One Citizen’s Opinion in an Inclusive, Diverse, Pluralistic, American Culture: “Defund the Police” – Really?

A 2020 Slogan of the Cities and Streets of America

“Defund the police.” My immediate response to that plea, with little or no rational reflection, is that it would not be a bad idea, and use the money allotted to police departments throughout America for some other worthwhile human projects, whatever the respective legislators of a city or town deem to be “worthwhile projects.”

But upon further reflection, there is something wrong with the idea. First, the assumption of the plea to “Defund the police” has a rather simplistic notion about human nature. America’s police departments might be defunded, were it not for the fact of the finite, fallible nature of human beings. “To err is human.” Human beings, left to themselves, are inclined to commit moral errors, to “transgress” on the rights of other human beings. That is why there are “checks and balances” in the Constitution of the United States of America. Where one “branch” of government goes wrong, hopefully, another branch will challenge and correct it.

Second, “To err is human” also applies to errors in human judgments, that is, in thinking about right and wrong. To “Defund the police” would be right, if human beings were always morally upright or, even better, morally prefect. But the fact of the matter is that they are not. Hence, to “Defund the police” is not a good idea. It is, quite simply, wrong.

Third, “Defund the police” is not practical. In other words, it does not work in the “real world,” – the space-time world in which human beings, creatures of common sense – live. For example, in 2021, almost a year after the “chant” “Defund the police,” in not a few American cities and towns, crime is on the rise and there are even “calls” from mayors to the federal government to help fight crime in their cities. Why? The reason is rooted in common sense and is obvious: Americans need the police. They need the many good and courageous men and women in America’s police departments. The police are needed to enforce the law, arrest and apprehend criminals, protect the human rights of American citizens and to restore order in public.

Fourth, there is one final reason, a logical one, that “Defund the police” is a bad idea. Let me explain: Abusing something good is not a “valid” reason for rejecting the good itself. For instance, abuse in the practice of medicine is not a good reason for rejecting medicine; nor is abuse in positions of government a proper reason for rejecting government itself; nor, still less, is abuse in the practice of the law a good reason for rejecting the law itself. In the words of a Latin saying, Abusus non tollit usum, which may be translated, “Abuse does not remove use.”

Therefore, abuse in power, such as instances of police brutality, is not a good reason for rejecting and defunding the proper power that the police exercise for the common good, the good of a human community.

Life and Death Begin in a Person’s Mouth

Hungarian Jews before “Selection” in the Birkenau Death Camp, Circa Summer 1944.
The above-photo is of Hungarian Jews before “selection” in the Birkenau death camp, circa summer 1944. After the photo was taken, they were murdered, being gassed and sent directly to the crematorium. Anyone who says that there is nothing wrong with spreading false words and ideas about people needs to be reminded of the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler began with constantly calling the Jews “an inferior race,” describing them in less-than-human terms. Eventually, the Nazis believed him, taking part in the murder of millions of human beings. Indeed,
 
Words heal,
Words cleanse,
Words give life,
Words encourage,
Words discourage,
Words wound,
Words defile,
Words abuse,
Words torture and
Words kill.
 
Life and death begin in a person’s mouth. Death starts there by using the wrong words and labels to describe human beings, to dehumanize them. Then words, eventually, lead to actions, resulting in the persecution and murder of innocent people.
 
Words really do matter, leading to life or death. Use them wisely and carefully!
 
 
 

The Virtue of Single-Mindedness

Single-Mindedness

Focusing on What Really Matters

In an ethics course, I frequently asked my students, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ ‘What really matters to you?’ After the questions, there would be a brief moment of silence, followed by the lecture for the day. I use those brief periods as a teaching device, an occasion for the students’ introspection, getting them to reflect on their lives.

Of course, I cannot answer the questions — “What do you want to do with your life?” “What really matters to you?” — for my students.  By now, each student knows that only he or she is responsible for answering such questions. However, I meant for the questions to be thought-provoking, motivating my students to pursue concrete, worthwhile goals, to direct their lives in meaningful paths. Since the course I am teaching is about “the good life, a life well- lived,” I want each student in the class, in his or her own way, to have a good life; one that is filled with meaning and purpose.

The Difficulties in Pursuing Worthwhile Goals

Toward the end of the course, I discuss the lives of Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Viktor Frankl and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; all of whom encountered seemingly insurmountable obstacles, even tragedies, in the pursuit of a good life. However, ultimately, none of them lost sight on what really mattered to him or her. Each was uncompromisingly single-minded and, thus, firmly determined to make something meaningful out of his or her life by “standing up” for a worthwhile cause.

What is my main point? Precisely this: If you are pursuing a worthwhile goal, then know and take this to heart: There will be obstacles in your way of achieving it. Those obstacles may be by well-meaning or, perhaps, negative people, attempting to sway you from focusing on your goal. So here are two principles for pursuing a meaningful goal. First, in your heart, you must believe, and even feel, that what you are doing is right. Without that passion, you cannot move forward meaningfully with your life.

Staying Focused in the Midst of the Difficulties

Second, you must single-mindedly pursue the good, despite all the adversities you are encountering. To paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche: To have a why to live for is to endure almost any how. The why is your aim, purpose or goal and your motivation to pursue it. The how is the obstacle that stands in the way of achieving the goal.

Keep on Hoping

Of course, like most meaningful achievements, what I am saying is easier said than done, requiring many set-backs and even long periods of discouragement. That is why I take to heart — and I hope you will — the advice of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was arrested for criticizing Communism in the former Soviet Union and sentenced to eight years of imprisonment in the Soviet concentration camps:

“All that the downtrodden can do is go on hoping. After every disappointment, they must find fresh reason for hope.”

Keep on hoping, aiming at the worthwhile goals you set for yourself! Keep on moving forward, going after them, even if you might seem to be moving backward! That requires the mental and moral courage to pursue your dreams, which is unlike those timid souls who fear that their dreams are too difficult to achieve and give up on pursuing them.

Endnote

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag ArchipelagoVol. 3: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Parts V – VII, trans Harry Willetts (New York, N.Y.: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1978), p. 298.

 

You Can’t “Make” People Happy

The “Key” to Happiness

You can’t “make” people happy, no matter how hard you try. Even if you gave them everything they wanted, they would still have something about which to complain. They may go from one “love”-relationship to another; you may buy them one house after another; and they still will not be satisfied. Buy them roses or diamonds or Jaguars, and such people will, for a while, be comfortable, but they will not be happy.

All the things I have mentioned are external to human beings. Not only will trying to “make” people happy “wear you out,” frustrating you “to no end,” but such attempts are “exercises in futility.” Nothing is really gained from them, except, perhaps, proving that you cannot make other people happy.

Therefore, you are not responsible for making other people happy, because “happiness is an inside job.” You will never, ever be able to make people happy! Happiness is something they must discover for themselves. They must do something about their unhappiness, in order to become happy. And they start that by taking a look inside their lives, within themselves, especially caring about the condition of their souls and their relationship with God.

The “key” to happiness, then, is not outside you. Rather, it is inside you, waiting to be discovered!

 

 

“One Blood”​ (Acts 17:26, KJV): My Black and White “Brothers”​ and “Sisters”​ in America

Blacks and Whites Together in Civil Rights Protests

Not a few times, I have been told by my White “brothers” and “sisters,” “What are you doing quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.; he was Black?” I have also have been told, not a few times, by my Black “brothers” and “sisters,” “Why are you quoting King; you are White?” Yes, King was Black; yes, too, I am White. Of course, not all Whites and Blacks are my literal, biological brothers and sisters. But in another sense, they are my “brothers and “sisters,” because we all share in a common human nature, in a common humanity; we all are human beings. We all have human blood, albeit different kinds of blood types, flowing through our human bodies. But the truth itself, whether it comes from a Black or White person, has no color.

I “run” into the same mentality in being a Christian pastor or minister. I have been told, not a few times, by my Christian brothers and sisters, “What are you doing quoting Viktor Frankl; he was not a Christian?” Similarly, “Why do you quote Mahatma Gandhi; he was a Hindu?” Again, “Why do you quote Malcolm X; you are not a Black Muslim?” Still again, after I preached a sermon on “Amos: The Prophet of Social Justice,” I was told, “You sound like a liberal.”

I believe that philosopher Arthur Holmes was right, when, in his book All Truth is God’s Truth, he wrote,

“All truth, no matter where it be found or by whom it be discovered, is still God’s truth.”

Why, then, do I quote authors from different races, skin-colors and religions? I believe, first or foremost, in the truth of what they are writing or saying. That truth is a reflection of God’s nature, for God is Truth. Therefore, for me, truth matters, whether it comes from a White woman or Black woman; a Christian, Jew, Muslim or an atheist. In other words, I am more concerned about what is right than what is White. I want to know what is true, even if it is not new.

 
 

Comparing the Political Philosophies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.: “By Any Means Necessary”

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

On 8 March 1964, Malcolm X decided to leave the Nation of Islam. In May of that same year, Malcolm traveled to West Africa, making a pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy city of Muslims. On 28 June, Malcolm founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Especially noteworthy in his speech is his affirmation of the rights of African-Americans to be recognized and treated as human beings, saying,

“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”1

Malcolm was and still is correct: African-Americans have the fundamental human right to be treated as human beings or human persons (along with all other humans beings, regardless their race or skin-color). Malcolm eloquently and forcefully affirms that right! Elsewhere, Malcolm emphasizes the same point, stating his reason for forming the Organization of Afro-American Unity:

“So we have formed an organization known as the Organization of Afro-American Unity which has the same aim and objective – to fight whoever gets in our way, to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary.”2

He stresses his point still again, saying,

“That’s our motto. We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.”3

On moral grounds, though, one may challenge Malcolm’s phrase “by any means necessary.” The reason is he teaches that the end, which is the recognition of the human right of African-Americans to be treated as human persons, justifies the means. But “by any means necessary?” Malcolm’s moral argument is that as long as the end or result is good, use “any means” to achieve it.

However, what if the “means” or the moral acts themselves are wrong? What about destroying private property, which is human right, to achieve that end? What about looting or stealing someone else’s possessions, another human right, to achieve that end? What about directly killing other human beings – that is still another human right, an innocent human being’s right to life — to achieve that end? What about destroying American cities to achieve that end? What about killing, say, bystanders, such as innocent women and children, to achieve that end?

Paying back evil for evil is still evil and, therefore, it is not right. Hating those who hate is still hating and, as such, it is wrong. Harming those who inflict harm is still harming; thus, it is wrong. To kill a killer is still killing. It is an “eye for an eye,” which still removes an eye, making both moral acts wrong and, therefore, both persons morally “blind.”

While African-Americans have every right to be angry at police brutality and the murdering of Black American citizens, that anger must be properly channeled in non-violent, peaceful, public protests. That is Dr. King’s point in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.4

For King, there are two radically different kinds of public protests. The first results from repressed anger, leading to the destruction of property and human lives, resulting in a chaotic or disordered society. The second, while issuing from repressed anger, is creatively channeled by a disciplined, conscious decision to act out of love, choosing to protest peacefully, calling attention to the injustices suffered by Black Americans.5

Non-violence, according to King, is not non-resistance. African-Americans must resist the brutality and the “targeting” of Black citizens by police. But how is that resistance to be applied in public? Contrary to Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. teaches that non-violence in public protests “demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”6 Again, he writes, “it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends.”7

The “power” of Dr. King’s doctrine of public, non-violent, peaceful protests is that it works! It can be applied to “the real world” in which people live; and it was, ultimately resulting in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. King changed American history for the better and he did it without hurting anyone. He never resorted to firing a gun. He neither destroyed anything nor killed anyone to bring about his doctrine of constructive, social change.

Malcolm X and Dr. King agree on the end or aim of public protests for the advancement of civil rights. Sometimes, however, the two leaders disagree over the means of achieving those rights. For King, the means of public protest must be right in order to achieve the right end, say, the elimination of police brutality and killings of Black Americans or African-Americans.

Endnotes

1. Malcolm X. 28 June 1964. Speech at the Founding Rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Black Past. [Web:] https://www.blackpast.org/…/1964-malcolm-x-s-speech…/ [Date of access: 25 April 2021].

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Martin Luther King, Jr. 16 April 1963. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” African Studies Center – University of Pennsylvania. [Web:] https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Artic…/Letter_Birmingham.html [Date of access: 25 April 2021].

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid. Italics are mine.

7. Ibid.

 

 

 

Minute Meditation on Youth and Aging from Pink Floyd and the Book of Ecclesiastes

The Cover to Pink Floyd, “Dark Side of the Moon”

“You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 11:9a, NIV). I read that text in my class; the students rejoiced at the sacred author’s words. I also went on to read to my students some of the lyrics from “Time,” a song by Pink Floyd, on the album The Dark Side of the Moon (1973). For instance, David Gilmour and Richard Wright write,

“You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you;
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”
 
Then I went on to point out to the class that the sacred author also reminds his readers, as does the song “Time,” that “youth and vigor are fleeting” (Ecclesiastes 11:10b, BSB). In other words, from the moment a human being is conceived and born, he or she is constantly changing, in the process of becoming older. Once that process has begun, the only way out of it is death.
 
Every human being, then, is inexorably aging. Younger people should keep that in mind, because unless their lives are cut short by some kind of tragedy or illness, they, too, will become old. Therefore, human beings, in general, whether they are young or old – and, especially, before they die – want to be acknowledged as persons. Whether young or old, they also want to be respected or honored as human beings.
 
The song expresses the same meaning as the Latin saying, Termpus fugit, “Time flies.” It goes by quickly. Just when a person thinks the moment is here, that he or she can “seize” it, it “slips away,” becoming the past. Hence, writes Gilmour and Wright,
 
“The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.”
 
Then I went on to point out to the class that the sacred author also reminds his readers, as does the song “Time,” that “youth and vigor are fleeting” (Ecclesiastes 11:10b, BSB). In other words, from the moment a human being is conceived and born, he or she is constantly changing, in the process of becoming older. Once that process has begun, the only way out of it is death.
 
Every human being, then, is inexorably aging. Younger people should keep that in mind, because unless their lives are cut short by some kind of tragedy or illness, they, too, will become old. Therefore, human beings, in general, whether they are young or old – and, especially, before they die – want to be acknowledged as persons. Whether young or old, they also want to be respected or honored as human beings.
 
 
 

False Ideas Your Brain May Tell You

Know about Your Brain

Here are four false ideas, which your brain may send to your mind for consideration. First, “You are a loser!” Now, if anything can attack a person’s self-esteem, giving him or her an inferiority complex, it is believing that error! Of course, you may, at times, perhaps many times, lose. But losing is not you; so it does not define you. Rather, losing is an event, something that happens to you.

Win or lose, you are still somebody; still someone. Distinguish, then, your person, your inner life of being a self, from the events in your outer life; the things that happen to you. You are a person, not a loser. 

Second, “You are worthless.” Simply reply to yourself, “I am not worthless; rather, the world is ‘worth’ — ‘less’ without me. That is how vital, how absolutely important, I am to life.”

Third, if your brain sends you the message, “You are nothing,” reply to that false idea, rejecting it as follows: “Indeed, I am ‘no’ — ‘thing,’ because I am someone, not something. I am a subject, not an object. I am a person!”

Fourth, If your brain ever says to you, “You are nobody,” reply to the message, “Since I have a body, I am somebody. I am, then, ‘weighty,’ significant or impressive. I matter as a human person, even if I may not matter to someone else.”

The human brain is always sending messages to the human mind. Not all of the messages are true. That is why the mind must be alert, responding to or refuting the errors a person’s brain sends to him or her.

 

Being for Others

Genesis 12:2

Blessed to be a Blessing

The Lord says to Abram, “I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2b, NIV). That is precisely the point of life: The reason for receiving a blessing is to be a blessing to others. To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, the essence of human existence is self-transcendence, which is moving out of oneself to others, specifically, to help them. Life, then, is about both receiving and giving to others.

Men and women, then, are blessed or fortunate to help those who are less fortunate. Therefore, people’s talents and blessings are not only for themselves but also to help others. One reason America is in an economic crisis is many people want the blessings of life without being a blessing to others.

Privileged to Help the Underprivileged

An economic reality, a fact of life, is that some people are born into fortunate circumstances, being privileged; while others are born into unfortunate conditions, being underprivileged. There is nothing wrong with being privileged, that is, having wealth and nice possessions. However, as they enjoy their privileges, the privileged should consider it a “privilege” to help the underprivileged.

The privileged need the underprivileged; conversely, the underprivileged need the privileged. They need each other to become more fully human, that is, to lead a life that is truly befitting of human dignity. Squandering wealth, just as surely as living in abject poverty, is an indignity and, therefore, not worthy of the human person.

Faith and Feeding the Hungry, Part II: “A Christmas Carol”

Bob Cratchit with Tiny Tim

Jacob Marley: An Economic Personalist

In a scene of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, the ghost or spirit of Jacob Marley teaches Ebeneezer Scrooge, a wealthy businessman, a principle of personalism in economics, namely, that the accruing of wealth is not the most important aspect of business. Rather, the primary object of business, the ultimate goal of a company or corporation, its raison d’ tre or “reason for existence,” is the good of human persons. It is, in other words, directed toward the general welfare of human beings.

Ebeneezer Scrooge: A Radical, Economic Individualist

Before Ebeneezer Scrooge was visited by three ghosts, he was a radical, economic individualist, caring about making money for himself alone. He had no concern for increasing the income of his own employee (Bob Cratchit); nor did he care about the plight of the poor or underprivileged. He wanted, in his words, “to be left alone,” because he desired to keep his wealth all to himself. He sacrificed everything, including human relationships, for the sake of money and wealth.

The Moral Lessons of “Charity, Mercy, Forbearance, and Benevolence”

Scrooge, when visited by the ghost of Marley, says to him, “You always were a good man of business.” However, he replies,

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”

Business, then, is directed toward the common good of human beings. After making a profit, a business is meant to give back to the community in the good works of “Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence.” Therefore, a business exists to serve people and if it does not do that, then it is not a good business, regardless of how high its profits are.

Meeting the Needs of Others

Of course, having lots of money is not wrong. However, after men and women become wealthy and take good care of themselves and their families, then the next concern should be: What about meeting the needs of others? Radical, economic individualists would not ask that question. In the words of Scrooge,

“It’s not my business … It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.”

Scrooge’s “Conversion”

Radical, economic individualists are concerned about accruing wealth for themselves and for those who don’t have it, “tough luck.” In an economy governed by self-centeredness and greed, the poor are, as it were, “thrown by the wayside.” If they die, to quote Scrooge, they will “decrease the surplus population.” That, of course, was what he believed until he was visited by three ghosts and had a “conversion,” a change heart and mind, resulting in a change of life, realizing that he must use his wealth to help those in need. As he said,

“I am not the man I was … I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

Thus, Scrooge prayed, thanking God and the moral lessons of Christmas (e.g., caring for others; showing concern for those in need and helping them; rejecting indifference, the love of money, greed and self-centeredness) for changing his life, saying,

“Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”

Due to the Coronavirus, there is widespread unemployment and hunger in America, with people not being able to pay their monthly expenses. Such factors “weigh” heavily on the human psyche, resulting in depression, anxiety, worry, despair and even suicide. The “conversion” that Scrooge had is sorely needed today in America by people who have the financial means to help others, so that they can care for themselves and their families, providing for their basic necessities as human beings, such as food, clothing and shelter. Come, O Spirits, come; “touch the hearts” of those with financial means to help others without means on Christmas. Amen.