The Extreme Right Now Runs the Trump Campaign

bannon, trump, conway

An Unholy Trinity: Stephen Bannon, Donald Trump,  Kellyanne Conway

Most Americans – even the most self-professed political junkies – probably have never heard of the CNP (the Council for National Policy) or would confuse it with countless other groups with similarly unremarkable names (including the Center for National Policy, a liberal group). But conservative activists would know what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has referred to as “the heart of a great conservative movement that helped to make America strong and prosperous in the twentieth century – and is now helping to ensure she remains free and secure in the twenty-first century,” or what Indiana Republican Governor and now Vice-Presidential candidate, Mike Pence, has called “the most influential gathering of conservatives in America.” But because CNP has been so successful at maintaining its secrecy it has managed to obscure the depth of its reach in conservative political organizations, political fundraising, the conservative media, and even the Republican National Committee itself.

For some thirty-five years now, this shadowy and intensely secretive group has operated behind the scenes, providing a venue three times a year for powerful American politicians and others on the right to meet privately to build the conservative movement.

The Council for National Policy (CNP) is, in the words of The New York Times, “a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country,” an organization so tight-lipped that it tells its people not to admit membership or even name the group. It is important enough that last fall, according to an account in The National Review, Donald Trump and five other Republican presidential candidates each took thirty minutes to address the group; the conservative journal reported that Trump was by far the favorite candidate.

The names of many members and officers of the group have leaked over the years, and some of its officers are reported on the organization’s tax forms. But the last time long lists of its members was made public was in 1998. For the most part since then, members of the CNP – which can be joined only by invitation, at a cost of thousands of dollars – have managed to keep their identities secret.

Until now.

Thanks to some startling intelligence work, the Southern Poverty Law Center made public an official 2014 membership directory of the secretive, far right, dominionist Council for National Policy. It was a startling intelligence coup. For years, fragmentary lists of the CNP had sporadically emerged. Now, here it was – the official CNP handbook.

The current crop of CNP members are paragons of the conservative establishment. They are business titans, Christian college presidents, owners and editors of right-wing media outlets, GOP mega-donors, government staffers and leading members of conservative think tanks. They are officials of organizations like the National Rifle Association and the Federalist Society. There are politicians and political appointees, anti-abortion activists and also some who are less known publicly as conservatives, like Linda L. Bean, who owns L.L. Bean Inc., an outdoorsy clothing company.

I have long been concerned about the ties between various GOP presidential hopefuls (such as Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Michele Bachmann) and the movement referred to as “dominionism.” Another term for “dominionism” is “Christian supremacy” – and another word for “Christian supremacy” is “theocracy.”

Now, the dominionists are running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And that is something about which to be really concerned.

Donald Trump has just appointed Stephen K. Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to head his faltering presidential campaign.

No big deal, you say? Not until you realize that both Bannon and Conway are listed members of the most powerful and influential dominionist organization in America – the Council for National Policy.

While Stephen Bannon is listed as just a CNP member, Kellyanne Conway is listed as being a member of the CNP Executive Committee.

Joining Conway in that august group are Kenneth Blackwell, the Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance at the (maliciously antigay) Family Research Council; Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; and reigning matriarch of the religious right, Phyllis Schafly, who helped kick start the movement in the early 1970s with her scorched-earth campaign to stop the Equal Rights Amendment.

In October 2015, a number of 2016 election GOP nominee contenders addressed the CNP.  Donald Trump, it seems, was invited and now the CNP through Bannon and Conway is running his presidential bid.

Here is what ABC news said of the CNP, in a hard-hitting story:

When Steve Baldwin, the executive director of an organization with the stale-as-old-bread name of the Council for National Policy, boasts that “we control everything in the world,” he is only half-kidding.

“Half-kidding, because the council doesn’t really control the world. The staff of about eight, working in a modern office building in Fairfax, Va., isn’t even enough for a real full-court basketball game.

“But also half-serious because the council has deservedly attained the reputation for conceiving and promoting the ideas of many whom in fact do want to control everything in the world.

While the relatively few mainstream media and alternative media covers of the CNP have typically described the group as merely “conservative,” that hardly sums things up.

Over the years, these would-be masters of the world have included a number of leaders from the Christian Reconstructionism movement, a fundamentalist Calvinist theconomic group, founded by Rousas John Rushdoony, that has had an important influence on the Christian Right in the United States. Christian Reconstuctionists advocate the imposition of strict biblical law including execution for adultery, blasphemy, homosexuality, and witchcraft (and a much longer list of offenses).

The significance of the Reconstructionist movement is not its numbers, but the power of its ideas and their surprisingly rapid acceptance. Many on the Christian Right are unaware that they hold Reconstructionist views. Because as a theology it is controversial – even among evangelicals – many who are consciously influenced by it avoid the label. This furtiveness is not, however, as significant as the potency of the ideology itself. Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with the theocratic elite who would govern by imposing their interpretation of “Biblical Law.” Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy, but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth, home, and bedroom. Inadequate Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps even executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder to include, among other things: blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality. And you thought Islamic Sharia Law was oppressive!

Reconstructionism has expanded from the works of a small group of scholars to inform a wide swath of conservative Christian thought and action. While many Reconstructionist political positions are commonly held conservative views, what is significant is that Reconstructionists have created a comprehensive program, with Biblical justifications for far right political policies. Many post-World War Two conservative, anticommunist activists were also, if secondarily, conservative Christians. However, the Reconstructionist movement calls on conservatives to be Christians first, and to build a church-based political movement from there. Remember Ted Cruz’s words: “I’m a Christian first, American second, conservative third, and Republican fourth…I’ll tell ya, there are a whole lot of people in this country that feel exactly the same way.”

For much of Reconstructionism’s short history it has been an ideology in search of a constituency. But its influence has grown far beyond the founders’ expectations. As Reconstructionist author Gary North observes, “We once were shepherds without sheep. No longer.”

Reconstructionism arose out of conservative Presbyterianism (Reformed and Orthodox), which proposes that contemporary application of the laws of Old Testament Israel, or “Biblical Law,” is the basis for reconstructing society toward the Kingdom of God on earth.

Reconstructionism argues that the Bible is to be the governing text for all areas of life – such as government, education, law, and the arts, not merely “social” or “moral” issues like pornography, homosexuality, and abortion. Reconstructionists have formulated a “Biblical world view” and “Biblical principles” by which to examine contemporary matters. Reconstructionist theologian David Chilton succinctly describes this view: “The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God’s law.”

More broadly, Reconstructionists believe that there are three main areas of governance: family government, church government, and civil government. Under God’s covenant, the nuclear family is the basic unit. The husband is the head of the family, and the wife and children are “in submission” to him. In turn, the husband “submits” to Jesus and to God’s laws as detailed in the Old Testament. The church has its own ecclesiastical structure and governance. Civil government exists to implement God’s laws. All three institutions are under Biblical Law, the implementation of which is called “theonomy.”

In effect, the CNP is command central for the culture wars that have since the mid-1970s wracked America; it is the organizational center for a movement engaged in a slow-motion “soft revolution” to “reclaim” America and return it to its alleged “Judeo-Christian” roots. Is this what Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” really means?

The time is long overdue for mainstream media to stop pooh-poohing this movement; especially because that crass dereliction of journalistic duty has helped pave the way for the rise of such political figures as Pat Buchanan, Ted Cruz – and Donald Trump.

And, in the event that “The Donald” loses, that will not be the end, nor will he be the last “Trump” to plague national politics.

The CNP will continue, and it will orchestrate an attempted replay of the 2010 election, when the Tea Party movement helped power the Republican recapture of the House of Representatives.

But be warned. There will be more Trumps, Bannons, and Conways to come. Now that “The Donald” has established the electoral power of the brand of populist paleo-conservatism (paleo, meaning “ancient” or “old”), pioneered by Pat Buchanan in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 elections, the future Trumps will triangulate on a less abrasive style – more refined, more effective, and even more deadly to pluralist democracy than anything we have seen before.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Because of space considerations, I will have more to say about the CNP in future posts. Stay tuned.




Donald Trump’s Big Lie

trump and bible

Donald Trump sprinkles his stump speeches with profanity. He used to support abortion, and says he has never sought forgiveness from God for his sins. He memorably referred to Holy Communion – the Christian sacrament commemorating Jesus’ last supper – as drinking “the little wine” and eating “the little cracker.” He is the man of botched Bible verses and many wives, the business mogul who calls the Bible his favorite book, but when pressed he cannot name his best-loved verse. He says he likes the Old and New Testaments about the same. This is not the profile of an especially devout man, let alone a presidential candidate cut out to court Christian conservatives.

And yet national polls suggest that Donald Joseph Trump has forged a real connection with this voting bloc. But, I submit to you, this connection is based on a lie – a big lie.

How Trump deceives people of faith with falsehoods deserves especially close scrutiny. So here goes. What is Donald J. Trump’s big lie when it comes to conservative, evangelical Christians?

In his speech accepting the Republican nomination and more recently to a gathering in Orlando of around seven hundred conservative Christian pastors and their spouses, Trump told the lie that he has relied on throughout this campaign in reaching out to evangelicals. The federal government, Trump argues, has effectively muzzled religious conservatives – and he alone can save them. That statement is a lie.

Trump claimed that “our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans. I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity – and other religions – is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly…”

Well, Donald, no such law exists. The law (not an amendment) Johnson sponsored says something quite different.

Fact-checking Donald Trump has become a cottage industry this election cycle. Trump has been getting this fact wrong since February – one of many examples of him repeating falsehoods to win votes from evangelicals whose leaders evidently have not fact-checked him.

After vowing to go after journalists who write critical stories about him at a rally in Texas, Donald Trump bragged about the support his presidential campaign has received from conservative evangelical voters, touting endorsements from televangelist Paula White, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Sarah Palin.

Trump even brought Robert Jeffress, a conservative televangelist, notorious for his anti-gay, anti-Roman Catholic and anti-Mormon preaching, onto the stage to sing his praises. Jeffress called Trump a patriot “who is truly pro-life,” unlike Hillary Clinton, whom he warned would be “the most pro-abortion president in history.”

“God bless Donald Trump,” Jeffress declared.

But Trump had a much bleaker message: “Christianity is under siege. Every year it gets weaker and weaker and weaker.”

He said he would restore Christianity to greatness by scrapping IRS regulations pertaining to church engagement in partisan political activity on behalf of candidates or campaigns.

Trump went on to say: “It makes you less powerful than a man or woman walking up the street. You actually have less power, and yet if you look at it, I was talking to someone, we probably have 250 million, maybe even more, in terms of people, so we have more Christians than we have men or women in our country and we don’t have a lobby because they’re afraid to have a lobby because they don’t want to lose their tax status.

“So I am going to work like hell to get rid of that prohibition and we’re going to have the strongest Christian lobby and it’s going to happen. This took place during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson and it has had a terrible chilling effect. “When I said that there has to be a temporary ban on certain people coming into this country, we have no choice, there’s something wrong, there’s something really wrong. And when I said ‘Muslim,’ I was met with furor. If I would’ve said ‘Christian,’ people would’ve said, ‘oh we can’t do anything about it.’ That’s going to end folks.

“We’re going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ now on Christmas. We’re going to start going to department stores and stores and you’re going to see big beautiful signs that say, ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday.’ And we’re going to have a big, big, big lotta fun.”

Boy, is there is a lot to unpack here!

First, it is difficult to know what Trump means when he says that “we have more Christians than we have men or women in our country.”

Second, the part of the tax code Trump is speaking of was put into effect in 1954, not “during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson,” although as a senator he was behind the amendment instituting the policy. The law Trump referred to does not do what he says. It was enacted in 1954 when then Senator (not President) Lyndon B. Johnson proposed an amendment to a bill establishing an entirely new tax code. The Johnson amendment was so utterly without controversy that no debate took place in Congress. That law has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court ever since.

The law imposes only three limits on charities, including religious institutions, in return for the privilege of donors being allowed to deduct their contributions.

The first limit is that any surplus—what in business would be a profit—cannot go to any individual or shareholder.

The second limit states that propaganda and influencing legislation are allowed, but only as a minor activity, the limits on which Congress adjusts from time to time. The Supreme Court also upheld the second limit, that influencing legislation and propaganda must be a minor activity to qualify for charitable status, in a 1983 decision by the very conservative Associate Justice (later Chief Justice) William Rehnquist.

That unanimous ruling held that no First Amendment rights – of religion, speech, publishing, or assembly – are infringed by denying charitable status to organizations whose primary activities are influencing legislation and other political activities.

Churches are free to create a separate nonprofit organization under 501(c)(4) of the tax code that can have as its primary purposes propaganda and influencing legislation. Gifts to these organizations, however, are not tax deductible.

The third and most important limit is that charitable organizations cannot “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

Note that the limit is not about political views, as Trump has said, but about supporting candidates. Those are not synonymous, not even close.

Third, there are hundreds of interest groups who claim to represent Christians and even specific Christian denominations in America, proving that the IRS regulations did not have “a terrible chilling effect.” There is a Christian lobby, and it is called the American Christian Lobbying Association. There are also many Christian lobbyists in Washington and in the state capitals. Christians are not as powerless as Trump has been claiming.

Trump says he wants to create a powerful Christian lobby even as he promises to block Muslims from entering the country, including those serving in the armed forces. Trump may not know it, but that would violate the First Amendment, which ensures that each of us is free to worship or not as we choose. In saying this, his proposals are quintessentially un-American.

Fourth, it is hard to square Trump’s claim that he is a defender of religious freedom when also boasting that he wants to ban all of the world’s Muslims – over 1.6 billion people – from entering the United States.

Fifth, it seems unlikely that people would have shrugged if Trump said he wanted to ban Christians from the country.

Sixth, people still say “Merry Christmas” at Christmas time.

Over the past decade, political speech has become a rallying point for many conservative Christians, including the group Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative evangelical Christian legal organization, which encourages pastors to engage in “civil disobedience” to challenge the tax code. Given Trump’s ongoing campaign against political correctness, as well as concerns among conservative Christians over his bona fides on other issues, like abortion and same-sex marriage, it is no surprise that he made free speech for pastors his main appeal to that constituency.

There is only one problem with this appeal: It is a lie. Pastors and other religious leaders can, and do, already engage in political speech, including candidate endorsements.

The fact is that no United States law prevents church leaders from endorsing candidates. What the law does not allow is endorsing on behalf of a church or using church resources – such as making an endorsement from the pulpit during Sunday services – while also claiming tax-exempt status.

Church leaders can even endorse using church resources at any time; they are simply expected to forgo their tax-exempt status in order to do so. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, but it does not provide a constitutional right to tax-exempt status.

Perhaps the best rebuttal to the idea that religious leaders operate under a clergy “gag” law is the fact that the Johnson Amendment is currently unenforced. So regardless of whether a pastor follows the tax code by separating his personal endorsements from his role with a church, the IRS is not investigating or penalizing churches for political speech.

You would have to go back to 2006 to find the last significant instance of the IRS investigating a church for political speech. In that case, it was the Bush administration’s IRS and the church in question was a liberal Episcopal parish in Pasadena, California that was probed after a guest preacher delivered a sermon questioning the morality of the Iraq War.

According to the Alliance Defending Freedom’s own numbers, more than 2,000 pastors connected to the group have reported preaching political sermons since 2008. Yet none of them has been probed by the IRS for political activity or had tax-exempt status revoked.

In one particularly memorable example from 2004, a Baptist pastor in North Carolina told his congregation that if they voted for John Kerry, they needed to “repent of their sin” or resign their church membership. Nine members were ultimately voted out of the church. But while the pastor himself ended up resigning because of the controversy caused by his leadership, the IRS never became involved.

None of this will come as much of a surprise to the nearly two-thirds of American churchgoers who report hearing their clergy discuss political issues, according to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center. Despite the old social rule that one should never discuss religion and politics in polite society, Americans have rarely shied away from combining the two subjects.

Nonetheless, Donald Trump continues to tell religious leaders that in order to protect their own freedom of speech, they “really now have a one-time shot.” If he is not elected, Trump warned, “you are never going to have a chance again.”

And, that is a lie. A big one at that.














Unearned Honor


purple heart

In the 1991 film, For the Boys, USO entertainers Dixie Leonard (Bette Midler) and Eddie Sparks (James Caan) travel and perform together through World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. They want to bring some fun to the service personnel and act for “the boys.” The story of their adventures together, filled with love, laughter and tears, is related in flashbacks by Dixie on the eve of her being awarded a medal by the President.

In one of the more memorable lines in the film, Eddie says to Dixie: “Two hours alone with you? That boy deserves a purple heart.” To which Dixie replies: “Well, it was purple, alright, but I don’t think it was his heart!”

Bawdy? Yes. Funny? Yes, especially the way that Midler delivers her line.

But the Purple Heart is anything but funny. The Purple Heart Medal is given to men and women for wounds suffered in combat. And that is not funny!

The other day, Trump received a Purple Heart Medal from a veteran at one of his rallies in Virginia. Trump, who later identified the veteran as retired Lieutenant Colonel Louis Dorfman. According to records, Dorfman was wounded in action in November 2007 in Iraq.

Why the colonel gave Trump his Purple Heart is a mystery to me. I have seen photos of Colonel Dorfman in his full dress uniform. He has medals and ribbons galore. He could have given Trump any one of these, but he chose to give him his Purple Heart Medal instead. As I said, his gesture is a mystery.

The Purple Heart is given to those serving in the armed forces who are wounded in combat. Trump never served in the military, though he once said that he “always felt that I was in the military” because he went to military school! Trump has said his experience at the New York Military Academy, an expensive prep school where his parents had sent him to correct poor behavior, gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”

Trump attended the New York Military Academy after years of rowdy and rebellious behavior at Kew-Forest, a more traditional prep school in Queens. Trump once recalled giving a teacher at Kew-Forest a black eye “because I didn’t think he knew anything about music.”

He arrived at the military academy for eighth grade in 1959 and remained for high school. Like all students at the campus in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, he wore a uniform, participated in marching drills and was expected to conform to a hierarchy imposed by instructors. Despite sitting out the Vietnam War because of deferments followed by a high draft lottery number of 356 out of 366, Trump said he endured the rigors of military life.

“My number was so incredible, and it was a very high draft number. Anyway, so I never had to do that, but I felt that I was in the military in the true sense because I dealt with those people,” Trump has said.

I am taken aback by this remark. I suspect that not many of the academy’s alumni would compare military school with actual military service, but the assertion is consistent with the self-image Trump has often expressed.

Trump was old enough to have been drafted during the Vietnam War, but received five deferments. Four of them were because he was still in school; the fifth was medical. Trump, his doctor said, had bone spurs on his heels.

“I had a doctor that gave me a letter – a very strong letter on the heels,” the nominee told the New York Times  in a recent interview. He could not remember which heel was affected (his campaign said it was both) or how it was resolved, but it was enough to keep him out of combat.

In 1993, Trump, who received multiple draft deferments, told Howard Stern if you are dating, “you’re the equivalent of a soldier going over to Vietnam.” He also told Stern that dating was his “own personal Vietnam.” Huh?

In 2004, Trump adapted his comparison to modern times, updating his reference by likening dating to serving in Iraq. Trump was speaking to Playboy magazine about dating in the age of AIDS when he made the comment.

“Was there a time when you worried about AIDS because of all you’d done?” asked Playboy.

“There was, but I got tested,” said Trump. “I think it’s hard for young kids today. It’s a whole different thing. I tell my sons just to get a nice girlfriend and be happy, because it’s dangerous out there. It’s Vietnam. I guess now we can say it’s Iraq – same deal, right?”

Trump’s claim may raise eyebrows given that he never served in the military and mocked Senator John McCain of Arizona, a decorated naval aviator, for his captivity of several years during the Vietnam War. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump has said. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

After Trump told the Virginia audience about receiving the Purple Heart, he invited the man who had given it to him up on stage, prompting cheers from the audience and chants of “USA!”

“Something very nice just happened to me. A man came up to me and he handed me his Purple Heart,” Trump said. “I said to him, is that the real one, or is that a copy?” He said, “That’s my real Purple Heart. I have such confidence in you.” And I said, “Man, that’s big stuff.” (Contrary to Trump’s version of the story, it has been reported that Colonel Dorfman says that he had made a copy of his original Purple Heart to give to the presidential candidate.)

“I always wanted to get the Purple Heart,” Trump continued. “This was much easier.”

When I heard those words, I wanted to puke. I take issue with Trump accepting the Purple Heart. The colonel has the right to do with it what he wants, including passing it on to his heirs as a keepsake. But Trump showed no class (as usual) by accepting it without having earned it in any way. He did not serve in the military or government service; he was not in combat and he was not wounded. Having been wounded in combat is the significance of the Purple Heart and it cannot be transferred to or bestowed upon another person who did not earn it. For Trump it was an empty gesture, a photo op, as witnessed by his comments. No one in their right mind “wants” to earn a Purple Heart and Trump’s cavalier acceptance remarks bear out what its importance was to him. If he had any class at all, he could have thanked the vet for the gesture, commented on the significance of the Purple Heart as an award, but declined to accept it based on the fact that he did not “earn” it and therefore would tarnish its significance by accepting it without qualifying for it. His response was just another slight to the vets he purports to “love so much”!

Doesn’t Trump realize that no one “wants a Purple Heart?” Such a statement is the same as saying, “I always wanted to be injured or killed in a war.” What an idiotic thing to say!

Did Trump even say to Colonel Dorfman, “Thank you for your service; thank you for YOUR SACRIFICE?” No. His response was like throwing the Purple Heart into the garbage, considering where it ended up.

Donald Trump receiving the Purple Heart bothers me. It offends me. For the self-proclaimed “healthiest candidate in the history of the world,” who once received a medical deferment to stay out of the draft, his gesture is odious.

Trump’s action has also bothered Purple Heart recipient, Lieutenant Cameron Kerr, a native of Massachusetts. It bothered him so much that he decided to create a GoFundMe page for Donald Trump so that he could earn his Purple Heart. God, I wish I had thought of that!

In a recent statement, Lieutenant Kerr declares: “As with seemingly everything else in his life, Mr. Trump got one handed to him instead of earning it. That being said, as a Purple Heart recipient who earned one the old-fashioned way by returning from Afghanistan one leg lighter, I fully endorse his desire to earn one and would happily oblige his interest in doing so, by being one of the first to chip in to fly him to the conflict zone of his choosing. After all, you’re never too old to follow your dreams.

“…ok, let’s be serious. Super serious. We’re not going to be able to help Donald realize his conveniently retroactive military fantasies, and based on precedent he could likely get a series of deferments to avoid going even if we tried. So instead, we’re going to convert toxic bigotry, ignorance, and callousness into something positive. As Michelle Obama said/as Melania Trump might say at some point in the future: ‘when they go low, we go high’”

Lieutenant Kerr proposes that the monies given to him through the GoFundMe page will go to helping Syrian refugees, a “good cause that Donald Trump would vehemently oppose,” says Lieutenant Kerr.

Now, there is a real hero.


The Importance of Doing Nothing


Buried deep within the twentieth chapter of the First Book of the Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures is the story about a man in the midst of a battle who had a prisoner entrusted to his charge, and was commanded to guard him with his life. For a while, the man did just that; he stood sentinel over the prisoner. He did that and nothing else. But as the tide of battle moved in his direction, he thought that he could do more by lending a hand with his sword. So he leaped into the fray, and came back only to find that the prisoner in his charge had escaped. When the man’s superior officer demanded an explanation, all the man could do was to stammer out the words: “And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.”

In the battle of life, it is often like that, is it not? Try to do two things at once and one of them will suffer. Every business executive can tell about people who fall down on the job because they do not concentrate on it; they have too many irons in the fire. People lose opportunities, not because opportunities never come their way, but because when opportunities do come, they are not on hand to make the most of them. They are otherwise engaged.

The words: “And as your servant was busy here and there” accurately describe the character, and convey the tempo and atmosphere of modern living, do they not? For millions of people today, life means to always be on the move, to always be operating on a tight schedule, to always be keeping an anxious eye on the clock, and to always be engaged in an unending battle with time. Perhaps you are one of them. “I’m late. I’m late for a very important date,” says the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, but those words could well be the motto for countless numbers of people. The pace is quicker, the pressure is harder, and the demands are greater than any of those things ought to be.

When we talk about work, I know that there are plenty of people who would never be accused of doing too much work. If work were a sin, they would never be guilty of committing such a sin or of even being tempted by such a sin. Such people share the motto of Jerome K. Jerome, who said: “I like work. It fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” And there was the woman who told the man when he asked for work: “But I couldn’t possibly give you enough work to keep you occupied.” “Madame,” he replied, “you’d be surprised what little work it takes to keep me occupied.” Work has been spoken of as a punishment and a curse, yet it is far from being either. I remember seeing a sign on the wall of my college dorm which reversed a familiar axiom often attributed to W. C. Fields, but is actually a quote by Oscar Wilde: “Work is the curse of the drinking class.”

But I am not thinking of such people. I am thinking of those people who say that they do not have a lazy bone in their bodies; who derive great pleasure and satisfaction from their work, but who are giving far too much time and strength and nervous energy to it. I am thinking of those who are guilty of overwork. Yes, overwork! Work itself is not a bad thing. In fact, Dr. Thomas Szasz, American academic, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst writes: “The greatest analgesic, soporific, stimulant, tranquilizer, narcotic, and to some extent even antibiotic – in short, the closest thing to a genuine panacea – known to medical science is work.”

David Grayson says it so well: “Happiness is nearly always the result of hard work” and Baltimore sage and poet Ogden Nash put it this way: “If you don’t want to work you have to work to earn enough money so that you won’t have to work.”

Work is one of our unchanging needs. People tell themselves that when they retire, they will be done with work, but unless they work at something, they will go downhill incredibly fast. Tennessee Williams once said: “I am only alive when I am working.”

No, there is nothing wrong with work, but there is definitely something wrong with overwork. Seen in this light, the work suffers. This lesson is one that management itself seems slow to learn. There are executives who are not turning in a first-class piece of work simply because they are “busy here and there,” or as we say in a current expression: they have “too much on their plate.” When a person overworks, the work itself suffers. That is one of the things that is wrong with overwork! Multitasking is a managerial buzz-concept these days, a post-layoff corporate assumption that the few can be made to do the work of the many.

But newly released results of scientific studies in multitasking indicate that carrying on several duties at once may, in fact, reduce productivity, not increase it. “And in certain cases of multitasking,” Joshua Rubinstein writes, “you could be risking employers a dangerous outcome.” Driving while talking on a cell phone, maybe making business calls while trying to get to our next meeting, is being seen by researchers as an example of a potentially disastrous multitasking scenario.

Many people think, ‘Well, cell phoning while driving is really no big deal and I can get away with it.’ But even if we have a cell phone that is not held by hand and can be dialed by voice, we still have a really big conflict because when we are driving we need to be looking at various different places, we need to be reading signs, we need to be talking to ourselves about those in order to – through your mental speech – make decisions about where to go with our car. And there is no way to do that while on the cell phone because we have to use our “inner ears” and “inner speech” and even our “inner eyes” to imagine what the person on the phone is talking about.

If you saw the movie Top Gun, you will remember all you saw Tom Cruise’s character doing in the cockpit. He had to pick and choose when he did what, multitasking very carefully. The chance that he would conclude a flight in a fighter jet successfully depended not only on his equipment, but also on his capabilities and limitations. But as Clint Eastwood says at the end of one of those Dirty Harry movies, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

Yes, the work suffers and what is more, the worker suffers. Think of what happens to a person’s body. Let an individual go on from week to week and month to month with every day planned and every hour filled, and what happens? Nature rebels. Again, the result of overwork!

Further, consider what happens to the mind. The overworked person as often as not is irritable and nervous. One’s face tells eloquently what is happening inside. Some people become so occupied and so preoccupied with their business that they practically sacrifice everything else to do it. They may scarcely know their own children. They may give themselves no time to trim the lamp of friendship or to cultivate the life of their soul. Once more, the result of overwork!

And so, I plead for three things.

First, I plead for leisure.

We owe it to ourselves, to our inner and deeper selves, as well as to our relatives and associates, to slow down, to moderate the pressure, to take time out, and to “smell the roses.” There should be rhythms in life, as there are rhythms in nature; first there is stress of toil, and then happy release from it; first there is diligent service, and then rewarding rest. It is pathetic when people always have their eyes on the clock. And so I make this plea: Make leisure. Insist on having it. And I say this even to those who are retired. I am one of those who are retired. If I let it happen, I can be far busier in retirement that I ever was before retirement! Leisure and rest are two of the best medicines for both the body and the soul. That is first.

Second, I plead for a sense of perspective in the ordering of business and in the management of time.

One should try to see things as they are and to keep them in their true proportions. Work is important, but so are home and friendship and worship. Are we so pushed and driven that things like good books, inspiring music, and the great out-of-doors go uncultivated? There are things that we can do to the body that are bad. And there are things that we can do to our dispositions, our mental outlook, that are even worse. But this being so “busy here and there,” being so occupied and preoccupied by this, that, and the other thing, that the things that matter most are crowded out – that is even graver than all the rest. And so, I make this second plea: Have a sense of perspective. That is second.

And finally, I plead for us to heed the warning signs that we are overworked.

Warning sign 1: Are we as nice as we want to be? Before our energy levels nosedive and our brain starts a meltdown, we may find that we lose our ability to play nice with others. If we find ourselves berating waiters, flight attendants, or reservations agents, we need to make a habit of taking an extra minute during every interaction to thank them – and to be specific, if possible. In trying to cheer up those who are doing tough jobs, we just might also boost our own spirits.

Warning sign 2: Are our minds always racing? Having plenty of ideas is great, but living on a mental hamster wheel? Not so great. We think that the root of our stress is that we spend all of our time in a state of intense focus. But really, most people under stress are just re-plowing the same field over and over. They confuse this obsessing with focus, but it is really the opposite. If, on closer examination, we realize that our mind is chasing its own tail, than we need to make some space to reset, to consider our priorities and give to our brain a chance to approach problems from a fresh perspective.

Warning sign 3: Are we living in the moment? If we reminisce, telling stories of past glories. Or we await the future, unable to really start living until a certain goal is behind us. Both of these are signals that we are living outside the present, a habit that only leads to more stress. Being present in the moment, enjoying the conversation, the meeting, the people and the challenges as they come up will reduce stress.

Warning sign 4: Are we constantly late? OK, some of us have a natural tendency to lose track of time no matter how relaxed (or stressed) we are, but if we find that we are running late more often than is usual for us, that is probably a warning sign that we are working too hard. That is the time that we need to fight back. One way is to make a commitment that we will be five minutes early to every meeting and every event, and then tell others about it as a way forcing us to curtail the activities that are making us late. And so, I make this third and final plea: Heed the warning signs of being overworked.

If we are “busy here and there,” if our days and our nights are full, if we are so absorbed in the world of sense that we are not intimately aware of the world of the spirit, then it may be that the word we need to hear is this: distinguish between what is primary and what is secondary, distinguish between what is urgent and what can wait, and distinguish between what is of great value and what is of little consequence. Put first things first. And – above all – for your own sakes, do not be guilty of overwork!