Category Archives: Religion

Exodus 7:14-11:10


Every spring, Jews around the world celebrate Pesach (Passover) with a Seder, a home-based ritual during which adults are required to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt.  One element of the Seder is remembrance of the ten plagues enumerated in the Book of Exodus, which culminated in the slaying of  Egyptian first born males including Pharaoh’s eldest son.

According to the website LIVESCIENCE.COM, there is objective evidence for each of the plagues beginning with the rise of red algae, often referred to as “red tide,”  which explains Exodus 7:21 which states, “The fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water.”  Though more commonly occurring in oceans, there are numerous documented instances of red algae reproducing in freshwater.  This strain also produces mycotoxins, which are known to cause disease and death in humans.  LIVESCIENCE.COM suggests the presence of mycotoxins in grain could explain the tenth plague, death of first-born males, as the eldest sons in Egyptian families were most likely to work in the fields, harvesting crops, thus having the most exposure to the contaminated grain.

Passover Haggadah by Nathan GoldbergSo, when Donald Trump says, “No one could anticipated the current pandemic,” not only did he have the benefit of Peter Navarro’s memos, HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s efforts to warn him or daily briefings from the director of national intelligence.  If he had been paying attention to the reading of the Hagaddah at Jared and Ivanka’s Seder, instead of constantly checking the number of pages before he could partake of the festive meal, he would have had 3,200 years’ warning.  (Oh, I forgot, Donald was not at his daughter’s Seder.  Ivanka and Jared went to New Jersey to be with family while the rest of us were sheltered-in-place, holding Zoom virtual Seders.)

Years from now, I wonder if families will gather at this season to tell the story of the deliverance from coronavirus and the 10 plagues needed to soften Trump’s heart to the point where he let the doctors and scientists take command of this modern day exodus from isolation.  In accordance with tradition, participants must spill a drop of Diet Coke as they recite each of the following:

  1. Cancelling of MAGA rallies.
  2. Closing Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties.
  3. Isolation with Melania and Barron.
  4. Bernie Sanders not becoming the Democratic nominee.
  5. Precipitous drop in approval rating.
  6. Questioning by persistent female journalists at press briefings.
  7. Having to fake empathy for the sick and dying.
  8. Depression-era rates of unemployment.
  9. Infection of White House staff.
  10. Having to wear a mask.

Unlike pharaoh, it looks as though it will take more than 10 plagues before Trump understands what he is up against.  And to honor those who survived the pandemic and emulate their experience, the ritual meal will consist of whatever is left in the refrigerator that might make a good casserole.

For what it’s worth.  Stay safe.


The Second Commandment


LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd amendment. It is under siege!

~Donald J. Trump/April 17, 2020

You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall not make for yourself any graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them, for I, the Lord Your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

~Exodus 20:3-6

I need not remind readers that I do not believe in an anthropomorphic divine being.   If anything, my spiritual compass aligns with something akin to the Force, which according to Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi is “an energy field created by all living things.  it surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together.” (Star Wars: Episode IV/A New Hope)

I recognize I am in the minority.  According to a 2019 Gallup survey, eighty seven percent (87%) of Americans answered “yes” to the question, “Do you believe in God?”  And, as I wrote in a February 8, 2020 entry “The Case for God,” I have no problem with that.  “If the concept of God floats your kite, I wish you steady winds and enough line to soar as high as you can.”

What offends me, and should offend those of all faiths, is when self-appointed spiritual leaders attribute divine intervention on a selective basis.  You must either believe or shut up.  Faux Christians such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell suggested the terrorists on September 11, 2001 were holy retribution in response to what they considered heathens who turned their back on God.  Three days after the attack, Falwell said:

[T]he pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America.  I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’

Nineteen years later, Falwell’s doppelganger Robertson is still at it.  On April 21, he suggested the coronavirus was God’s way of punishing mankind for abortion and gay rights. (ABC News)  If only I had one shot at the audience Robertson addresses nightly on “The 700 Club,” this is what I would say.

Trump Supporters Are Staging Armed Protests to Stick It to ...As I watch individuals Donald Trump calls “good people” brandishing military-style weapons to intimidate public officials who are trying to save lives, I have to ask.  Isn’t it time you demonstrate the same allegiance to the Second Commandment that you do to the Second Amendment?

And if you believe God punishes America for those who turn their backs on him, have you not also forsaken him?  Is it not a violation of God’s second commandment to blindly pledge allegiance to someone who violates all his other commandments.  Want evidence?  Here it is.

  • #3: Thou shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain.  (Trump’s warning to wealthy businessmen at a rally in Greenville, N.C., “If you don’t support me, you’re going to be God-damn poor.”)
  • #4: Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.  (May 3, 2020:  Instead of honoring the Sabbath, Trump chooses to Tweet self-congratulations about one of his resort properties, his approval rating among Republicans and unsubstantiated warnings about rigged elections.)
  • #5: Honor your father and your mother.  (Since when is misusing or simply blowing a $200 million inheritance a sign of parental respect?)
  • #6: You shall not murder.  (Okay, he hasn’t technically murdered anyone yet, but failure to respond to warnings of the coming pandemic or recommending dangerous remedies should qualify as negligent homicide.)
  • #7: You shall not commit adultery.  (Take your pick. )
  • #8: You shall not steal.  (Trump University.  Trump Foundation.)
  • #9: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  (Trump accuses Robert Mueller of a crime. (PBS/June 26, 2019)  Trump blames Barack Obama for the insufficient response to the pandemic. (ABC News/March 5, 2020))
  • #10: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, nor his wife, his man-servant, his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s. (How about your predecessor’s approval ratings?)

Maybe, just maybe, coronavirus is God’s modern-day version of the Great Flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in response to your devotion to Donald Trump above all else.  And sadly, as was the case in both of these biblical events, the innocent also suffer.

Just as the Obama administration prepared a step by step guide how to respond to a future pandemic, the God whose word you claim is sacred as well as that of his only son provided you with a similar manual for life.  Perhaps Step #1 should be, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”

For what it’s worth.


The Case for God

This is the first in a series of posts with the title “The Case for …”  In the coming days, they will focus on the remaining candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.  However, there is one other figure, central to political dialogue in 2020, who deserves our attention.  And this week, he or she made the best case for staying in the race.

As a devout agnostic of Jewish heritage, I am probably the least qualified individual to make this case, but comedian Lewis Black, a kindred agnostic raised in a Jewish household, provides the cover I need based on a 2006 performance at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C.  One segment focused on differences between the Old and New Testaments.

Every Sunday I turn on the television set.  And there is a priest or a pastor reading from my book.  And interpreting it.  And their interpretations, I must tell you, are usually wrong.  It’s not their fault, it’s not their book.  You never see a rabbi on TV interpreting the New Testament, do you?  If you want to truly understand the Old Testament, if there is something you don’t get, there are Jews who walk among you, and they, I promise you this, will take time out of their very Jewy, Jewy day and will interpret for you, anything you are having trouble understanding.  And will do that, of course, if the price is right.

Never in the history of civilization was the chasm between the faithful and the heretic more apparent than the 24 hours beginning at 2:00 p.m EST on Wednesday.  At that hour, Utah Senator Mitt Romney explained why he had no choice but to vote guilty on the first article of impeachment against Donald Trump.

But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and political biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.

Image result for arthur c brooksThe next morning Trump spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast following the keynote by Arthur C. Brooks, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, who used the gospel of the New Testament to promote reconciliation post-impeachment as follows.

To start us on a path of new thinking to our cultural crisis, I want to turn to the words of the ultimate original thinker, history’s greatest social entrepreneur, and as a Catholic, my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus. Here’s what he said, as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, chapter 5, verse 43-45: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Trump was moved by Brooks’ rhetoric and apologized for his role in promoting division and offered his hand to Nancy Pelosi who was also seated on the dais.  I’m kidding, of course.  Trump began his remarks by stating,  “Arthur, I don’t think I agree with you.”  He went on to vilify those who dared challenge his authority and mocked their faith.  As Joe Scarborough, a born-again Baptist evangelical, pointed out Thursday morning, Trump did not disagree with Arthur Brook.  He contradicted the words of Jesus Christ.  And pseudo-religious leaders such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. refused to call him out, one more stain on the white evangelical movement.

The case for God exists partially due to Jean Paul Sartre and the existential movement.  In that vein of thought, the shape or form of something is not as important as the concept.  For example, there are an infinite number of ways to design and manufacture a chair.  But the concept of the chair is universal.

As has been true throughout ancient and modern history, it is the dissidents of all faiths who have relied on the concept of God, not the specific literary manifestation or name given to the deity.  One can argue, among agnostics and atheists, there is also a higher calling which we prefer to call conscience or ‘the still small voice.”  Or simply our obligation to fellow humans. Ironically, it was Mitt Romney who best articulated why the rewards of heaven and eternal life, for us, are unnecessary.  The respect of family and our place in history are enough reward.

The concept of God has also forced us to continuously reassess societal norms, proving there is no absolute divine will, but a call to evolve philosophically as well as physically. The Jewish traditional of questioning faith is introduced in Genesis 32:28, when a holy surrogate tells Jacob, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and humans and have overcome.”  Without the option of challenging the “word of God,” there would be no New Testament or Book of Mormon or even the Koran.

The God of the Old Testament ruled by fear.  The text, particularly Leviticus, is a laundry list of taboos for which you will be punished.  The same is true of the ten commandments.  With the exception of honoring one’s parents and the Sabbath, all the others begin, “Thou shall not…”  The God of the Old Testament is willing to kill thousands of children because of the stubbornness of one person, Pharaoh.  But as Lewis Black suggests, maybe this was necessary at the time.  In the beginning of recorded history, members of ancient society were “just one hair short of being orangutans.”

Fifteen hundred years later, civilization was open to a new morale code.  One based on “thou shall” as opposed to “thou shall not.”  Maybe this might have happened without the emergence of a divine savior.  But if  belief in an omnipotent being gave Jesus the strength to defy authority knowing the personal risk involved, so be it.

That is the beauty of the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion.  It does not matter if you are moved by someone who walked the earth thousands of years ago or another leader who settled in Utah in the 1800s.  Or if the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.  The common trait among the righteous, spiritual or sectarian, is the willingness to look outside oneself for truth.  If the concept of God floats your kite, I wish you steady winds and enough line to soar as high as you can.

For what it’s worth.


CT, Call Home

Call it a seasonal epiphany four and a half years in the making, but late is always better than never.  As you are already aware, on December 19, Christianity Today editor Mark Galli declared, “Trump Should Be Removed from Office.”  And right on cue, the modern day Judases–Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr.–exacted another down payment on their souls in exchange for proximity to power and past donations from the Trump Foundation.  (NOTE: As some commentators have pointed out, Galli’s major concern was not the fate of American democracy and values, but the credibility of the evangelical movement.  Even if it was self-serving, I learned a long time ago, never criticize someone for doing the right thing, even if their motives are suspect.)

Image result for evangelical preachers lay hands on trumpAs welcomed as Galli’s denunciation of Donald Trump as an immoral human might be, I am afraid his salvo was misdirected.  In the age of social media influencers, Galli would have been better served by addressing his remarks, not to the flock, but to the shepherds.  How do you expect the minions to understand what they have become when members of the clergy, who weekly preach the gospel to them, remain silent or fail to draw on their own training as pastoral counselors to point out the hypocrisy of evangelical devotion to Trump.

Imagine if Galli had chosen a different tack in which he does not humble the masses, but shames the messengers for abdicating their role as moral influencers.  Consider the following as an alternative to the December 19 editorial.

The dilemma of reconciling one’s political support and Donald Trump’s lack of a moral compass is not a collective one for the evangelical movement, but a personal one for each and every member of your congregation.  And one that demands the clergy provide pastoral counseling as we are taught “to mirror the way Jesus cared for people and taught his disciples to do the same.”

Make it personal.  Ask your congregants, “Would any of you be okay if you came to me for spiritual renewal and I told you Christ is okay with …

  • satisfying one’s lust by committing adultery?
  • constantly comparing your accomplishments and possessions to others?
  • expressing anger at anyone who disagrees with you?
  • equating success with net worth?
  • indifference to the suffering of others?
  • bearing false witness to justify your actions?
  • overindulgence or excessive desire for material goods?
  • the ends justifying the means?”

Would you call someone who lived their life based on such advice a true Christian?  Would you look to that person for leadership or as a role model?  I would hope not.  But you have.

As Jesus says in Matthew 22:21, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”  You can leave governance to our political leaders, but you must never let them become the arbiters of your values.  And when they try, you must reject them.

But the evangelical community is not alone.  Every day we watch professionals in every walk of life excuse Trump for behavior they know is wrong.  The latest example emerged in this morning’s edition of our local paper which includes a regular op-ed column titled, “Coach’s Corner.”  The author Howard Pines is a local resident who presents his credentials as follows.

…has more than 30 years experience as CEO, chairman and founder of BeamPines, a premier firm in the executive coaching business.

Today’s edition with the title, “Presidential Tantrums,” compares Trump to other commanders-in-chief who were known to let off a little steam on occasion.  These include (drum roll) George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.  Can you say “moral equivalency?”  I knew you could.   But the icing on the cake comes in the final paragraphs which include the following two sentences.

I believe that Trump’s mannerisms are not unique, and if history remains true, his actions to date do not threaten our democracy.

My sense is the real question with President Trump is will he retain a first rate team, and does he have the objectivity and clarity of judgment to not let his emotions color his decisions.

Let’s take these one at a time.  I do not know what history books Mr. Pines reads but they must not include the evolution of any nation in which fascism emerged as a viable ideological alternative.  My history books document how none were more democratic when the dictator who led the movement left office voluntarily or involuntarily.

As for sentence #2, remember Mr. Pines is an executive management coach.  Imagine him telling any corporate client, “Don’t worry if you’ve gone through several chiefs of staff, communications directors, department heads.  Give it more time.  Let’s see if it works out.  Just keep doing what you’re doing.”  Or after observing the CEO’s behavior for three years, making the following report to the board of directors, “I know the boss is a little thin-skinned and sometimes it hurts the bottom line, but he’s only been CEO for three years.  Maybe he’ll grow into the office.  And I know you’re concerned he hasn’t shown you the books in three years.  I’m sure he’s not hiding anything.”

“Galli” gee, I “Pines” for the day when we hold the president of the United States to the same standard we hold the person who sits next to us in a house of worship, the CEO of a major corporation or just the people we call friends.

For what it’s worth.


After B*R*A*S*H

Image result for trump and netanyahuOne thing I never thought I would ever have to do in America was figure out, by virtue of being born and raised in the Jewish faith, whether I am “uniformed” or “disloyal” or both.  But there is no doubt I am one of the people Donald Trump has been referring to this week.  Though a strong supporter of Israel having been there four times (dare I say more than Trump has),  I disagree with many of Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies. I believe such challenges to the status quo make me neither un-American nor anti-Israel.  But according to the self-proclaimed “chosen one,” I am now a traitor to my own people.  Maybe I should ask a Trump supporter if I can borrow his “Proud to be a Deplorable” t-shirt.

Trump’s comments have been rightfully denounced by civil rights organizations (e.g. ADL and NAACP), the mainstream media and others with two exceptions, Republican in Congress and white Evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr.  But their selective support for religious freedom is a story for another day.  Among the concerns raised is whether Trump’s rhetoric will trigger retaliation from his most extreme followers ala Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh or El Paso.  However, being a student of political science versus a theologian or psychologist, I am less concerned about the present than the near future.

So, let’s go to the video tape or, in this case, the CNN exit poll.  In 2016, the Jewish vote made up three percent of total ballots cast.  Of those who went to the polls, 71 percent voted for Hillary Clinton, 23 percent for Trump and six percent for other candidates.  Did they write-in Netanyahu?  After all, in an April 2019 address to the Republic Jewish Coalition, Trump referred to the Israel leader as “your prime minister.”

Fast forward to 2018 and according to CNN, the Jewish vote split 79 percent to 17 percent in favor of Democratic congressional candidates.  It is hard to make a statistical case based on two elections, but the trend is unmistakable.  Clearly the assault on a Pittsburgh synagogue carried out by someone echoing Trump conspiracy theories about Jews funding illegal immigrants two weeks before the election did not help Republicans.  As a result, Jewish support for Democrats was higher than any other religious denomination including non-believers with a 70 percent pro-Democratic vote (which as a devout agnostic, I also find hard to believe).

From a counter-intuitive perspective, while I share others’ concerns,  the “stable genius” occupying the Oval Office must realize that more violence against Jewish targets will push this demographic’s anti-Trump vote even higher.  The Jewish share of the population in three states Trump must win to reach 270 electoral votes rank in the top 13–Florida (3.0 percent), Pennsylvania (2.3 percent) and Ohio (1.3 percent).  An energized anti-Trump Jewish electorate could mean an inside straight (as was the case in 2016) will not be enough.  His campaign will need a royal straight flush to stay in power.

Which brings me to the near future.  Imagine exit polling during the 2020 election shows the difference in battleground states was a greater deterioration of Trump support among Jewish voters.  What if Jewish turnout increases by half a percent from 2016 and the partisan split is 85 percent for the Democratic candidate and 13 for Trump?  We already know Trump will blame everyone but himself for the defeat.  But so will the all-right media and that is where the true danger lies.

Breitbart news and the Daily Stormer will surely claim Jewish money and an international Zionist cabal brought Trump down.  I can already hear Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson bemoaning the fact “Jews turned their backs on Trump after he did so much for Israel.”  And how will their audience receive this message?  We know many already feel their situations or misfortunes are the fault of “the others.”  How will some react if they believe those same forces of evil have deprived them of the one person in American politics who, on a national stage, vocally agreed with them?

That is why a counter-intuitive view of the next presidential election is critical.  As much as I and many others think a second Trump term, unencumbered by the need to run for re-election, will be a disaster, a Trump defeat could be even worse.  That is why silent Republican leaders must speak up now.  If post-Trump, radical right domestic terrorists, deprived of their #1 spokesperson, still believe their cause is just, the past three years may be looked back on as “the good old days.”

For what it’s worth.