

There´s a wonderful passage in the gospels about Jesus standing up to the religious folk who talk about the high road but refuse to walk it. He reminds his followers that what goes into our mouths won´t defile us, but the words that come out of them matter a great deal.

Our words are important. What we say has a huge impact.

We´ve gotten yet another reminder of the power of words in the past few days. A man immersed in racist words killed black people in a Kentucky grocery store. A man immersed in fearful words sent bombs to people labeled as threats. A man immersed in anti-Semitic words killed Jewish people in their synagogue.

Words matter.

Words can inject the disease of hatred, fear, and divisiveness into our society, or they can be used as a healing balm that counteracts the infection. They can inspire us and bring us hope, or they can appeal to our darkest instincts and tear us apart.

This is a fitting time to remember three important things about words:

First, we must monitor what we say and how we say it. It´s tempting to respond to incendiary, angry words with incendiary and angry language of our own. We mustn´t do that. Martin Luther King Jr. showed us how to change societies in nonviolent ways, and that included nonviolent language.

Love means recognizing that everyone — even the one who disagrees with us stridently — is an equally beloved child of God. We respect their human dignity, even if they don´t do the same for us. Our aim is never to harm anyone, but to challenge their way of thinking and defend those whom they are hurting.

Second, we must hold our leaders accountable for all their words. Our political, religious, and social leaders have influential positions, gaining louder voices when they speak from pulpits and press conferences.

We must hold our leaders accountable for all their words.
We´ve seen throughout history how leaders can stir fear, resentment and conflict, or turn down the heat by rejecting hateful and dishonest discourse. Leaders have an enormous impact on people´s attitudes and actions with their spoken and tweeted words.

When leaders choose crude, divisive, and incendiary language, we must challenge them. When they inject poison into our society´s veins with bullying and mocking and demonizing, we must replace them.

This brings us to the third point about words: The ones we don´t say matter immensely, too. We must never be silent about things that matter.

A friend´s father is a retired pastor. My friend asked his dad what he most regretted during his many years of ministry. The father said he remains anguished to this day that he failed to speak up during the civil rights movement. He knew some people in his church were racist, and he didn´t want to create friction or divide the congregation by speaking up for the equality of all God's children.

Years later, he realized his silence had made the church a safe sanctuary for racism. His fear of confrontation provided cover for the hateful attitudes and words in his congregation.

We live in such times again. Choosing the safety of silence amounts to siding with those whose words demean us, divide us and inspire horrific acts upon us.

Let's never underestimate the power of our words. What comes out of our mouths and off our fingertips can heal or harm, unite or divide, bring more of God´s love into our world or more mistrust, fear and darkness.

Let´s choose our words carefully and say them respectfully, persistently, and bravely. Let´s choose leaders whose words are prophetic rather than poisonous.

And let´s not just say them, but live them. Let´s make our words become flesh in a world that desperately needs to hear them, see them and be saved by them.

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Evangelizing a Lukewarm Church

by Vance Havner

We have failed in the New Testament pattern of faith in Christ, fellowship with Christ, faithfulness to Christ, and fruitfulness for Christ...

If the time, money, and effort spent in trying to work up evangelism in lukewarm churches were spent in calling the churches themselves to repentance, confession, cleansing, and empowering, evangelism would be the natural result. We are trying to produce the results without the cause, the fruit without the tree. The New Testament epistle writers concentrated not on stirring up Christians to evangelize but rather on developing healthy Christians... Healthy Christians are naturally soul-winners, by life and by lip.

Which comes first, revival or evangelism? This is not a chicken-or-egg question. Scripture, reason, and experience teach that God begins with His own people. David must have the joy of salvation restored before he can teach transgressor´s God´s ways and see sinners converted. And Peter must be converted himself before he can strengthen the brethren and feed the sheep. But revivals should not be necessary. God meant that we should grow in grace continually. Springtime is often used as an illustration of revival, but Christian growth should be continuous, not seasonal. Periodic backsliding and repenting are not normal Christian experience and should never be so regarded. When we have a vigorous daily Christian experience, revival is unnecessary, for a glowing fire does not need rekindling. But because our condition is subnormal, revival is necessary to get us back to normal. Then it has served its purpose. Revivals are not supposed to last; to try to live at revival pitch all the time would make Christians and churches abnormal. Excesses have followed some revivals because some dear souls attempted to live on the mountaintop all the time.

Nevertheless, just now the number-one item on the agenda is repentance in the church accompanied by confession and forsaking of sin, reconciliation and restitution, separation from the world, submission to the lordship of Christ, and the filling of the Spirit. Finney said, "Revival is a new beginning of obedience to God." It is not an emotional binge, although of course it affects the emotions because it affects the whole man. Nor does it begin happily; it starts with a broken and contrite heart.

The Man In the White House Will Bring About the Ruin Of Your Land

Stephen Hanson

3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.
4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. Rev. 6

18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18

"Do you not know, and have you not seen and heard, that judgment is falling upon this nation?  For the stage is set, and the horse of war, the red horse, will ride across the land. Those plans that have been made to circumvent treaties will spark and ignite another war.

For the man in the white house will bring about the ruin of your land. He thinks that his change in policies demonstrates strength and resolve, but I tell you that it will bring you to war!  For it is in his heart to set himself up as a great king, but his pride and arrogance will be his ruin.

A wise man and ruler would listen to his advisers, but he is bent on destruction. Watch and wait and be ready when the signs are seen. For surely, you are on the edge of ruin. Those prophets who prophesied that he would be a Cyrus have been seen for what they are. For the king does everything for himself and for him alone.

Oh foolish people who lauded for a man who promised them great things!  Oh foolish people who have twisted these things into your own minds!   You have been weighed in the balance and have been found wanting.

You have made an idol unto yourselves. There is the sign of a 'false peace.'  And you know full well when they say 'peace and safety' that sudden destruction will come upon them. I control the game, my people. I AM the God of this land. Do not think that I would let a mere man take control over everything. But my purposes are involved in this. For when everything comes to a head, and the nation falls prey to outside influences, then some will come to Me.  For when the buildings fall, and the great quake tears your nation in half, then perhaps some will know that I AM God.

But it is too late to think that I will make you great oh land!  For you have turned to your own gods. You have sacrificed on every hill. You have killed the innocents and your depravity has reached to my very throne. You think that I will bless a nation that has gone astray and has blasphemed my name?  You will be brought to the ground, and you will see how far you have fallen! "


Stephen Hanson

How God Works Through Desert Experiences

Mark Altrogge

God leads every believer into the desert at one time or another.
Well, maybe not every believer.  I can´t give you a Bible verse that says that.  But in over 30 years of pastoring, I´d say God leads most believers into the desert at one time or another.

Moses spent 40 years in the desert before God raised him up to lead Israel out of Egypt.  As soon as God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, he took them into the desert.  David did a lot of desert time hiding out from Saul before God made him king.  And the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert after his baptism for 40 days.

Lots of circumstances can be “deserts.’
A prolonged sickness can be a desert.  Moving to a new place or joining a new church where you don´t know anyone can be one.  Being stuck in a miserable or boring job instead of the fulfilling career you had hoped for can be a desert.  A rebellious child or an unbelieving spouse can be a desert.

When we´re in the desert, it can feel like God´s not doing anything.  Or he´s set us aside.  But God is always at work.  He uses desert experiences in many ways, as we see in Dt. 8:2-6:

Deserts humble us
And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you (v 2)

Deserts reveal what is in our hearts
Testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  (v 2)things in you.

Deserts teach us to live by God´s Word
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.  (v 3)

Deserts teach us that God can provide for us in any circumstance.
Your clothing did not wear out on you, and your foot did not swell these forty years.  (v 4)

Deserts teach us to fear and obey God
Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.  So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.  (v 5-6)

When Moses, Israel, David, and Jesus were in the desert, God was preparing them for something greater.  If you´re in the desert right now, know that God is at work in your life.  Don´t despair.  Trust God.  He´s doing great things in you.  

Mark Altrogge

Recalling Pete Seeger

Peter Dreier

Recalling Pete Seeger´s Controversial Performance on the Smothers Brothers Show 50 Years Ago
Seeger had been blacklisted as a communist and this gutsy defiance of a corporate media giant marked his return to the mainstream cultural scene.
March 2, 2018 Peter Dreier The American Prospect

Pete Seeger with guitar
Pete Seeger performing in 1986, Josef Schwarz/Creative Commons

Fifty years ago this week, folk singer Pete Seeger performed the controversial anti-war song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy’ on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour show on CBS television. The story of that appearance, and that song, illustrates the tumultuous political tensions of the era and was a bold act of defiance against corporate media power.

Seeger, who died in 2014, is now viewed as a legendary figure in American history. But when Tom and Dick Smothers invited him on their show, many people still viewed him as a dangerous radical, marginalized by the nation´s political, business, and media establishment.  

Seeger had been blacklisted from network television since the 1950s because of his leftist politics. For a brief period in the early 1950s, as a member of the Weavers quartet, he performed in prestigious nightclubs, appeared on network television shows, and recorded several hit songs, including “Goodnight, Irene,’ “Tzena Tzena,’ “Wimoweh,’ and “So Long It´s Been Good to Know You.’ But as engaged radicals, they were an easy target for the Red Scare´s blacklist. They lost their television show contracts and nightclub bookings. Radio stations stopped playing their songs and their records stopped selling.

Seeger left the Weavers but his solo career also fell victim to the Red Scare. In 1955, Seeger was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to discuss his political affiliations before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. (He never spent time in jail and the conviction was overturned on appeal in May 1962). Most colleges and concert halls refused to book him and he was banned from network television.  

During the blacklist years, Seeger scratched out a living by giving guitar and banjo lessons and singing at the small number of summer camps, churches, high schools, colleges, and union halls that were courageous enough to invite the controversial balladeer. In the 1960s he sang with civil rights workers in the South and at the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and helped popularize “We Shall Overcome.’ But ABC refused to allow Seeger to appear on Hootenanny, which owed its existence to the folk music revival Seeger had helped inspire.

Tom and Dick Smothers were among many musicians inspired by Seeger´s artistic and political contributions. In 1967, CBS invited the brothers to host their own variety show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which became a huge success, appealing to young viewers by inviting major rock and folk artists as well as comedians who reflected the political and cultural rebelliousness of the era. One sketch that lampooned President Lyndon Johnson so upset the president that he phoned CBS founder William S. Paley at home at 3 a.m. to complain.

The brothers had requested that Seeger be invited to perform, but CBS refused. Midway into the first season, however, the show´s popularity gave the Smothers more leverage with the recalcitrant network executives. Network chief Paley agreed on the condition that Seeger avoid singing any controversial songs—a demand that was, from the outset, guaranteed to provoke the Smothers brothers´ and Seeger´s defiance.

Seeger showed up to tape the second season´s opening show on September 1, which was scheduled to air September 10. At the taping, Seeger sang “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,’ a song he had written earlier that year, inspired by a photo of American troops slogging through a deep river in Vietnam´s Mekong Delta.

The song tells the story of a platoon of soldiers wading into the mud of a river while on a practice patrol in Louisiana in 1942. The captain, whom Seeger calls a “big fool,’ ignores his sergeant´s warnings that the river is too deep to cross. The captain drowns and the sergeant orders the unit to turn back. The song doesn´t mention Vietnam but the “big fool’ obviously refers to Johnson who got the country deeper into the quagmire in Southeast Asia.

Understandably nervous about offending Johnson again, CBS executives erased Seeger´s song from the tape of the show. The censors had no objection to his performance of the African song “Wimoweh’ (in classic Seeger style, he had the whole studio audience singing along), the Cuban song “Guantanamera,’ and “This Land Is Your Land.’

In his network comeback, Seeger sang four songs that reflected his internationalism and humanism, which helped him escape the media establishment´s blacklist—in prime time, no less.

In his network comeback, Seeger sang four songs that reflected his internationalism and humanism, which helped him escape the media establishment´s blacklist—in prime time, no less. Close to 12 million American households watched the program.

But the Smothers brothers weren´t happy. Tom, in particular, made sure that the story of CBS´s censorship appeared in the media. Because of the bad press, an outcry among the public, and the Vietnam War´s growing unpopularity, CBS allowed the brothers to invite Seeger back later in the season.

To whet the public´s appetite, Tom Smothers leaked the story to The New York Times, even announcing that Seeger would perform the banned “Big Muddy’ on the show. A week before the scheduled broadcast, Seeger taped the show in Los Angeles.

Seeger performed five songs, including a medley of anti-war songs from American history which led up to “Big Muddy.’ He ended the song with an uncharacteristic dramatic flourish, bringing his guitar up to his face, suggesting both a sigh of relief and moment of pride that he had managed to pull it off.

The audience for this show—13.5 million households—was even larger than Seeger´s appearance five months earlier. Two days after Seeger sang “Big Muddy,’ CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite—perhaps the nation´s most trusted person—called on Johnson to withdraw American troops from Vietnam. On March 31, Johnson—facing strong opposition from anti-war candidates Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy—announced he would not seek re-election that year.

Meanwhile, the Smothers brothers continued to find themselves in trouble with CBS. In the 1968-1969 season premiere, the network deleted an entire segment featuring Harry Belafonte singing “Lord, Don't Stop the Carnival’ while newsreel footage of the violence at the 1968 Democratic national convention played in the background. In March 1969, folk singer Joan Baez paid tribute to her then-husband, David Harris, who was about to enter prison for refusing military service. CBS censors permitted Baez to mention that her husband was in prison, but edited out the reason.

But CBS CEO Paley abruptly canceled the show on April 4, 1969, explaining that the Smothers brothers had failed to comply with the order to submit the shows to network executives ten days in advance. (The show won an Emmy anyway.) The Smothers brothers sued CBS for breach of contract, and in 1973, a federal court ordered CBS to pay them nearly $800,000. Two years later the brothers returned to television with The Smothers Brothers Show that was less controversial and less successful, lasting only 13 episodes.

The brothers continued to perform until they retired in 2010, but their popularity never recovered after the cancellation of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. But Seeger´s two appearances on the show—and the controversy surrounding “Big Muddy’—helped revitalize his career.

Over the next five decades, through persistence and unrelenting optimism, Seeger became a symbol of a principled artist deeply engaged in the world. Many of his eighty albums, which include children´s songs, labor and protest songs, traditional American folk songs, international songs and Christmas songs, reached wide audiences.

In 1994, at age 75, he received the National Medal of Arts as well as a Kennedy Center Honor, where President Bill Clinton called him “an inconvenient artist, who dared to sing things as he saw them.’

In January 2009, Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang “This Land Is Your Land’ at a Lincoln Memorial concert honoring President Barack Obama´s inauguration. That spring, more than 15,000 admirers filled New York City´s Madison Square Garden for a concert honoring Seeger on his ninetieth birthday. The performers included Springsteen, Baez, Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris, Billy Bragg, Rufus Wainwright, Bela Fleck, Taj Mahal, Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle, Ramblin´ Jack Elliott, Dar Williams, Tom Morello, Ani DiFranco, and John Mellencamp. Seeger continued to perform, mostly benefits for social causes, until his death.    

Seeger´s made his final television appearance in 2012 on another comedy program´s Stephen Colbert´s iconoclastic Colbert Report on Comedy Central. The 93-year-old Seeger talked with the awestruck Colbert about his new book, Pete Seeger: His Life in His Own Words, and then performed his song, “Quite Early Morning,’ on the banjo. The song begins, “Don't you know it's darkest before the dawn. And it's this thought keeps me moving on.’  Unlike “Big Muddy,’ it is a song of hope, urging people to abandon cynicism and look forward to more “singing tomorrows.’

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

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