Saturday, February 24, 2018

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and Legitimacy

   By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            The relationship between religion and freedom has always been strained, perhaps because religions emphasize submission to God’s will, while freedom opposes submission with free will.  We love our freedom, and the greatest commandment calls us to share that freedom with others; yet the Bible and Qur’an include laws against apostasy and blasphemy that deny the freedoms of religion and speech, and those oppressive laws are enforced in Islamic nations today.

            Mustafa Akyol recently made a presentation in Malaysia on apostasy from Islam and was detained by religious police for his “unauthorized” talk on religious freedom.  He was ultimately allowed to return to the U.S., but the experience deeply disturbed Akyol, who has advocated the compatibility of the Qur’an with the freedoms of religion and expression.  After speaking truth to power on that topic, Akyol was confronted by worldly powers that sought to refute that truth.

            Akyol’s experience illustrates conflicting standards of legitimacy in religious and secular law.  Secular law is based on the sovereignty of man over God in politics, but the sovereignty of God was the norm until the Enlightenment debunked the divine right to rule with the libertarian concepts of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.  That was in the West.  In the East, Islamic Law (Shariah) continues to prevail over secular law and denies religious freedom. 

            The West has its own problems with the freedom of religion, but it’s a matter of too much rather than too little freedom.  Fundamentalist Christians assert that their free exercise of religion allows them to discriminate against homosexuals as sinners, even though secular law prohibits such discrimination.  No freedom is absolute, and the freedom of religion cannot justify denying others the equal protection of secular law.

            There is no place in a libertarian democracy for religious law, but that does not negate God’s moral supremacy over secular law.  Even so, asserting that supremacy can be costly.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed for violating immoral separate but equal Jim Crow laws in the South.  His peaceful civil disobedience demonstrated that going to jail can be worth the price to assert God’s moral supremacy over the political supremacy of man’s secular law.

            There is a strong correlation between religion, freedom and justice in a stable democracy.  Populist demagogues like President Trump in America, Erdogan in Turkey, El Sissi in Egypt and Duterte in the Philippines have fostered anger, division and chaos to stifle their opposition and promote their power.  Erdogan and El Sissi have used apostasy and blasphemy laws to stifle their opposition, while Trump has appealed to racial and religious bias to motivate his constituency.

            Justice in democracy requires laws and institutions that balance individual rights with providing for the common good.  President Trump thrives on conflict and chaos, and has challenged the integrity of the FBI and the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller III into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections to discredit their investigations and undermine their legitimacy, in order to create a political vacuum that Trump can fill.    

            In both religion and politics, God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  The problem is that Satan does a convincing imitation of God, and does some of his best work in the church and in politics.  Over the years populist demagogues and religious charlatans have confirmed that ugly truth to promote their power.

            The freedoms of religion and speech are essential for a politics of reconciliation that can save democracy from divisiveness and chaos.  That reconciliation should be based on the moral imperative of the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors—including our neighbors of other races and religions—as we love ourselves.  It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims that can reconcile us and prevent the demise of our democracy.


At a seminar on Religion and Rights: Strengthening Common Ground on February 16, 2018, Rudelmar Bueno de Fario, ACT Alliance General Secretary, spoke on the need to find common ground between faith and the human rights that protect political freedoms: “Often, people of faith speak about love, generosity, and compassion and not so much about legal frameworks, entitlements, duty bearers and rights holders. But what does 'love' mean when it is not related to justice? And what does justice mean when it is not related to legal frameworks?” See

On the importance of religious freedom to Jews, Christians and Muslims—even to atheists—see

Rev. Neal Jones, a Unitarian Universalist pastor who heads the board of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has said: “In my lifetime, I don’t think I’ve experienced such an overall assault on the freedom of religion and conscience as I have since the election of Donald Trump.  It seems the ploy by the religious right these days is to use ‘freedom of religion’ as an excuse to violate people’s civil rights.”  See

Mustafa Akyol recounted his unhappy experience with religious police in Malaysia following his presentation on the subject of apostasy from Islam: “I argued that Muslims must uphold freedom of conscience, in line with the Quranic dictum ‘No compulsion in religion.’  I said that apostasy should not be punished by death, as it is in Saudi Arabia, or with ‘rehabilitation,’ as it is in Malaysia. The practice of Islam must be on the basis of freedom, not coercion, and governments shouldn’t police religion or morality.  It turns out all you have to do is speak of the police and they will appear.  …This incident showed me once again that there is a major problem in Islam today: a passion to impose religion, rather than merely proposing it, a mind-set that most Christians left behind at the time of the Inquisition.” See

Mustafa Akyol has asked, Does religion make people moral? and then pointed out that religious conservatives (Islamists) in Turkey have “come to dominate virtually all institutions of the state, as well as the media and even much of the business sector.  In short, they have become the new ruling elite. …The religious conservatives have morally failed because they ended up doing everything they once condemned as unjust and cruel.”  They “have become corrupted by power.  But power corrupts more easily when you have neither principles nor integrity.”  See

Soner Cagaptay has confirmed that Erdogan is rapidly moving Turkey from its secular past to an Islamist future with the elimination of civil liberties and the arrest of those who “insult Islam.”  See

Mustafa Akyol has affirmed the relevance of the teachings of Jesus to Islam, noting that Jesus “called on his fellow Jews to focus on their religion’s moral principles rather than obsessing with the minute details of religious law.  …He also taught that outward expressions of piety can nurture a culture of hypocrisy.  Jesus even defined humanism as a higher value than legalism, famously declaring, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’” See
On February 18, 2018, Donald Trump tweeted: If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!  The irony is that Trump thrives on conflict and is aiding and abetting Putin by creating discord, disruption and chaos in America.  Quinta Jurecic has confirmed that “Trump is presiding over a great destabilization in American life, and his attacks on institutions are a key aspect of this.”  See

Max Boot has noted that “The evidence of Russian meddling [in the 2016 election] became ‘incontrovertible,’ in the word of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, after special counsel Robert S. Mueller III indicted 13 Russians and three Russian organizations on Friday for taking part in this operation. …Yet in a disturbing weekend tweetstorm, President Trump attacked the FBI, Democrats, even McMaster — anyone but the Russians. He sought to minimize the impact of the Kremlin’s intrusion, tweeting: ‘The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!’ Actually, there’s plenty of evidence of collusion, including the infamous June 2016 meeting that Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign manager held with Russian representatives who promised to ‘incriminate’ Hillary Clinton.”  See

Related commentary on religion, freedom and legitimacy:               

(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(2/22/15): Religion and Human Rights
(3/15/15): The Kingdom of God, Politics and the Church
(3/29/15): God and Country: Resolving Conflicting Concepts of Sovereignty
(5/3/15): A Fundamental Problem with Religion
(5/10/15): Religion, Human Rights and National Security
(5/17/15): Moral Restraints on the Freedom of Speech
 (6/14/15): Jesus Meets Muhammad Today
(6/21/15): Christians Meet Muslims Today
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/16/15): How Religious Fundamentalism and Secularism Shape Politics and Human Rights
(8/23/15): Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict
(9/13/15): Accommodating Religious Freedom under the Secular Rule of Law
(9/20/15) Politics and Religious Polarization
(12/12/15): The Power of Freedom over Fear
(1/2/16): God in Three Concepts
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(4/2/16): The Freedom of Religion and Providing for the Common Good
(4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/21/16): Religious Fundamentalism and a Politics of Reconciliation
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(8/20/16): The Freedoms of Religion and Speech: Essentials of Liberty and Law
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(9/24/16): The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(12/17/16): Discipleship in a Democracy: A Test of Faith, Legitimacy and Politics
(2/4/17): When Confrontation Trumps Reconciliation in Politics and Religion
(2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(3/11/17): Accountability and the Stewardship of Democracy
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/1/17): Human Rights, Freedom and National Security
(5/13/17): Voices of Reason and Hope in the Cacophony over Religion, Human Rights and Politics
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power
(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 
(9/9/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion 
(10/21/17): The Symbiotic Relationship between Freedom and Religion
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(1/6/18): The Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Musings of a Maverick on Money, Wall Street, Greed and Politics

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr. 

            In the wake of massive Republican tax cuts that benefit the rich, coupled with a bipartisan budget that increases defense spending and proposed investments in infrastructure that will vastly increase the deficit, both political parties have abandoned fiscal restraint and put America on a course that will likely produce dangerous deficits and increase economic disparities.

            The stock market is where most money now migrates.  Once a barometer of the U.S. economy, it has become more a barometer of inflation than of the nation’s wealth.  Without a gold standard to govern the value of the dollar, stock has become the best measure of a dollar’s value.  When the value of stock goes up, it creates inflation that reduces the value of the dollar.

            The stock market is controlled by super-rich CEOs who represent Wall Street.  They are accountable only to boards of directors that demand maximum profits, so they are motivated by greed.  And in politics they use campaign contributions to prevent the regulations needed to protect the public from exploitation by the unrestrained greed of their mega-corporations.

            The stock market represents America’s productive capacity.  Real estate is another part of America’s wealth that is not controlled by Wall Street.  In the past, Americans invested more in savings accounts and real estate than in the stock market, but the 401(k) plan reversed that priority.  Wall Street now has a continuous supply of money with no public accountability, and the resulting inflation of stock values has given the illusion of increased wealth.

            Both stock and real estate lost half their value during the financial crisis of 2008.  While the Federal Reserve subsidized corporations that were too big to fail with cheap money, little was done to restore the value of real estate.  The stock market has since recovered its losses and more than doubled its value, while real estate has barely recovered its losses.  As a result stock has become America’s favorite investment, and that has given Wall Street enormous power.

            Rising interest rates counter inflation, but since 2008 the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low to stimulate the economy.  Low interest rates have enriched Wall Street, while they have discouraged traditional savings and only marginally helped the real estate market.

            Wall Street opposes higher interest rates since they mean lower stock prices and profits.  If the Federal Reserve capitulates to Wall Street pressure to keep interest rates low, even as stock prices and inflation rise, it will likely cause monetary and economic dysfunctions that increase already dangerous disparities between the rich and the middle class, and lead to an economic crisis that could threaten the very fabric of American democracy.

            Tax cuts and government spending supported by both radical-right Republicans and leftist Democrats feed Wall Street and starve Main Street.  Fiscal conservatives no longer have a voice in politics.  It is uncertain when the lack of fiscal restraint in politics will undermine public trust in the U.S. dollar and cause an economic crisis, but without major changes in economic and monetary policy, that economic crisis is a virtual certainty.

            Economic stability and justice are moral priorities of the American civil religion, and they are at risk from the greed of profiteers on Wall Street who are supported by a president and a majority in Congress.  They were elected by white evangelical Christians, so that religion is part of the problem and should also be part of the solution.  That solution is to follow the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors—all of them—as we love ourselves.

            That will require the president and congress to reclaim fiscal responsibility for America’s economic destiny from the profiteers of Wall Street.  Voters must hold their elected leaders accountable for a strong national defense, a sound social security system, health care for the young and old, and a safety net for the poor and powerless—all with limited budget deficits.  That cannot be done with tax breaks for the rich and the deregulation of Wall Street’s power.        

            I’m a maverick in politics, an independent fiscal conservative more libertarian than socialist, and until recently I considered big government the greatest threat to our freedom and democracy.  Now I believe big business is an even greater threat to our liberty, and that we need government to protect the public from being exploited by the unrestrained greed of Wall Street.    

The dismantling of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by President Trump and Mick Mulvaney, who is the acting head of the CFPB and, I’m sorry to say my former congressman, is an example of how Trump and his Republican minions are protecting the profiteers of Wall Street while leaving consumers unprotected from their unrestrained greed.  See

The new two-year bipartisan budget spearheaded by Republicans has abandoned any effort to eliminate the deficit, and a Washington Post editorial says that the budget “denies reality.”  See

Robert Samuelson explains why the budget lacks reality and is not prudent: “The bipartisan budget agreement reached last week by congressional leaders is nothing if not a huge evasion of responsibility. Neither party will make the unpopular choices necessary to pay for an aging society and essential government. Ever-larger budget deficits have become their means of making policy and practicing politics.  …Altogether, we face cumulative deficits of about $14 trillion over the decade. These can’t be blamed on an economy operating at less than full capacity. Just the opposite: The economy is close to “full employment” with a 4.1 percent unemployment rate. Deficit financing has become the mother’s milk of politics. Compromise occurs by mutual forbearance. ‘Each party is giving the other its wish list with all the bells and whistles included and asking future generations to pick up the tab,’ notes the CRFB’s Maya MacGuineas. …Meanwhile, so-called entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare — for which people automatically qualify — were largely untouched. They represent about 70 percent of federal spending. Together, costly entitlements and expanded discretionary spending produce enormous deficits, exceeding $1 trillion a year, as far as the eye can see. That’s a huge gap — roughly 5 percent of our gross domestic product — to close or shrink. Most politicians are can kickers. They want nothing to do with the necessary tax increases or spending cuts, including possible reductions in Social Security, to curb the out-of-control deficits. Republicans congratulate themselves on new tax cuts; Democrats are always eager to increase social spending — witness the Affordable Care Act. So why should we worry about escalating debt? The answer, in a word: prudence. We don’t know how much federal debt is too much. What we do know — from previous financial crises in many countries and at many times — is that once investors, traders and speculators lose confidence in a country’s debt, the economic, social and political consequences can be devastating. Interest rates may soar; inflation may surge; governments may raise taxes sharply and cut spending deeply. But once you cross that line, it’s hard to get back to the other side. The prudent thing to do is never to get close to the line. We aren’t being prudent.”  See

On the evils of greed, Netflix’s new six-part documentary series is an enthralling take on cons and corporate malfeasance, from money laundering for cartels to the Trump Organization. See The Epic Grift of Greed at

Related Commentary:

(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(3/8/15): Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(10/18/15): God, Money and Politics
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(6/4/16): Christianity and Capitalism: Strange Bedfellows in Politics
(10/1/16): The Federal Reserve, Wall Street and Congress on Monetary Policy
(2/11/17): The Mega-Merger of Wall Street, Politics and Religion
(3/11/17): Accountability and the Stewardship of Democracy
(9/9/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart
(9/16/17): The American Civil Religion and the Danger of Riches
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics