Saturday, February 26, 2022

Musings on Russia, the Ukraine and Nuclear War: Never?

             By Rudy Barnes, Jr., February 26, 2022

Ken Follett’s latest thriller, Never, offers some scary but plausible insight into the dangers of unintended consequences in diplomacy and limited conflict between nations with nuclear weapons.  The nuclear powers in Follett’s scenario are the US, North Korea and China; but the dynamics of Follett’s imaginative plot could apply to the Russian-Ukrainian imbroglio.

Putin has asserted a Russian version of the 1923 Monroe Doctrine as a vital Russian security interest that would treat any intervention by the US or NATO in Ukraine as a hostile act against Russia.  And after moving Russian troops into Ukraine, Putin has asserted that “There will be no compromise on Ukraine.”  So far, the US response has been economic sanctions.

Follett’s narrative describes how misjudgments in the use of force between nuclear powers can escalate into a nuclear holocaust.  Follett’s story was inspired by World War I, a war that nobody wanted but that happened anyway.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine follows a similar trajectory that could escalate from conventional conflict into a nuclear holocaust.   

I grew up during the Cold War and MAD: Mutually assured destruction.  It  deterred a direct military confrontation between Russia and America during the Cold War; but today there’s a real danger that a MAD strategy will no longer prevent a military confrontation between the US and Russia.  President Biden opposes the Russian invasion, while Donald Trump supports it.  

At this stage of the conflict, economic sanctions and cyberwar are the US means of challenging the Russian invasion of Ukraine; but a protracted Russian effort to control Ukraine will likely result in the escalation of US countermeasures, and the dangers are obvious:  As in Never, an escalation that produces US and Russian casualties could precipitate a nuclear war.

Cultural and religious values are involved, but only as a backdrop to national interests.  Communism is a secular religion based on national interests as determined by Party leaders; and as Follett speculated, the personal egos of communist leaders are more likely to guide their decisions on the use of nuclear weapons than any moral imperative of religion or politics.

Ken Follett’s book doesn’t have a happy ending.  Can the U.S. prevent a nuclear holocaust by an existing nuclear power or by a wanna-be nuclear power like Iran?  We can discourage a nation from becoming a nuclear power, but we can’t prevent it from happening, so we are doomed to live in the shadow of our own destruction, whether we like it or not.

Mankind has developed the technology to end the world, whether it’s a quick and dirty death by a nuclear holocaust or a slow death caused by a hostile environment.  We can’t blame God for the end times.  Democracy has made us masters of our destiny, and that destiny could be the destruction of the world if we don’t learn to live together in peace.      


Ken Follett’s latest epic is a cautionary tale of global catastrophe. “The central theme of Never is the never-ending possibility of nuclear catastrophe. In a brief Preface, Follett notes that the inspiration for Never came from the origins of World War I.  That devastating conflict was, in Follett’s view, ‘a war that nobody wanted.’ Yet it happened, anyway, the result of a complex series of treaties, international alliances and shortsighted decisions that would reshape the world and alter the nature of modern warfare. In Never, Follett posits a similar scenario, one made infinitely more dangerous by the worldwide proliferation of nuclear weapons. The resulting portrait of a world stumbling toward the unthinkable is credibly detailed and alarmingly plausible. Events in Africa take on international significance when an incident at the border of Chad and Sudan results in the shooting death of an American soldier. When investigators learn that the rifle involved was supplied by North Korea, major players from China and the United States step in, setting the stage for escalating actions and reactions. The United States President reacts by tightening existing economic sanctions against North Korea, a move regarded as ‘proportionate’ to the offense. But that proportionate response only exacerbates an already desperate economic situation, which in turn exacerbates the United States’ fraught relationship with North Korea and its principal ally, China. From this point on, things will deteriorate with astonishing speed, despite strenuous efforts by peacemakers in China and the United States. Shots are fired. Hard-liners on both sides push for increasingly violent responses, and the prospect of a peaceful resolution begins to fade. Matters take an even darker turn when rebel forces in North Korea revolt and take control of all nuclear bases in the country and bringing the prospect of an actual nuclear exchange that much closer to reality. Just as before the First World War, a variety of circumstances came together to create the conditions for a global catastrophe. Never is a cautionary tale about the power of unintended consequences, and it is disturbing and illuminating in equal measure. It reflects a sense of urgency that lifts it well above typical apocalyptic thrillers. Never is first-rate entertainment that has something important to say. It deserves the popular success it will almost certainly achieve.”  See

Max Boot has presented a stark contrast between President Biden and Donald Trump on how America should respond to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. “It’s commonplace on the right that the only reason that Vladimir Putin is invading Ukraine is that President Biden is too weak to deter him. As one right-winger tweeted: ‘I’m convinced that Putin would be a lot, LOT more hesitant to invade if Trump was President.’ To believe this is to suffer from temporary amnesia about how Donald Trump actually acted toward Putin while he was in office. The U.S. president rejected the findings of the United States’ own intelligence community about the hacking of the 2016 election and said: ‘President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.’ By the end of his presidency, Trump was surrounded by people such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has recently called Putin ‘a very talented statesman,’ ‘very shrewd,’ ‘very capable,’ and said, ‘I have enormous respect for him.’  Putin’s aggression against Ukraine is an act of ‘genius,’ according to Trump. He explained: ‘Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. ‘I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. ... We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy.’ if Trump stages a comeback in 2024, he may well be counting on more political aid from Putin of the kind that he received in 2016. Trump is more about Russia First than America First.” See

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Musings on Reconciliation to Resolve the Dilemma of Diversity

         By Rudy  Barnes, Jr., February 19, 2022

Over the years the dilemma of diversity has plagued pluralistic democracies.  While a minority of Christians have promoted the universal reconciliation of different races and religions based on the universal and altruistic teachings of Jesus, churches have promoted exclusivist religious doctrines that foster religious divisions over reconciliation.

In America’s pluralistic libertarian democracy the competition for political power has made diversity a source of conflict that requires reconciliation to hold the diverse fabric of democracy together.  Reconciliation doesn’t require agreement on all issues, only respect for differences and a willingness to compromise on issues critical to the common good.

        The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions, is God’s universal word of reconciliation.  It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith; even so, Christianity and Islam continue to promote their exclusivist beliefs.

Thomas Jefferson was a unitarian deist and child of the 18th century Enlightenment.  He drafted the Declaration of Independence and considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man;” but as a slaveholder Jefferson was a hypocrite in promoting “the unalienable rights of all men to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

The church of Jefferson’s day was like him--split on issues of slavery.  Even after the Civil War ended slavery, most churches remained havens for racism.  As in politics, the church measures its success by its popularity--even though the teachings of Jesus were never popular.  That has allowed racism to plague both Christianity and politics in American democracy.

In the cosmic battle of the forces of good and evil, unprincipled demagogues and their charlatan religious supporters have done a convincing imitation of God in religion and politics, demonizing diversity and corrupting religion and politics with polarizing divisiveness.  Is there any alternative to exclusivist religion to reconcile the dilemma of diversity in democracy?

        Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a step beyond Progressive Christianity.  It emphasizes the search for truth and the altruistic values taught by Jesus, but it doesn’t assert the divinity of Jesus or measure its success by its popularity.  It opposes racism and welcomes those of all religions and atheists alike, emphasizing altruistic deeds over doctrines of belief.

Like the  teachings of Jesus--but unlike Christianity and Islam--UU doesn’t promote exclusivist doctrines of belief that favor any religion over others.  That makes UU a suitable substitute for the church to help Americans save their pluralistic democracy from self-destruction through reconciliation.  Pogo got it right when he said, “We have met the enemy, and it’s us.” 


In democracy popularity is the measure of success, but Jesus rejected that for his followers when he said:

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

In addressing the Pharisees, “who loved money”, Jesus said,”You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:14-15)        

Carl Krieg is a progressive Christians and scholar who has described the dilemma of democracy as the collapse of American society. “Who ever thought we would say this, but it seems to be the case that society could be collapsing before our very eyes. The common bond that forges a basis for unity is disintegrating, indicated and exemplified by the litany of headlines that continue to bombard us. We know them all: people inexplicably refuse vaccination, thereby overcrowding hospitals and threatening everyone. The majority of Republicans promote the big lie. 30 million overly armed militia stand ready. Fox news dissolves truth, broadcasting untruth and falsehood. The list goes on: increasing attacks on blacks, Asians, Jews, women. Cruel despots are lauded. Mobs seek to overthrow the government, US senators believe that other peoples’ children, children of the nation, are not their responsibility. And we are supposed to applaud when Bezos and other bozos of the super rich revel in their own spaceship.   

Three central beliefs joined to form …the American Dream, the American Empire, and White/Christian America. The Dream was the illusion that anybody could climb the ladder of success, a dream that gave hope to those struggling economically. It was a fabrication, of course, but it functioned as a powerful bond. And because we were so great, we had a right to rule the world and take what we wanted. And that was a god-given right because we were a nation favored by god, the christian god who empowered white people.

What we are currently witnessing is the dissolution of these three beliefs that have been operative in the minds of millions, consciously or not, and the extreme Right’s agitating these same millions by bemoaning the loss of Empire and the loss of the “Christian Nation”, blaming these losses on immigrants and Muslims. They never mention that it is they, the rich, the corporations, the powerful, who took away any vestige of the Dream that might have remained.

Gone, then, is the American Dream where everyone who worked hard could be a success. Gone is the self image of a glorious country who had a right to rule the world, the city on the hill, casting a beacon of light to the rest of the world. And gone is the falsehood of a White/Christian America, created by the Founding Fathers and gifted to their descendents. And, we might add, thank god they are gone. They were and continue to be destructive in so many ways, and the violence that ensues is tearing apart the fabric of society. Realizing that they are losing the images that structured their minds, the millions are encouraged to fight the loss and follow the fascist leaders who promise a return to the supposed golden era. We will make America great again, they promise. And the path is littered with hate crimes, militias, big lies, voter suppression, and insurrection.

There is another way. Can we not develop a perspective that would enable us to function in harmony rather than disintegrate from within? On the personal level, we can say: love yourself. Accept who you are, grow, advance, open your mind. On a social level, follow the quintessential teaching of the ages: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This unifying perspective is in reality a practical solution for survival. If we cannot realize that love for self, others, and the planet is the only Way to survive, we are in danger of losing everything.  See

Commentary on Christian universalism:

(12/8/14): Religion and Reason

(1/4/15): Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God

(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?

(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?

(4/5/15): Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light

(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos

(1/2/16): God in Three Concepts

(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous

(1/28/17): Saving America from the Church

(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World

(6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?

(7/22/17): Hell No!

(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?

(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism

(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism

(10/6/18): Musings on Moral Universalism in Religion and Politics

(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims

(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos

(12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism

(12/22/18): Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment

(3/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Post-Christian America

(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America

(3/16/19): Musings on the Evolution of Christian Exclusivism to Universalism

(4/20/19): Musings on the Resurrection of Altruistic Morality in Dying Democracies

(5/11/19): Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century

(5/25/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus

(6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics

(6/15/19): Back to the Future: A 21st Century Pentecost for the Church


(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity

(6/29/19): Musings on a Politics of Reconciliation: An Impossible Dream?

(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?

(8/3/19): Musings on the Dismal Future of  the Church and Democracy in America  

(8/31/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Politics of Christian Zionism

(9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy

(9/21/19): An Afterword on Religion, Legitimacy and Politics from 2014-2019

(9/28/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Polarized Politics of Climate Change

(10/26/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Discipleship in a Democracy

(11/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Virtual Alternative to a Failing Church

(11/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Irrelevance of Morality in Politics

(11/23/19): Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity

(1/11/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christians as a Moral Minority

(2/22/20): Musings on Why All Politics and Religion Are Local (and not Universal)

(4/4/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of America’s Values

(12/23/20): Musings on the coming of a light that can dispel the darkness of the world.

(1/2/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Making a Covenant with God for the New Year

(1/16/21): Truth and Reconciliation in Politics and Religion in a Maze of Conflicting Realities

(5/22/21): Musings on Morality and Politics and the Need for a Civil Religion in America

(6/5/21): Musings on Why Socialism is no Substitute for Altruism in Politics

(10/9/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Relevance of Jesus Today

(11/6/21): Musings on the Need for Political and Religious Reconciliation in America

(12/4/21): Musings on How Universal Heterodox Beliefs Promote Religious Reconciliation

(1/1/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Renewing a Covenant with God in 2022


Saturday, February 12, 2022

Musings on Election Rights and Responsibilities

          By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Democracy makes us masters of our political destiny; and elections are the lifeblood of our democracy--or its death-knell..  Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, America’s polarized partisan politics have put democracy on life support.  This November American voters will have a chance to resuscitate their democracy, or witness its further demise.   

The health of any democracy depends on providing for the common good.  That’s an altruistic moral imperative in politics derived from the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions.  It’s the primary moral standard of political legitimacy, and our elections put it to the test.

Elections in America’s polarized partisan politics have failed that test.  Altruism no longer shapes the moral standards of political legitimacy.  It was once the province of the church, but today less than 50% of Americans identify as Christians, and only a minority of white Christians relate the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus to their politics.

It’s a voter’s right and responsibility to promote the common good in elections.  Lincoln cited Jesus warning Americans to avoid dangerous political divisions: When a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand (see Mark 3:24-25).  Trump’s election in 2016 and the January 6 insurrection indicate that many Americans have forgotten that painful lesson in legitimacy.

President Biden has pushed a voting rights bill that emphasizes convenience over voting  rights and responsibilities.  The danger to democracy in America is not the lack of voting rights, but the failure to elect those in Congress who will cross party lines to promote the common good.  Our polarized partisan politics prevent the compromise needed in a healthy democracy.

There is a major flaw in our election laws.  The Constitution provides that electors from each state elect the President.  It would allow an unprincipled President running for reelection to manipulate electors with a supplicant governor, then have a partisan House accept a fraudulent electoral vote and the Vice President affirm a fraudulent election.  That was Trump’s plan.

Legitimate elections don’t always produce legitimate results.  Voters  have elected demagogues in state and local elections in the past, and at the national level in 2016.  Voters are masters of their political destiny, but when they fail to vote, or vote for a demagogue, they are bound by the results; and those election results have often reflected voter irresponsibility.

Political legitimacy in democratic elections requires both voter rights and responsibilities. Deficiencies in the electoral college need to be corrected, and laws that protect voting rights need to be enforced; and in a libertarian democracy the first priority of voters should be to exercise their moral responsibility to elect candidates committed to provide for the common good.    


The Editorial Board of The Washington Post has urged the passage of Democratic voting rights legislation that seems more focused on voting convenience than voting rights, and has been blocked by Republicans; but it went on to say, Here is one thing that Congress still might do. “The focus of the Democrats’ failed bills was on ensuring Americans access to the ballot box — a response to voting restrictions imposed in 19 states by Republicans. But at least as important is ensuring that Americans’ votes are counted fairly and the results respected. U.S. democracy’s most severe test in modern times came when President Donald Trump tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election by pressuring local election officials, state lawmakers, Congress and the vice president. He failed, but exposed critical vulnerabilities in the nation’s political system. Foremost is the 1887 Electoral Count Act, a creaky law prescribing how Congress tallies presidential electoral votes. This process was the focus of the Jan. 6 attack. The mob that assaulted the Capitol was riled by Mr. Trump’s insistence that federal lawmakers or then-Vice President Mike Pence could object to counting the electoral votes that states had submitted. Congress should change the law to make clear that the vice president has no power to object, overturn or otherwise refuse to count states’ electoral votes. Also needed is a curb on the ability of members of Congress to launch similar partisan maneuvers  Currently, it takes only an objection from a single member of each chamber to force a session on whether to accept a state’s electors — and majority votes in each chamber can sustain such an objection. This raises the possibility that a partisan congressional majority can throw out election results it does not like. If Congress is to have any role in counting electoral votes, these thresholds must be far higher. The basis on which lawmakers can lodge objections must also be explicit and narrow — for example, that an elector was constitutionally unqualified to cast an electoral vote. The law should treat as presumptively valid electors certified by governors, under court oversight, according to the popular vote systems in each state. Likewise, the law should refuse to acknowledge electors state legislatures might try to appoint outside this process, after a vote has occurred. Congress should extend protections to election workers, both from partisan officials seeking to pressure them and from members of the public who might threaten them with harm. And the federal government should provide money for better election equipment, staffing, training and statistically-sound vote auditing.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has convened a bipartisan group to discuss such sensible changes; Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) has put forth a smart proposal. These are modest reforms to which no one who cares about the nation’s democratic system could reasonably object. Senators cannot let this convergence of interest in reform pass. What they do now could determine whether the United States faces a crisis on the scale of — or worse — than what the country experienced on Jan. 6, 2021.” See

“In an extraordinary rebuke” that illustrated the extent to which Trump has corrupted the GOP, “on January 28, 2022 the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted to condemn  Liz Cheney (R-Wyo) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill) the two Republican members  of a House committee investigating the January 6 2021 attack Congressional investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.  The censure resolution passed overwhelmingly on a voice vote without debate or discussion, with the whole process taking about one minute. The party said the behavior of Cheney and Kinzinger ‘has been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic.’ The resolution accused the two of participating in a ‘Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse as the committee investigates the insurrection in which a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building, injured 140 members of law enforcement and vandalized the Capitol to stop the affirmation of Joe Biden’s electoral college win. The attack led to the deaths of five people.” See

The Electoral College is a body of electors established by the United States Constitution, which forms every four years for the sole purpose of electing the president and vice president of the United States. The Electoral College consists of 538 electors, and an absolute majority of at least 270 electoral votes is required to win the election. According to Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution, each state legislature determines the manner by which its state's electors are chosen. The number of each state's electors is equal to the sum of the state's membership in the Senate and House of Representatives; currently there are 100 senators and 435 representatives. Additionally, the Twenty-third Amendment, ratified in 1961, provides that the District of Columbia (D.C.) is entitled to the same number of electors as the least populated state (presently three). U.S. territories are not entitled to any electors.  See