Fake News Pollutes American Psyche by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Fake News Pollutes American Psyche
by George Wolfe

“Fake news” is nothing new. Prior to 1982, I spent five years teaching at James Madison University. The student paper published an article I wrote complaining about the students wasting their time reading pop magazines and newspapers like National Enquirer and The Globe. And it’s still a problem today.

Somehow, slanderous articles, like those recently about the Obamas’ supposedly impending divorce, are more enticing than reading Aristotle.

There’s a difference between fake news and “spin.” When politicians and commentators put their spin on a report, they interpret the news and speculate on political motivations. But the news they are interpreting is usually factual. Spin borders on propaganda, but propaganda usually ignores context.

I remember my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Stright, giving an illustration of propaganda. She said there was an auto race between two cars: an American made car and a Soviet car. The American car won the race, but the state-controlled Soviet news agency, without stating that there were only two cars in the race, reported that the Soviet car came in “second” and the American car came in “next to last.” The Soviet report was true, but it ignored the context and thus gave a report that was highly misleading.

Spin and propaganda are not fake news, because fake news is false. It may, at some time, be viewed as true, but time eventually reveals that it is false. And this is what makes Trump’s fake news far more dangerous than political spin or propaganda.

Fake news became a prominent part of the political landscape in 2003 when President George W. Bush insisted that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. He even duped Secretary of Defense, Colin Powell, who presented the so-called “evidence” to the United Nations to justify the U.S. pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. And look where it has led us.

Bush’s fake news led to the Iraqi failed state; ISIS, an organization far more extremist that Al-Qaida, was eventually born along with one of the worst humanitarian crises in history; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu has become increasingly paranoid, and North Korea accelerated its nuclear program, no doubt to deter a pre-emptive strike by the United States.

Around the same time, in the fall of 2004, Ball State University and the Center for Peace and conflict Studies became a victim of fake news. National right-wing bi-polar political commentator David Horowitz began criticizing collegiate peace studies programs throughout the country, claiming they were indoctrinating students with a liberal anti-American political agenda. As director of the Ball State Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, I became one of his prime targets, along with peace studies faculty teaching in Indiana at Earlham College and Purdue.

Horowitz used his Internet publication Frontpage Magazine, as well as conservative radio and television talk shows, to launch his nationwide campaign. The Associated Press covered the controversy, and articles were run in media outlets throughout the country, including on the CNN website and in USA Today.

This barrage of fake news even went so far as to accuse the Ball State peace center, the Muslim Students Association, and a student organization named Peaceworkers of supporting terrorism. Horowitz’s fake news machine also published a cartoon caricature depicting me playing the saxophone while the World Trade Center burned in the background.

The false and misleading accusations, however, eventually backfired, as is usually the case with fake news. Two honors students in my class wrote a letter refuting the accusations made against me. After I submitted documentation to Provost Beverly Pitts proving the accusations were not true, Ball State University president Jo Ann Gora published a guest editorial in The Star Press on December 15, 2004 supporting my teaching and validating the academic discipline of peace studies. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette and The Star Press of Muncie also published editorials condemning Mr. Horowitz.

Today we are in a worse crisis with fake news because of the prevalence of social media. Anyone with modest computer skills can publish fake news, and apparently, over 40 percent of Americans gobble it up as gospel.

More social media sites need to follow the example of Facebook and publish warnings when they detect certain posts that could potentially constitute fake news. Otherwise, news from non-professional sources will continue to degenerate into the National Inquirer sickness that pollutes the American psyche.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and former director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trump Should Show Moral Courage George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Trump Should Show Moral Courage
by
George Wolfe

It’s time for Donald Trump to show moral courage and speak out definitively against anti-Semitism, white supremacist rhetoric, and their corresponding acts of vandalism that have become increasingly prevalent in the United States since his election.

Most recently, swastikas and anti-Semitic phrases evoking the horror of the holocaust have been sprawled on the New York Subway and in Houston on the statue of the founder of Rice University. Bomb threats have been called in to Jewish community centers in major U.S. cities.

This past November, the Ball State University Freedom Bus which is a traveling museum documenting the African-American struggle for equality during the Civil Rights Movement, was vandalized. And less than two weeks after the November election, so-called “White Nationalists” meeting at the Reagan Building in Washington D.C. to celebrate Trump’s victory, ended their meeting with the Nazi salute and the words “Heil Trump.”

Such expressions of hate run deeper than mere “enthusiasm,” a word Trump and others have used to dismiss questions from the press about anti-Semitism. Graffiti and vandalism in the form of hate speech are hate crimes that have no place in American culture. Moreover, they run counter to genuine humanist and religious values.

It is time for Donald Trump to confront the recent expressions of white supremacy and anti-Semitism. He should do so not in a tweet or in a two-sentence statement in the Huffington Post, but in a well-publicized presidential address.

In a recent news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a reporter asked the president about anti-Semitism in the U. S. since the election. But instead of condemning the recent acts of anti-Semitism, he avoided the question by merely reiterating his administration’s hollow commitment to the Jewish people and the support of Israel.

Racism and religious prejudice are at the heart of what divides America and eats away at the moral leadership role the United States must play on the international stage. If Trump is a man of moral courage, he should take the lead in addressing the racist epidemic his election has unleashed.

Trump also should apologize for announcing his Travel Ban against immigrants and refugees on January 27, which was also the 2017 International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In 1939, the ocean liner St. Louis set sail, carrying over nine hundred European Jews seeking entry into Cuba or the United States. The U.S. State Department turned the boat away, leaving the St. Louis no choice but to return to Europe. Most of its passengers were eventually taken to Nazi death camps where they perished. Had the United States government responded in 1933 and opened wider its doors for the years ahead, thousands of Jews could have been saved.

How many Syrian and Iraqi refugees, most of whom are women and children, would lose their lives if sent back to ISIS infested cities under Donald Trump’s travel ban?

If the president doesn’t have the moral courage to apologize and speak out directly against white supremacy, then Vice President Mike Pence, who is not shy about expressing his religious faith, should step up and carry the mantel of moral leadership. This is the type of leadership needed to re-establish respect for the Republican Party, our democracy, and our nation.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and former director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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Discovering Your Inner Light by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Discovering Your Inner Light
by
George Wolfe

During the Christmas holiday, we often see the Magi or “wise men from the east” depicted in numerous nativity displays. The allegorical journey of the Magi to find the Christ child however, is actually celebrated after Christmas on the Christian calendar, beginning January 6th with the Feast of Epiphany and lasting to the beginning of Lent.

The word “Magi” refers to the priestly cast in Persia. Among their specializations was the pseudo-science of astrology. They were following a “star,” which was probably an astrological sign, that symbolizes a light or a guide that is external to oneself. This external knowledge is shown to be incomplete, as when the Magi arrived in Judea, they have to visit King Herod and ask where they could find the infant Jesus.

Once they found the Christ child however, who represents the Divine Light within us, they could have an epiphany. This epiphany came to them in a dream, instructing them to change course and return home without telling King Herod of the child’s whereabouts. Like the Magi who were prompted to take a different direction homeward, epiphanies, often result in a change in the direction of our thinking, or when most profound, in the course of our life’s journey.

The word epiphany is defined as “a sudden realization of truth.” The experience of having an epiphany usually dawns as an “ah ha” experience that awakens us to new possibilities. An inspiration dawns deep within the mind, a flash of insight that emerges from the darkness of the subconscious, as if to be born from the womb of mystery. Knowledge is revealed from within, and a spiritual teacher is someone who knows how to trigger this type of awakening in a disciple.

Unfortunately, as church leaders imposed their rigid dogma, the story of the Magi was reduced to a mere historical event, and the concept of epiphany as an inner experience was lost.

One might ask: why could not the Magi have had the dream before they got to Judea, sparing them the need to visit Herod? It is because they were relying solely on objective observation, that is, their external light. They had not gained access to their inner light.

Reviving the experience of epiphany leads us into the fascinating study of symbolism and allegorical meaning in scripture, and not only in Christian texts, but in Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Islamic writings as well. Once we set aside the historical view of religion, we discover deeper possibilities of interpretation. This pursuit then becomes an exercise in inner growth and understanding, much like koans are used by Zen Masters to awaken their disciples.

There are many examples of insights revealing themselves to people in dreams as reported by musicians, artists, and scientists as well. Years ago, when I served on a panel at the International Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado, songwriter and entertainer Steve Allen told how his most successful song, “This could be the start of something big,” came to him in a dream.

The Canadian physician and stress researcher Hans Selye, in his book From Dream to Discovery: On Being a Scientist, tells the story of Otto Loewi, the scientist who devised the famous experiment proving the chemical transmission of nerve impulses. During a conversation with Selye, Lowei explained how he awoke one night from a dream with the idea for the design of his experiment.

The story of the Magi teaches us to pursue a course of awakening so we can follow our own “inner light” which is the source of wisdom within us. In the context of social justice, this is “the light [that] shines in the darkness” (John 1:5) and which “enlightens every man,” (John 1:9). It is the light that inspires humanity to follow a higher calling and embrace greater equality. And history has shown time and again, that the darkness cannot overcome the light (John 1:5).

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus at Ball State University and former Director and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of Meditations on Mystery: Science, Paradox and Contemplative Spirituality.

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A Global Movement for Human Unity: Bringing the Vision Down to Earth

I have often been asked what Voices of Humanity is all about. I say VoH is designed to promote human unity with gender-equality and support for diversity built-in. I explain that each month participants will write messages on topics of their own choosing, vote on each other’s postings and at the new moon the top-voted messages from the women, the men, youth, middle-aged, seniors and humanity-as-one will be publicized. These top messages will be generous, intelligent and optimistic, and will give us (humanity) a welcome new picture of ourselves. If we can enlist massive numbers of participants, we will build a heartfelt sense of human unity to underpin real trust and cooperation between the nations and religions, giving us our best chance to bring order out of chaos and prevent the collapse of human civilization.

Yeah, but what is Voices of Humanity actually going to do when we bring that vision down to earth? That’s what people ask when I have finished my elevator speech.

Dodging the question, I describe how Voices of Humanity will give a global voice to all the marginalized groups: indigenous peoples, refugees, disadvantaged minorities, endangered children, veterans, and to the movements that bring people together: interfaith, peace, supporters of the United Nations for starters. Yes, asks my new elevator friend, but what does that translate to? If I get involved, what will I be doing that will make a difference?

Down in the lobby, now, I give it my best shot: “That’s for you and all the other participants to decide, but I can give you a better idea how things will go.” So this is my vision how we can make Voices of Humanity social media work for us in what I hope is a practical way.

Each month we have winning messages from the six Voices of Humanity. The question is how can we act on those winning messages at the individual and local level? Forget the national and global levels for now. We are not nearly organized enough yet for concerted action above the local level.

Shel Silverstein's Now here’s my plan: the Nonviolent Action community, @nvaction, will address the question of what we can do at the individual and local level. The global VoH community will give us something to think about at each new moon. The Nonviolent Action community will discuss and come up with practical suggestions by the following full moon. Individuals can take their cue for action around the world from what the Nonviolent Action community has suggested. Local VoH teams will arrange to have meetings on or shortly after the full moon so they can decide on a course of action taking into account what the online Nonviolent Action community has come up with.

Feedback from those who have taken up the call for action will energize the larger community. So maybe this plan is not so futile! I love that cartoon – thank you Shel Silverstein. “There’s a lot of hope even in a hopeless situation.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shel_Silverstein

As we grow in numbers, the various communities can spin off their own Nonviolent Action committees. For instance, messages hashtagged #nonviolence #interfaith #nuclear_disarm will bring together interfaith nuclear disarmament people who want to do something in a concerted way about the distressing and frustrating nuclear arms situation. This kind of networking across the silos is going to be a big selling point for the Voices of Humanity technology. Until we have much greater participation, though, we need to concentrate on action at the most general level.

The VoH networking-across-the-silos component will enable many specialized nonviolence action committees to work together with a heartfelt sense of unity. I can see the local NV Action committees joining together in plenary session at their full moon meetings to decide an overall action plan based on the previous new moon’s winning messages, and then breaking out into specialized tables to come up with even more specific actions.

Organizations such as local sustainability groups will be welcome of course, but for starters, we will be looking for individuals and their friends to participate. That means you! Organizations by their nature have as much on their plate already as they can handle. Once we get off the ground, then our attraction for organizations will grow. It is possible that we will become the UN’s “across the silos” platform for civil society at every scale. To be sure, there are half a dozen major steps between here and there, but the prospect is exciting and realistic enough to give it a go. Your participation could make the difference.

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The Subversive Message of the Christian Nativity by George Wolfe

The Subversive Message of the Christian Nativity by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

This is the time of year we hear those beloved Christmas Carols. And if you come from a Christian family like me, you delight in watching children participate in re-enactments of the nativity story from the Gospel of Luke. We re-create the pastoral scene of the shepherds, “keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8) to whom appeared a multitude of angels announcing the birth of a Savior. But these portrayals of the Nativity are highly romanticized and omit the underlying theme of struggle that is found throughout the story.

First of all, shepherds stayed up late watching their flock when the ewes were giving birth. They were working overtime, pulling an all-nighter, serving as midwives to assist in the birthing of lambs. They were hardly lounging under the stars, contemplating the night sky.

Second, Mary went into labor while traveling, riding on a donkey. There was no room in the inn, so they had to settle for delivering the baby in a dirty stable. And there was no medication for Mary to take the edge of her pain. The best Joseph could do is improvise a bed out of straw and make use of a manger that was used to feed livestock. It must have been a long sleepless night for the weary parents.

Sometime later, the holy family had to flee to Egypt. They became immigrants to escape the terror of Kind Herod who would stop at nothing to stay in power. Fortunately, Egypt accepted them as refugees.

The entire story turns the values of our modern world upside down and exemplifies the teaching that in the Kingdom of God, “many who are last will be first, and the first last” (Matt. 19:30). In Luke’s Gospel, the people chosen to receive the announcement of Christ’s birth are not the kings and powerful military leaders, not the legal experts or educated philosophers. Those privileged to hear of the birth are the shepherds who were of a much lower social status. And the Christ child is born to a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock. Jesus entered the world not in the midst of royalty and wealth, but was born to a modest family managing to eek out a living in humble circumstances.

Finally, we read the phrase “Kings of Kings and Lord of Lords” and hear it as a glorified expression of praise. But in the context of the Roman Empire, these words were highly subversive. Roman leaders liked the fact that there were many religious sects.  This kept religion unorganized, weak and divided. They could tolerate religion as long as a person paid homage to the Emperor first. When Christians addressed Jesus as “King of Kings,” they were saying he was above the Emperor. These were words of defiance and are one reason why early Christians were tortured.

The Christmas message therefore, is not for the Wall Street billionaires and department store owners. It’s not for powerful politicians or military leaders. Rather, Christmas is for the working poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless, and the teenage single mom who chose to keep her baby and is struggling to finish school so she can support her child. Christmas is for the disabled veteran suffering from PTSD. It offers hope for prostitutes, alcoholics and drug addicts who are desperately trying to survive and turn their lives around.

Christians are people who, like Mary and Joseph, recognize that they are not in control. They realize that the complex economic, political and environmental systems of our world are well beyond our ability to control, and that wealth, political power and intellectualism create only the illusion that we are in charge.

The deeper message of the Christian Nativity is one of struggle, inconvenience, forced displacement and humility. It teaches us to endure that struggle and surrender to a power that is far greater than ourselves. It obligates us to welcome displaced families who are fleeing the horrors dispensed by power-hungry politicians.

So this year when you sing Silent Night, ponder why it is that “shepherds quake” (verse 2), and how an innocent child could be a subversive threat to a powerful empire.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He is also chair of the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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From Marches to Direct Action by George Wolfe

From Marches to Direct Action by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

On Saturday evening November 11, I attended a Trump Resistance Rally held on the south lawn of the statehouse in Indianapolis. This event was well organized, with efforts made by city officials and police to section off the streets in the downtown area.  The 1000 plus people in attendance were allowed to march around Monument Circle making known our objections to Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and his anti-immigrant agenda.

While demonstrations, protests and marches serve the important purpose of energizing supporters, airing issues and capturing media attention, there comes a time when activists must move forward with strategies of direct action that resist injustice and government policies that discriminate. Henry David Thoreau’s landmark treatise, Essay on the Duty of Civil Disobedience, asserts that when the machinery of government propagates injustice, we must provide resistance, “be a counter friction to stop the machine.” Here are some actions Americans can take to apply active nonviolent resistance to the Trump-Pence machine.

Boycott. Most recently, teams in the National Basketball Association, among them the Milwaukee Bucks, the Dallas Mavericks, and the Memphis Grizzlies, have decided to boycott Trump-owned hotels, with other unnamed teams following suit. This past June, the Latin Business Association called for a national boycott of all Trump–own businesses and products.

Become involved in the Sanctuary Movement. There are numerous organizations listed on the internet that provide aid for undocumented Mexican families and children seeking sanctuary from the violence of drug lords, and Syrian families needing safe haven from the civil war in Syria.

In addition, several cites in the United States such as Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Seattle, Baltimore, Phoenix and Chicago, have declared themselves to be “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with the call to roundup and deport undocumented immigrants. This despite the possibility these cites may risk losing millions of dollars in federal aid.

Police chiefs in Los Angeles, Tucson and other cities say they will not burden law enforcement officers with inquiring about a person’s immigration status unless that person is involved in a serious crime.  Steve Mylett, Chief of Police in Bellevue, Washington has emphatically stated,  “We don’t want someone who is the victim of a crime to have any fears about talking to the police because of their immigration status.”

Ironically, the sanctuary movement began during the Reagan administration in an effort to provide refuge to people from Nicaragua and other Central American countries fleeing the violence of civil war.

Support churches that are active in resettling refugee families. Most recently, Catholic Charities and Archbishop Joseph Tobin accepted a Syrian family despite Governor Mike Pence’s decision to suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana.

Other Indiana religious organizations, particularly activist churches such as African-American, mainstream protestant and Unitarian Universalist congregations, can offer support to refugees and should be prepared to hide Latino and Middle-Eastern families and children, much like Jewish families and children were hidden from the Nazi’s by the underground resistance movement during World War II.

Support Open Door, Planned Parenthood and other organizations that offer health care services to women.  Volunteer to provide rides to women who do not have transportation to clinics that provide for reproductive health care.

Donate to environmental organizations. Serra Club and other environmental groups focus on climate change and efforts to combat global warming.

Patronize middle-eastern and Mexican-owned businesses. Many immigrant families open restaurants, convenience stores, ethnic food markets, or manage motels in your community.

Finally, support multicultural programs in your community. Multicultural concerts and other events an excellent way to educate young people and show the immigrant community they are valued and welcome.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and former director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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Politicians Need to Set an Example by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Politicians Need to Set an Example by George Wolfe (New revised version)

Three times a year I have the privilege of speaking to high school students from Africa who are visiting Ball State University as part of the Pan-African Youth Leadership Program. My presentation deals with strategies for promoting inter-religious dialog and understanding. Usually about half of the students are Muslim, with the other half coming from Christian backgrounds.

During my lecture, I ask them to share two or three proverbs or wisdom teachings they have learned from either their religious tradition or from an elder in their family or community. At my last presentation, one of the students offered the following saying which would serve as good advice to any politician or public figure.

“If you are going to be the captain of a ship, your behavior must set a good example for others to follow, lest you bring down the entire ship!”

When I heard this, I was reminded of a Chinese proverb attributed to Confucius that I read many years ago: “The virtue of the leaders is like the wind; the virtue of the people is like the grass. And the grass bends when the wind passes over it.”

People are influenced by, and tend to imitate, the words and behavior of their leaders and individuals they admire. We see it in the fashions people chose to wear, in the influence of professional athletes, and in attitudes inspired by politicians. If a nation’s leaders lack virtue, so will their followers. If politicians are corrupt, that corruption erodes the moral behavior of the citizens over which they govern.

Political commentators are quick to blame Russia and President Vladimir Putin for intervening in Ukraine and annexing Crimea. The root cause of the dispute, however, was years of political corruption and economic problems in Ukraine after the break up of the Soviet Union. Corruption had divided the country and weakened public confidence. This led to protests and to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych, making the country vulnerable to Russian intervention.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, I have heard schoolteachers complain about how students have picked up on the hateful, insulting, dishonest, discriminatory and sexual rhetoric that has characterized the political discourse.  Many of the public figures in the United States that are capturing media attention are not setting a good example for our young people. They have brought the entire political ship down to a new low for American citizens and also, in the eyes of the entire world. They have revealed to us who we really are, a nation where many people are filled with repressed homophobic and ethnic bigotry.

Our political environment has been poisoned. What we desperately need is an antidote. And rather than blame the media for covering the protests, President-elect Trump should use his new-found influence to emphatically condemn the violence, harassment and racial graffiti that have been seen since the election.

Compare this to the atmosphere that pervaded America in 2015 when Pope Francis toured the United States. We saw him meet with victims of sexual abuse, identify with Latinos, participate in a multi-religious service that included Muslims at ground zero in New York City, and after addressing Congress, he personally spoke to John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, asking him to “pray for me.” The Pope’s humility and compassion radiated an uplifting spirit of genuine caring and respect.

Pope Francis brought to the United States an inclusive message, one that our nation again needs to hear, a message that compels us to move beyond mere tolerance to embrace an attitude of non-judgmental acceptance and appreciation. It is a message that is born out of understanding and the willingness to hear the stories and struggles of others. Let us insist and pray that our new government leaders resist the corrupting influence of economic and political power.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus at Ball State University and former Director and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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Freedom of Conscience: A Core American Value

Freedom of Conscience: A Core American Value by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

In August of 2015, Americans witnessed some highly effective activism at the University of Missouri that resulted in the resignation of university president Tim Wolfe. The activists focused on President Wolfe’s inept response to racial tensions on the Columbia, Missouri campus. They included members of the football team who refused to play in a highly publicized game, a boycott that would have cost the university over $1 million.

Recently, several African-American professional football players, inspired by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have “taken a stand” against police shootings and brutality by kneeling for the pre-game National Anthem (rather than sitting as Kaepernick initially did). Their kneeling can’t help bring to mind the photos of activists praying during the civil rights demonstrations in the 1960’s.

Many people are offended by the NFL players’ activism. To place this in perspective however, we must remember the views of African-Americans, who fought in two world wars for the United States, only to find they were denied in their home country the very rights they were fighting for overseas.

There is an alternative composition written in 1899 by James Weldon Johnson and set to music in 1900 by John Rosamond Johnson called the “African-American National Anthem.” Entitled “Lift up your voice and sing,” it is sung annually at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Service held in Muncie during Unity Week. Speakers at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration ceremony quoted lines from this hymn. It also was performed by America’s Hometown Band under the direction of Roger McConnell during an April “Relay for Peace” event 3 years ago held at Central High School.

As a professor who was politically attacked for teaching a course at Ball State University on the history and philosophy of nonviolence, I am well aware of how activism stirs up controversy as it exposes social, political and economic injustice. We tend to support activism when we agree with its message, and we often despise it when it is contrary to our political or social views. The important point here, however, is the concept of freedom of conscience.

Back in colonial times, the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony began persecuting and torturing members like Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson who believed following one’s personal “inner light” should supersede adherence to theological law. Dyer and Hutchinson took refuge in the neighboring colony of Rhode Island where Roger Williams and others, influenced by English Quaker leader George Fox, had immigrated.

Eventually this idea of following one’s “inner light” evolved into the principle of freedom of conscience. This freedom was guaranteed to all those who joined William Penn in the colony of Pennsylvania.

Freedom of conscience however, does not mean one can engage in demeaning behavior such as physical threats, name-calling or verbal abuse.  We are obligated to honor the freedom of conscience of others even though their personal convictions may be contrary to our own cherished beliefs.

The precept behind freedom of conscience is that personal conscience supersedes everything else.  If you don’t agree, then consider the alternative. Anyone of the activists I mentioned at the beginning of this article could have chosen the path of violence to vent their anger, as we saw in Dallas when a sniper killed five white police officers.

Clearly, fighting using nonviolent direct action or strategies of protest to provoke reform is much preferred to violence. We must remember that a world without war or violence is not a world without conflict. Rather it is a world where we have learned to mediate conflict and deal with it in nonviolent ways.

We are a diverse society and a nation that prides itself in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to assemble to express our views, no matter how controversial. America has a proud history of nonviolent activism that dates back to colonial times.

John F. Kennedy said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” Let’s respect and give recognition to forms of nonviolent direct action, even when we disagree with the message. Freedom of conscience has been, and must remain, a core American value.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and former director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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Theme Park Undermines Science Education

Theme Park Undermines Science Education by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

This past July, a theme park opened in Grant County, Kentucky which features a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark as described in the book of Genesis. The exhibit, entitled “Ark Encounter,” is an extension of the Creation Museum which promotes a biblical view of creation that undermines science education and the teaching of evolution.

Years ago, and as a result of my trips to India, I became intrigued with symbols and myths that are shared among cultures. The study of cross-cultural symbolism and mythology reveals how ancient cultures did not live in isolation, but rather, had considerable contact with one another as a result of migration, trade and military conquests. It also shows how myths became more developed and elaborate as they were initially passed on through oral tradition.

Ancient myths describing a great flood are an example of such development. One version of the flood myth is found in the Hindu Purana, where Vishnu, the god of preservation, incarnates as a giant fish to pull a boat containing Manu, the father of the human race, so he can survive the deluge.

In Greek mythology, at the end of the Bronze Age, Zeus decides to flood the world after realizing humanity was essentially wicked. He chooses Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and his wife Pyrrha, to ride out the flood and afterwards, repopulate the world.

The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh gives a description of the size and shape of the vessel, the dimensions of which describe a large cube. In this version, it rains for 6 days and seven nights.

When we compare these versions of the great flood myth with the account given in the Bible, one can easily see how the myth became more elaborate as it was shared between cultures. In the Genesis monotheistic version, the ark is given a more maritime size and shape even though it turns out to be well over the length of a football field, and the rain lasts 40 days and nights. In Jewish numerology, the number 40 represents transition, transformation and renewal. (Other examples include the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the wilderness, and Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert).

The great flood myth helps us understand how ancient cultures perceived the world and passed on their worldview through storytelling. The variations of the myth that I have mentioned here are rooted in an ancient cosmology that viewed creation as arising from the formless primordial waters, a metaphor found in both the opening verses of Genesis and a creation poem in the Hindu Rig Veda. Or as its says in the Upanishads, creation arose “out of the infinite ocean of existence.”

According to this ancient cosmology, creation manifests in cycles or ages. At the end of its previous cycle, it underwent dissolution, “dissolving” back into its eternal source. A flood myth was no doubt the best way to depict creation returning to the primordial waters to begin a new creation cycle, while also symbolizing the “cleansing” of humanity.

It is unfortunate that the Ark Encounter theme park completely overlooks the symbolism contained in the flood myth. Furthermore, it ignores the contribution science has made to our modern-day cosmology of the expanding and evolving universe that is far more complex, mysterious and intriguing.

Ark Encounter promotes biblical literalism and the creationist’s fable, even to the absurd degree of claiming dinosaurs co-existed with humans!

It is vital we guard against confusing religious myth and science. We should instead be educating our children to appreciate the role myth can play in helping us better understand ourselves, the worldview of ancient cultures, and the enduring hope we subconsciously hold for humanity’s renewal.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus at Ball State University and former Director and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of Meditations on Mystery: Science, Paradox and Contemplative Spirituality.

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A lesson from Lincoln by George Wolfe

A lesson from Lincoln
by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

The Republican Party often refers to itself as the “party of Lincoln.” Today’s Tea Party conservatives within the “party of Lincoln” however, have become little more than obstructionists. Their recent battle cry, insisting they want “principles, not compromise,” is counter productive to the Republicans achieving success. They should revisit history to learn from our 16th president.

Abraham Lincoln was a man of principle, but he was also highly pragmatic. In his letter to Albert E. Hodges, Lincoln wrote, “If slavery isn’t wrong, nothing’s wrong.” Clearly, ending slavery was an objective Lincoln hoped to achieve. Yet, as an elected politician, Lincoln realized he had to deal with the political realities of the time to be successful as President.

Take, for example, his assertion that the war was justified “to preserve the union.” Publicly and politically, the preservation of the union, not the issue of slavery, became Lincoln’s foremost reason for advancing his policies. This is clearly evident in his letter responding to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, dated August 22, 1862. In it Lincoln emphatically states, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.”

Had he publically justified the war to bring an end to slavery, he would have risked losing the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware where there were many slaveholders and where the populous was divided as to which side to support (West Virginia didn’t become a Border States until 1863 when it broke ties with Virginia). Had Lincoln lost the Border States to secession, he would have had little chance of succeeding.

Lincoln similarly acknowledged political realities when he issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.  It was a proclamation, not an act of congress, and he issued it only after the Union achieved a major victory in the Battle of Antietam.

While it boldly gave hope to all who opposed slavery or who were enslaved, it only claimed to free slaves in the states hostile to the union. In so stating, Lincoln was asserting power over the Confederate States, a power that he really did not have, since those states did not consider themselves under his jurisdiction. And the Border States were exempt from his proclamation since they never seceded.

The pragmatic Lincoln shrewdly set aside his principles to operate within the political realities of his day, believing that in the end, his political and military success would provide him the opportunity to impose his principled position.  Had he publicly led with the moral agenda to end slavery, he could very well have lost his battles, both politically and militarily.

Lawmakers in today’s Republican Party, the “party of Lincoln,” should cease being obstructionists. They should rather take a lesson in politics and governing from the president whose name they like to invoke.

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George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus at Ball State University and former Director and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

 

 

 

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