Group morality vs. individual morality

In the context of a discussion of the conflict between education secretary Betsy DeVos and the teachers’ unions, S. M. Hutchens cites an interesting point made by the late theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.

In his book Moral Man and Immoral Society, Niebuhr contrasts group morality to individual morality.  Groups form a “collective egoism” that resists self-criticism.  Whereas individuals are capable of repentance and change.

What are some applications of this observation?

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Trump and team WERE under government surveillance

eyes-490608_640President Trump has claimed that the Obama administration bugged his Trump Tower offices.  That accusation has been mostly dismissed.

But now it turns out that President-elect Trump and his transition team WERE surveilled.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-California) said that he has seen copies of reports “unmasking” the members of Trump’s transition team and their activities.  This material was widely-circulated in the White House and in the Intelligence community.

Nunes says he believes the material was gathered legally, although information gleaned “incidentally” in the course of other investigations is supposed to be redacted.  Nunes says the information gathered did not involve Russia connections.
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How Gorsuch’s nomination hearing is going

Neil_Gorsuch_February_2017Neil Gorsuch is reportedly doing well in Senate hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court.

In three days of marathon sessions lasting up to 10 hours,  Judge Gorsuch has been handling the hostile Democratic interrogations with aplomb.  He distanced himself from comments about him from the president, saying that he made no promises to repeal Roe v. Wade or any other rulings.  He sidestepped commentary on issues that he may have to rule on.

Republicans have 52 votes in the Senate.  Gorsuch needs 60 votes to shut off a potential filibuster.  Unless at least eight Democrats vote for the nominee, the Republican leadership is threatening “the nuclear option.”  That is, to change the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster option.

One development that Democrats will jump on:  The Supreme Court just overturned one of Judge Gorsuch’s decisions.

There will be another day of testimony on Thursday.  The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on April 3.  The goal is for the whole Senate to vote on the confirmation before the mid-April recess.  See this for more background.  (The Senate has the “advise and consent” responsibility for confirming Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, and other high government office.  The House of Representatives is not part of the picture.)

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Terrorist attacks UK parliament

640px-Houses.of.parliament.overall.arpA terrorist drove through a crowd of pedestrians on London’s Westminster bridge, killing 2 and injuring 20.  He then ran into the Parliament building where he stabbed a police officer to death.  He was then shot and died in the hospital.

Prime Minister Theresa May was just 40 yards from the attacker.

The attack came one year after the terrorist attack on Brussels.

UPDATE:  The death toll has risen to 5.  The terrorists was driving at an estimated 70 m.p.h.  Authorities confirm that the motive was Islamic terrorism.  See this for more details, including information about the police officer who was killed.

UPDATE:  The death toll has been revised back down to 4, including the terrorist.  The injured now are numbered at 29, including an American in critical condition.  The terrorist was driving on a sidewalk.  He had been investigated earlier for terrorist ties.  Authorities have arrested seven (some sources say eight) additional suspects implicated in the attacks, which are being described as “ISIS-inspired.”  See this for updated details.

Photo of UK Parliament buildings by Adrian Pingstone (talk · contribs) – Self-photographed, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=327144

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Luther as populist and freedom fighter

Luther_(Wislicenus)Much of Europe, including Catholics, will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 theses.  But Great Britain, not so much.

The founder of the Church of England, King Henry VIII, hated Luther (who opposed his multiple marriages) and martyred his followers.  Later, when Anglicans became distinctly Protestant, they threw in with John Calvin and the Reformed tradition.

Even though the church followed Luther in adopting the Liturgy and emphasizing the Sacraments–thanks to Wittenberg student Thomas Cranmer–the Anglicans don’t do much with Luther.  So they are mostly skipping the October 31 celebration.

British journalist Peter Stanford, writing in the left-of-center Guardian, thinks that’s a shame.  He says Luther deserves to be celebrated as a populist, a champion of the poor, and the seminal defender of the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience.  He also says Luther is a key founder of the modern era.  He was also unimaginably brave.

Now I’m not sure Mr. Stanford fully understands the religious significance of Luther, particularly, his recovery of the Gospel, and there are other things he gets wrong.  But you should read his article for an interesting secular perspective on Luther’s cultural influence. [Read more…]

Trump threatens opponents of his health care bill

AHCA changesPresident Trump is pressuring conservative Congressmen who are opposed to his health care bill.  The “repeal and replace” response to Obamacare, which retains many of the elements of that program, is facing a vote on Thursday.

The president says that representatives who vote “no” may not get re-elected.  He said that he would campaign for those who vote “yes.”

This time President Trump is on the same side as Republican leaders such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, who are usually branded as the “establishment” by Trump supporters.  Still wanting a government role in health care, the GOP leadership is also leaning on bill opponents, implying that they might face primary opposition if they do not get on board.  But they have also added “sweeteners” to win more votes.

While conservative Republicans, especially members of the “freedom caucus,” oppose the government’s continued involvement in citizen’s health care decisions, liberal Democrats object to any changes at all to Obamacare.

The vote will be close.  Some 20-25 House Republicans either oppose the bill or are undecided.  Trump can only afford to lose 21.

UPDATE:  Conservative organizations, some of which distribute campaign money, are threatening supporters of the bill, saying that a “yes” vote will brand lawmakers to be insufficiently conservative to earn their support.  The health care bill is shaping up to be the first major policy conflict between Trump and conservatives.

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