Making Sense of the Rittenhouse Verdict (almost)

Last week I got into an argument with a friend about the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. Even though my friend self-identifies as liberal, he’s quite a bit further to the right than I am, We don’t see eye to eye on many issues, the Rittenhouse trial included.   

Rittenhouse, of course, was the 18-year-old who stood trial for killing two men and wounding another at a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 20th, 2020. The trial ended last Friday with Rittenhouse found innocent of all charges leveled against him.

My friend had agreed with me that as a 17-year-old, Rittenhouse had no business inserting himself into the chaotic protests that turned into riots that night in Kenosha. We also agreed that despite its being legal, carrying an AR-15 into such a volatile situation should not be permitted to anyone – especially to a callow teenager. In my friend’s eyes, Rittenhouse certainly was no hero.

Yet, the trial verdict, he maintained, was correct. He said according to Wisconsin law, Rittenhouse’s life had been credibly threatened by the ones he shot. Besides, his attackers were related to Antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM) — Marxist groups that routinely engage in riots, while condoning arson, vandalism, and other forms of property destruction.  

In an act of political cowardice, local leaders, my friend insisted, had ordered the police to stand down as what CNN shamelessly called the “mostly peaceful protests” turned violent. That’s why business owners welcomed the aid of civilians like Rittenhouse to defend their threatened shops and stores.

Finally, according to my friend, the Rittenhouse trial had been falsely racialized by a coordinated mainstream media (MSM) effort. The whole incident, he said, had nothing to do with allegations of racism, especially since all four of the victims (Rittenhouse included) were white

I disagreed with many of the positions just reviewed – especially with the justification of the jury’s final verdict. After all, influenced by the prevailing MSM narrative, I was under the impression that Rittenhouse had gratuitously traveled all the way from Illinois with his assault weapon.  I thought he had not only purchased his gun illegally but had broken the law by crossing state lines with it. I also thought Rittenhouse had chased down his victims and that after shooting them, he was simply allowed to go free by smiling police officers in riot gear.

My initial bone of contention with the jury’s verdict also involved the behavior of the presiding judge, Bruce Schroeder, At every turn he gave strong evidence of favoring Rittenhouse. For instance, the judge forbade prosecutors from referring to the ones Rittenhouse had killed as “victims.” However, they could be identified, he said, as “looters,” “rioters,” and “arsonists.” Dismayingly, Schroeder had also disallowed charges that the teenager’s possession of an assault rifle was illegal.

My argument with my friend caused me to do further research. To my surprise, I discovered he was right in much of what he said, and that under Wisconsin law Rittenhouse was indeed within his legal rights to shoot his victims in self-defense.

Still, however, I found myself disturbed by the entire affair and what it reveals about the law, the right to bear arms, and especially about the prejudices of the mainstream media.

Let me try to explain by first setting the general context of the Rittenhouse trial along with a brief review of the laws especially relevant to the case. I’ll then recount the sequence of events on the night of August 20th, 2020, as supported by video evidence. Finally, I’ll draw those conclusions I promised about what I think the Rittenhouse trial tells us about the current state of our country’s culture — and about me.

Context and Law

In order to understand the Rittenhouse trial, it helps, I think, to review its highly charged racial context as well as the legal elements that often went largely unreported in the MSM. The important factors include the following:

  1. A long history of police violence directed specifically against black communities across the country.
  2. The longstanding conviction within those communities (and outside it) that the resulting police shootings, arrests, convictions, and imprisonments are far out-of-proportion to the size of black populations in the United States
  3. The August 23rd paralyzation of African American Jacob Blake by a white Kenosha police officer who shot Blake seven times in the back in the proximate presence of Blake’s three small children
  4. The subsequent demonstrations in Kenosha and across the country
  5. The participation of the Black Lives Matter organization in those demonstrations. (BLM is a broad-based movement encompassing many different philosophies and strategies all intent on responding defensively to police violence.)
  6. The fact that many BLM members and sympathizers are white and that historically the law has treated such people in the same way it treats black people. (This suggests that the white skin color of Rittenhouse’s victims by no means removes racism from the story’s equation.)
  7. Wisconsin gun law that allows underaged children to legally carry long barreled rifles
  8. Wisconsin self-defense law that presumes innocence on the part of those claiming its protection, while placing a high-bar burden of proof on those contradicting self-defense claims.
  9. The widely shared impression of prejudice given by the judge presiding over the Rittenhouse trial

The Sequence of Events

With that context in mind, consider the facts of the Rittenhouse case:

  1. Though living In Illinois, Kyle Rittenhouse worked (as a lifeguard) in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a 20-minute drive from his Illinois home.
  2. Even as a 17-year-old, Rittenhouse had from Wisconsin statute the legal right to carry his AR 15 into the Kenosha protests.
  3. He was acting as a vigilante allegedly to protect the private property of local businesses in the town where he worked.
  4. In a parking lot, where he claimed to have gone to extinguish fires set by protestors, Rittenhouse encountered Joseph Rosenbaum and Rosenbaum’s associate, Joshua Ziminski who was armed.
  5. (Rosenbaum had earlier in the day been released from a psychiatric hospital. He had a history of violent outbursts and was under a restraining order separating him from his fiancé. The night in question, he was filmed pushing a flaming dumpster towards a gas station. When stopped by other protestors, he responded angrily in a threatening manner.)
  6. In the parking lot, Rosenbaum challenged Rittenhouse and lunged towards him.
  7. Rittenhouse turned and ran away pursued by Rosenbaum who threw at Rittenhouse a plastic bag filled with personal items belonging to Rosenbaum.
  8. Rittenhouse stopped and turned around. He then resumed running from Rosenbaum.
  9. Meanwhile, Ziminski fired a shot in the air. His was thus the first shot fired during this incident.
  10. Still pursued by Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse fled into a parking area where he fired four shots at his pursuer fatally wounding him.
  11. Rittenhouse circled back, looked at Rosenbaum’s body, and phoned his friend, Dominick Black.
  12. Identified as an active shooter by an angry crowd, Rittenhouse ran from the scene.
  13. He was hit in the head by one pursuer.
  14. Afterwards, Rittenhouse kept running, but eventually fell.
  15. An unidentified man tried to “jump kick” Rittenhouse, who then fired a shot.
  16. Anthony Huber (a friend of Jacob Blake) then hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard and grabbed at his AR-15. Rittenhouse fired again killing Huber.
  17. Gaige Grosskreutz (one of Rittenhouse’s pursuers) initially raised his hands before Rittenhouse who was lying on the ground pointing his AR 15 at his attackers.
  18. He held fire.
  19. Grosskreutz then lunged at Rittenhouse with his own handgun.
  20. Rittenhouse shot Grosskreutz in his right arm.
  21. The crowd backed off.
  22. Rittenhouse got up and ran towards the police.
  23. He appeared to surrender with his hands up.
  24. The police however ignored him driving by at high speed.
  25. Rittenhouse then got a ride home from his friend Dominick Black.
  26. Rittenhouse’s mother subsequently drove her son to the local police station where in tears he turned himself in.

As reported on the Jimmy Dore Show, all of this is on video which one can see here.

Lessons Learned

As I said, the just-reviewed sequence of events set within the contextual factors cited lead me to conclude that the Rittenhouse trial was not falsely racialized. The question of race was part and parcel of the protest against police brutality in the case of Jacob Blake. Black Lives Matter protestors on the scene (both black and white) were there to protest such violence which they saw as racially motivated. Within that context, protestors had good reason to suspect that vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse represented the forces of white supremacy that gave rise to BLM itself.

I also conclude that the jury’s decision might have been technically correct, but it ended up highlighting the need for basic legal reform. It points up yet again the fact that U.S. gun laws are highly dangerous. To allow armed individuals (regardless of age) to take part in any public protest ipso facto courts disaster. Instead, anyone carrying a weapon under such circumstances should be immediately arrested and detained.

Even more specific to the Rittenhouse case, it seems that allowing individuals to create an unnecessarily dangerous situation and then to claim self-defense when the situation turns threatening against them personally is somehow contradictory.

Additionally, the whole incident calls attention to the need for drastic police reform, unfortunately termed “defunding the police.” Something is basically wrong when millions of taxpayer dollars spent on a highly militarized police force cannot produce public servants capable of maintaining order and of protecting peaceful protestors. Something is wrong when  the beneficiaries of such funding are reduced to dependence on armed vigilantes to do their work.

Finally, the first amendment’s clear assertion of the right to freedom of speech, protest, and petition is at least as important a part of the Constitution as the political right’s tortured and overly broad interpretation of its “right to bear arms.” Yet, within our culture’s current crisis, protest against police violence and racism tends to be criminalized, while citizen possession of weapons of war is not only tolerated but celebrated.

Conclusion

My most important conclusion, however, has to do with the mainstream media and even with some alternative liberal sources. It has to do with me.

Certainly, the media in question did its readers and viewers no favor in its portrayal of the Rittenhouse trial and what led up to it. Reporting on the event exhibited for all to see the laziness, sheer negligence, and outright deception of such news agencies. They even allowed many in their audiences to draw the conclusion that the ones shot by Rittenhouse were black. Certainly, they convinced me that Rittenhouse had traveled “all the way from Illinois” carrying an illegally purchased firearm “across state lines.

Most painfully then, the Rittenhouse trial and my discussion with my friend brought to the surface my own laziness and excessive trust not only in The New York Times, and Washington Post, but in sources that share my preconceptions. The fact is, I try to stay on top of such important events. And yet my original interpretation of the trial just reviewed shows that I’ve not been vigilant enough.

Vigilance, suspicion, and caution then are what I most learned from the Rittenhouse trial. I also learned something important about the benefits of honest dialog with “the opposition.”

Jesus & Borders: The World Belongs to Everyone

The other night, my wife Peggy and I were involved with friends from church in a conversation about borders. The question arose, because of immigration problems that have arisen throughout the world because of climate change and U.S. wars. I’m talking about the conflicts our government initiated in Central America during the 1980s, as well as the most recent campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lybia, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, not to mention miscellaneous dronings, and the drug war in Mexico. Every one of those debacles has created thousands of refugees.

During our discussion of borders, the question became, “What would Jesus say about them?” Surely, we can’t just ignore demarcations between countries, can we?”

My response is, “Actually, we can. Not only that, but we have done so repeatedly.” In fact, when you think about it, borders turn out to be  completely arbitrary, and the rich ignore them all the time. Only the rest of us are naïve enough to believe that lines on a map are somehow sacrosanct. It’s all a scam by the 1% to keep the world’s majority in line by creating captive labor forces.

Besides that, Jesus himself and the moral thrust of the Jewish tradition he represented by no means held borders inviolable when it came to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

Here’s what I mean:

Borders Are Arbitrary

In historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.

The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was accessing the resources of the areas in question. So, they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.

But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.

Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.

In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. As a result, their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista — a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.

Nevertheless, 170 years later, U.S. presidents like Biden and Trump want to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by laws and a wall to enforce this relatively new line of separation. The argument seems to be that borders are holy, have always been there, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about our rich confreres’ attitude towards the new lines drawn.

The Rich Disregard Borders

Fact is: The rich routinely disrespect borders in two principal ways, one juridically “legal” and the other completely otherwise.

For starters, so-called “legal” border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus, capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts. The agreements exclude input from the huge populations of farmers, workers, and indigenous populations directly affected by the pacts in question.

In other words, workers (who are just as much a part of the capitalist equation as their employers) enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be inviolable, even though the boundaries create a captive labor force and prevent labor from imitating the rich by serving its own economic interests — by emigrating to wherever economic advantage dictates.

Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard operative here. So, they defiantly cross borders without permission. That in large part is what we’re witnessing  in immigration problems at our own borders and across the world’s map.

The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people they deem “terrorists” wherever and whenever they’re found, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that same right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts, because they consider the wealthy’s bombing raids and drone operations themselves as “terrorism.”) Let’s face it: in the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless — for the rich.

Jesus & Borders

As for the attitude of Jesus towards borders? We don’t have to guess. The Bible’s main thrust centralizes the question. The basic moral injunction of the Jewish Testament is to welcome the stranger, along  with caring for widows and orphans.

As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus is presented in Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 25) as doubling down on that traditional Hebrew command. I’m talking about the only description of the “last judgment” in the entire Christian Testament. There, Jesus is depicted as saying to people who sacralize borders, “Depart from me you cursed into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . for I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.”

Those are strong, strong words depicted as coming from”the Prince of Peace” and the one often remembered as “meek and mild.” At the very least, Matthew’s insistence on attributing them to the Master indicates the strength of Jesus’ teaching on the topic at hand. For him, it seems that borders were by no means sacrosanct in the face of human need.

Conclusion

The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from their destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?

13 Verses for My Granddaughter on Her 13th Birthday

Today is my Granddaughter, Eva's 13th birthday. That's a big one; she's entering into her teenage years. I feel especially close to Eva. We often go for long walks and sit by the Saugatuck River drinking coffee and solving the world's problems. So here are some verses I wrote to celebrate all of that It's so much fun being Eva's "Baba."

For Eva

I have cherished brave Eva
From the day
She was born.
We’ve been friends from that moment
Through rose and sharp thorn.

We’ve walked miles together
In sun, showers, and snow
In deep conversation
Whenever we go.

Sitting hard by the river
Eating cheese and egg sandies
And donuts
From "Coffee an’"
Sweet as Halloween candies.

We talk about school
And “Democracy Now.”
We discuss what we’ve written,
How to follow the Tao.

We talk about Life
And its meanings so deep
About New Worlds,
Marx, and Malcolm.
That make our minds leap
To conclusions unexpected
With insights brand-new.
Eva learns from her Baba.
Baba learns from her too.

Now she’s turning 13
Entering teenage at last.
I just can’t believe
Life is passing that fast.

But I’m confident Eva
Will serve the world well.
She’ll write books
That will change it
And save it from hell.

She’s a philosopher you see
She’s a lover of truth
(A grammar snob also
But never uncouth.)

So, Eva, let me tell you
At this age of 13
Just how much I love you.
You’re the best girl I’ve seen.

God’s blessings upon you.
Be safe, happy, protected.
Be loved by your friends.
Be never rejected

Because your heart is so pure.
Your thoughts are so clear.
That’s why we all love you
And hold you so dear.

That’s specially true for Baba
Your companion and friend
Your grandpa who’ll protect you
Till his own life shall end.

And beyond that I promise
For our hearts have been blended
From your moment of birth.
Love like ours
Can’t be ended!

Happy birthday, dearest Eva!!

Too Much Christ, Not Enough Jesus

Recently, a friend (also a former priest) allowed me to read a master’s dissertation he wrote while in Rome 40 years ago. As a 34-year-old Kiltegan missionary with experience in Africa, my friend (now in his early 70s) was exploring the meaning of the term “conversion.” It was a query, I suspect, sparked by his personal struggle with questions raised by his own discomfort with missionary work aimed at converting “pagan” Africans to Christianity.

Reading my friend’s dissertation recalled my own similar struggles as a member of the Catholic missionary group, the Society of St. Columban. Like the Kiltegans, the Columbans emerged from Ireland in the first half of the 20th century. My group’s original work was converting Chinese rather than Africans. As I was completing my graduate studies in Rome, I too had my own doubts about the Columbans’ project.

So, for me reading my friend’s work was a trip down memory lane. His thesis addressed the work of theologians I remember admiring during the late 1960s.

I’m talking about the revered thinkers Bernard Lonergan, Karl Rahner, and a lesser-known Jesuit theologian, William Lynch. I recall so well puzzling over their dense prose as it tried to make sense of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the light of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Who was Jesus, they asked, and what was his relationship to the “modern world?” As I said, my friend’s question to them was about their understanding of the term “conversion?”

Lonergan’s, Rahner’s, and Lynch’s answers to such questions revealed their developed world perspectives. Lonergan was a Canadian; Rahner a German; Lynch, an American. All three were heavily influenced by existentialist and Heideggerian philosophy that at the time contrasted so refreshingly with the Thomistic approach of pre-conciliar theology that heavily relied on Thomas Aquinas and medieval scholastic philosophy. 

However, I (and theologians in general, including, I presume, my friend) have long since moved beyond the impenetrable, abstract, thought of the three theologians in question. Influenced by Jesus scholarship and by liberation theology, the reflections of today’s scholars are much more biblically and historically grounded – much more reliant on concrete social analysis than on existential speculation.

Let me try to show what I mean.

Lonergan, Rahner & Lynch

Without venturing too far into the deeper weeds of their relevant speculations, here’s how Lonergan, Rahner and Lynch approach the question of conversion:

  • Lonergan: Conversion is acceptance of truth rather than the world’s falsehoods. Its end point is awakening from an uncomprehending slumber. Its heightened consciousness yields a changed attitude towards the problem of evil, which is ultimately theological before the world’s otherwise incomprehensible tragedies. Conversion emerges from one’s unique experience of God which is analogous to falling in love. It is not rational; it is not dependent on argument. Conversion simply happens as a gift from God to one inexplicably grasped by the reality of Christ crucified, dead, and risen.
  • Rahner: Conversion is the owning of one’s human nature which is absolute openness (potentia obedientialis) to ultimate reality (aka “God”). Conversion is the process of becoming receptive to what the world discloses about itself against the backdrop of the Ground of Being.  That receptivity is modeled in the person of Jesus the Christ.  
  • Lynch: Conversion represents a radically changed way of experiencing the world. The world of the convert revolves around a different center than it does for the unconverted. He or she perceives and embraces the fact that all of creation is driven by eros – by the basic life-force that informs everything that is. For Lynch, Jesus understood that fact and because of living its truth, represents the ultimate version of humanity. He reveals to human beings who they are.

All these insights are profound and helpful to academics seeking a deeper understanding of the term conversion. And, as I earlier indicated, I once found them to represent the apex of theological reflection. I agreed, that (1) human beings are basically asleep to life’s deeper dimensions, (2) conversion entails awakening and (3) finally embracing a shared human nature as fundamental openness to Ultimate Reality that some call “God.” (3) Accepting that reality involves perceiving the Life Force (eros) that informs and unites all of creation. (4) Such perception gives the lives of the converted a new center not shared by “the world,” but (5) embodied instead in the person of Jesus the Christ crucified, dead, and resurrected.

That’s what I once believed. But that was before I encountered Jesus-scholarship and liberation theology. It was before (precisely as a Global South advocate) I took seriously the imperative to change the world rather than explain it to intellectuals.

Jesus Scholarship & Liberation Theology

Jesus-scholarship and liberation theology agree that conversion involves awakening to a reality other than that generally accepted by “the wisdom of the world.” But it understands awakening as development of class consciousness. Theological awakening moves the center of reflection from imperial locations such as Rome, Canada, Germany, and the U.S. to the peripheries of neo-colonies and the slums of Sao Paulo, Managua, and Mexico City.  

For liberation theologians, reality is not fundamentally theological or philosophical, but historical, economic, political, and social. It has been created by phenomena that Raul Peck says summarize the last 500 years of western history. Three words, he tells us, encapsulate it all – civilization (i.e., white supremacy), colonialism, and extermination. Those terms and the bloodstained reality they represent rather than abstract theological speculation, summarize the real problem of evil. That problem is concrete, material, and historical, not primarily theological. It is not mysterious, philosophical, or even theological.

Accordingly, liberation theology’s reflections start with the real world of endemic poverty, climate change, and threat of nuclear war. Closer to home, they begin in biblical circles where poor slum dwellers ask why there’s no electricity or plumbing – why their children are threatened by gang members and drug dealers. Only as a second step does theological reflection enter the picture. In reading the Gospels, the poor (not developed world theologians) discover the fact that Jesus and his community faced problems similar to their own. In the process, they find new relevance in the narratives of Jesus’ words and deeds.

This leads to a third step in liberation theology’s “hermeneutical circle” – planning to address community problems and to the identification and assignment of specific tasks to members of the reflection group in question. Will we demonstrate in front of city hall? Who will contact the mayor? What about community policing?

Answering and acting on questions like those represent the third step in liberation theology’s circle of interpretation. They are a form of reinsertion into community life. That reengagement then begins the circle’s dynamic all over again.

In summary then, liberation theology begins with social analysis that defines the context of those who (regardless of their attitudes towards theology) would not merely understand the world but are intent on transforming it in the direction of social justice. That by the way is the purpose of liberation theology itself – highlighting the specifically biblical stories whose power can change the world. Accordingly, liberation theology is reflection on the following of Christ from the standpoint of the world’s poor and oppressed who are committed to the collective improvement of their lives economically, politically, socially, and spiritually.

And this is where Jesus enters the reflective process in ways that traditional theologians (even like Lonergan, Rahner, and Lynch) end up avoiding. For liberation theologians, Jesus is not merely crucified, dead, and risen. He also had a life (traditional theology’s “excluded middle”) including actual words and deeds before the eventuation of those culminating events.

In other words, Jesus is not primarily the transcendent Universal Christ. He is an historical figure who (as William Lynch correctly has it) relocates the center of the world and history. However, as just seen, he moves that center from the privileged terrain of Rome or the United States to their imperialized provinces and colonies. For liberation theology, kings and emperors are not the center of history, but people like the construction worker from Nazareth. That’s the astounding revelation of Jesus. It turns one’s understanding of the world upside-down.

Put still otherwise, (according to biblical stories whether considered historical or fictional) Jesus represents God’s unlooked-for incarnation in the earth’s wretched. He was the son of an unwed teenage mother, an infant refugee from infanticide, an asylum seeker in Egypt, an excommunicate from his religious tribe, a friend of drunks and street walkers, and a victim of torture and capital punishment precisely for opposing Rome’s colonial control of Palestine.

Conclusion   

Yes, I remember admiring the likes of Lonergan, Rahner, and Lynch. But they no longer speak to me. Their abstract words, tortured existential questions, and impenetrable grammar obscure the salvific reality so easily accessible and fascinating in the character of Jesus belonging to the Gospel stories – and to those impoverished and oppressed by what bell hooks calls the white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy.

Unfortunately, however, the world and its theologians have always been reluctant to recognize that figure for what he was. The change he requires is too drastic. It would mean taking sides with the wretched of the earth.

Instead, theologians even like Lonergan, Rahner, and Lynch have preferred to focus on Christ crucified, dead and resurrected without the biblical narrative of the construction worker’s words and deeds that stand 180 degrees opposite truths taken for granted in the world’s imperial centers.

But it is precisely that down-to-earth Jesus that our world today needs more than an abstract Universal Christ. Conversion to that despised and rejected messiah means rejecting identification with empire’s pretensions and goals. It means taking to the streets with the  Sunrise and Black Lives Matter movements. It means running the risk of sharing with Jesus his own fate as a victim of arrest, torture, and even capital punishment.

That’s what Jesus meant by urging his followers to take up the cross and follow him.  

Episode 16, Lesson 8: We’re Preoccupied with Patriotic Illusions We Should Have Outgrown

Welcome to Episode 16, Lesson 8 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. Like you, I’m a seeker and student of A Course in Miracles (ACIM), which can be so inspiring, but quite confusing too. ACIM is also commonly depoliticized in the same way that the Powers That Be have always depoliticized the revolutionary message of Jesus the Christ. We’re trying to avoid that misreading here.  

So, thank you for joining me as I work through the text’s gems and perplexities.

Remember, the overriding thesis of this podcast is that A Course in Miracles is not for everyone. More than anything else, the text’s origins, language, style, and content reveal that it is primarily addressed to North Americans living in a cultural cave where we are propagandized and deluded (often unwittingly) by parents, pedagogues, priests, politicians, publicists, and philosophers. According to A Course in Miracles, Jesus is directly addressing us Americans there.

So, what is he saying to us?

Lesson 8’s main thought is expressed as follows: “My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.” Today and tomorrow, I want to focus on two sets of past thoughts that dominate our minds and separate us from reality as far as our spiritual and activist lives are concerned. I’m talking about conceptions we learned as children concerning our own country and about the Jesus who is presented as addressing us in A Course in Miracles.

Today, let’s talk about our shared preoccupations with our country’s past – about patriotic notions that keep us mired in childish illusions we should long ago have outgrown.  

Recall that the topic of “the past” was already broached in yesterday’s lesson. It reminded us that when we examine the circumstances of our own lives, when we consider our relationships, work, and beliefs, when we look at the world, we see only the past, almost never the present, the exclusive residence of what we call “real.”

With that in mind, we expressed yesterday’s thought in this way: “I see only the past as portrayed by my keepers as shadows on the wall of our cultural cave.”

Historically and politically, those shadows, I reminded us, generate what The Course calls “meaningless” thoughts about patriotism, nationality, Founding Fathers, our sacred borders, the supposed superiority of our economic system, and the need to protect ourselves from the world’s poor by spending $2 billion per day on the money laundering scheme we call “national defense.”

Today, I want to underline that last point. We spend our military budget fighting wars against the world’s poor.  Yes, it’s the poor that our cave’s shadows portray as our enemies. Again, that’s what I want to focus on here.

Please think about it. The world’s poor turn out to be the only ones we’ve fought wars against since the Second Inter-Capitalist War (1939-1945). Our keepers have convinced us that the poor are our enemies. That’s why our country never takes on any enemy that has anything that resembles the wealth or military might that America possesses. We only attack the relatively defenseless and poor. That’s why countries such as North Korea believe that they need nuclear weapons. (Without them, the U.S. long ago would have overthrown Kim Jong-un.)

But here’s the rub. Despite all “our” spending on weapons of war and despite our “enemies” inferior weapons systems, poor farmers, mothers, grandparents and children defending their homelands from U.S. imperialists have defeated our “glorious” army in case after case. Most obviously, I’m talking about Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq where the thrashings our military has endured have been so glaring that they are impossible to deny. Our country hasn’t won a war since 1945! 

Yet the generals, our politicians, and the arms corporations they serve continue to tell us that “our” military is invincible. (Talk about shadow reality!!) Such claims would be laughable if their horrendous results were not so tragic in terms of slaughtering and further impoverishing the world’s already poor. They’d be laughable if military spending didn’t empty our national treasury of the money that could give us Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, forgiveness of student loans, free college educations, a guaranteed basic income, and a bright and secure future for our children and grandchildren.

In other words, and for purposes of this podcast, our convictions about militarism represent past beliefs that we’ve been taught to accept without question. They are among the most destructive of what Lesson 8 refers to as the “past thoughts” that preoccupy and blind our minds. They are there so prominently that seeing their shadow nature is nearly impossible to acknowledge and even more difficult to articulate without being accused of somehow “hating America.”

All of this is especially noteworthy in the context of our study here. As we move through A Course in Miracles, we’ll find that the term “attack” will be centralized. The Course will remind us repeatedly that attack is an illusion. We are not under attack by anyone, The Course insists. When we attack others, we are attacking ourselves. For as The Course says, there is really only one of us here.

What we perceive as attacks represent self-defense by poor people that the U.S. insists on attacking. So, “counterattack” is not only self-defeating. It is completely illusory.

More particularly, all of this should remind us that:

  • It’s the United States that is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. (Martin Luther King said that)
  • “Our” government, military, and police are attacking the poor everywhere, at home and abroad.
  • Immigrants and asylum seekers are in no way attacking us or causing our problems. (They are the poorest most powerless people in the world!)
  • Venezuela is not attacking us
  • Nor is Nicaragua
  • Nor is China
  • Nor is Iran
  • Nor is Cuba
  • Terrorists like Al Qaeda are themselves the creation of the United States
  • So was Osama bin Laden
  • So to a large extent is the Taliban
  • Every attack on “terrorists” creates more of them – i.e., more resistance to U.S. aggression.

Please think about all of that today as you listen to the news, as you read the mainstream media, or listen to better news sources such as “Democracy Now.” When designated “enemies” and their “attacks” are referenced, say to yourself “My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts. No one is attacking us. There is no need for counter-attack.”

Tomorrow we’ll take up the past thoughts that preoccupy our propagandized minds about Jesus of Nazareth.

Till then, this is Mike Rivage-Seul signing off and wishing you God’s blessings.  

Please see other episodes in this series on my podcast site here.

Episode 15, Lesson 7: On Visiting Our Country’s Past Again for the First Time

Welcome to Episode 15 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. Today we’ll examine together Part 1, Lesson 7 of The Course’s Workbook for Students. It’s found on pages 11 and 12 of the text. Its central idea reads: “I see only the past.”

For our purposes here, I’d express today’s main idea like this: “I see only the past as portrayed by my keepers as shadows on the wall of our cultural cave.”

However we express it though, today’s lesson is setting us up to leave the past aside and consider everything anew, as if for the first time.

In fact, the text goes on to explain that this idea (I see only the past) is the basis of all the Workbook lessons we’ve practiced so far. In the text’s words, seeing only the past:

“Is the reason why nothing that you see means anything.
It is the reason why you give everything you see all the meaning that it has for you.
It is the reason why you do not understand anything you see 
It is the reason why your thoughts do not mean anything. 
It is the reason why you are never upset for the reasons you think.
It is the reason why you are upset because you see something that is not there.”

As we have seen, The Course considers the past as “unreal.” Its events unfolded in yesterday’s present. But that present is gone forever. It is now “unreal.” However, the fact remains that what we’ve learned through past experience determines what we see in the present. In mundane terms, it’s only because of the past that we know what cups, pencils, shoes, hands, and faces are for. It’s almost impossible to view such items as if we didn’t know their purposes.

In political terms, what we see in our world is also largely governed by what we learned as children — in this instance, about our country’s history. As we saw earlier, the shadows on our cave’s wall have established controlling ideas in our minds that determine what we see. Controlling ideas have taught us for instance, that America is the greatest in the world, that it’s a democracy, that its Founders were nearly saintly men, that the policeman is our friend, and that all of us are equal under the law. All those ideas prevent us from looking at our country with new eyes – from seeing it as it “really” is today.

(And, as we’ll see, if we understand what we’ve learned in the past against the eternal and lasting Ground of Being that alone is real (in the sense of eternal and lasting) we’ll reconceive our learnings from the past in a brightly critical light.) 

Politically speaking and because this podcast is about the way A Course in Miracles can move us from unreal perceptions, it’s not too early to point out that the only way we can escape our cave’s interiorized misperceptions is to leave empire’s cave altogether. It is to follow the example of the prophet Jesus by somehow “incarnating” in the imperialized world he inhabited. There, we’ll inevitably encounter stark criticisms of white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. 

Of course, you can make that happen by travel that intentionally goes beyond tourism and whose specific purpose is political education. For example, ventures like that brought me to Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Israel, Jordan, India, and (during my five years of graduate study in Rome) to Poland and most of the countries in western Europe. Moreover, stepping outside our cultural cave as a kind of political archeologist is best accomplished by learning the relevant languages.

But no one can learn all the world’s languages. And few can travel extensively in the less developed world as I’m suggesting.

However, we can through reading and documentary films encounter new unaccustomed visions that move us beyond seeing “only the past” as portrayed within our cultural cave. To that end, I’d suggest the following list:

  • James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me
  • Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States
  • Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States (accompanied by video documentaries for each chapter)
  • Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America
  • Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
  • Vijay Prashad’s The Poorer Nations: a possible history of the global south
  • Haitian director, Raul Peck’s documentary “Exterminate All the Brutes”

Suggestions like those terrify the controllers within our cave who carry statues before the fire that burns behind our backs. They’re afraid students like us will actually understand our manipulation at our keepers’ hands. For that reason, they hate what they vilify as “critical race theory,” but what is only seeing the past “again for the first time” from the viewpoint of those victimized by white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.

Understanding the past that way can change understandings of the world. And changed understanding (from one based on fear to understanding based on love) represents what A Course in Miracles’ means by the term “miracle.”

Please give Lesson 7 and the thoughts I’ve just shared prayerful consideration throughout this day. Several times for a minute or so, say to yourself whenever your eyes fall upon familiar objects, “I see only the past in this _____ (pencil, shoe, hand, body, face). While watching the news describing and analyzing the day’s events, say “I see only the past in this issue.”

Again, the point of all this is to deconstruct our familiar ways of seeing the world.

Until next time, then, this is Mike Rivage-Seul thanking you for listening. Please join me tomorrow for Lesson 8 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” In the meantime, God’s blessings on you all.

Please see other episodes in this series on my podcast site here.

Episode 14, Lesson 6: I Am Upset, Because I See Something That Is Not There

Welcome to Episode 14 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. Today we’ll examine together Part 1, Lesson 6 of The Course’s Workbook for Students. It’s found on page 10 of the text. Its central idea reads: “I am upset because I see something that is not there.”

To put this lesson in context, let me go back to the very beginning of ACIM, where the entire course is summarized in just three short sentences:

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.

Yes, according to the text, these words summarize The Course in Miracles in its entirety. Everything else is commentary.

But what do those brief sentences mean? What is meant by the word “real?” Similarly, what does “unreal” mean? And what about the word “exists?”

Answering these questions will help A Course in Miracles students understand today’s lesson, “I am upset because I see something that is not there.”

My reading and study of A Course in Miracles tells me that the word “real” refers to what truly exists. And the only thing that truly exists is found in the present moment. However, “real” does not refer to what is perceived by my senses at this moment. Those sense perceptions are temporary and passing. For A Course in Miracles, the term “real” refers to what some people call “God.” It refers to what does not change or die. Other than “God” we might call it:

  • Source
  • The Spirit or Power that informs everything
  • What holds all things together constantly creating, dissolving, and recreating life forms
  • The unalterable Background of all sense perceptions
  • The Ground of those sensitivities
  • Life Itself
  • Truth
  • Love
  • Supreme Goodness
  • Light

On the other hand, the word “unreal” has four meanings. It refers:

  1. To anything that doesn’t last forever – to everything that changes, that dies, that cannot or will not persist.
  2. To the past which is irretrievably lost.
  3. To the future which does not yet exist, and which in any case will be experienced as the “present.”. (Both past and future, then, are “unreal.”)
  4. To the contents of what our reflections so far have referred to as our cultural cave. We’ve already seen again and again that we’re all prisoners of our worldly “keepers” (the ones carrying those statues in front of the cave’s fire). They are our parents, priests, pedagogues, politicians, propagandists, and publicists. They are no better than us prisoners in their condition of living in the cave’s “unreal” space. They don’t grasp reality either. In fact, intentionally or not, their job is to deceive us. They are selling a world that is white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist and patriarchal. What we learn at their feet is illusion. It is unreal.

In summary then, the “real” is the background of what the present moment presents to us. The unreal belongs to present, past, and future phenomena, and to the “wisdom” of the world.

In this podcast, we’re highlighting what A Course in Miracles has to say about that worldly wisdom (those projected shadows) contrasted with the teachings of the historical Jesus who became one of history’s foremost manifestations of the eternal unchanging Christ or God-consciousness.

Now keeping that in mind will help you understand both yesterday’s Workbook lesson and today’s as well. Yesterday’s lesson said, “I am never upset for the reasons I think.” And, as you may recall, I listed a host of my upsets regarding the Democratic Party e.g., its failure to keep its campaign promises, and its climate policies that threaten the destinies of my children and grandchildren on an overheated planet. Besides anger, I said, those reasons sparked emotions in me including betrayal, despair, confusion, frustration, cognitive dissonance, fear, a sense of having been robbed, rage, and sadness. Now, if you think about it, all those sentiments and the reasons attached to them are inescapably connected to the past and future. They are based on what the Democrats did and failed to do last year. They are evoked by anticipation of my children’s grandchildren’s futures.  

Today’s lesson reminds us “reasons” like those are “unreal.” They are, in the words of today’s lesson, “not there.” This is because they belong to the past and future which unlike the present, exist no longer or not yet. So, the experiences I listed are not the “real” reasons for my upset. They relate to the past and future and therefore are “not there.”

But what then is in fact “there?” Not the past, not the future, but the present shadows I and my fellow prisoners are taking in. However, as we’ve seen, those shadows also depict an unreal world. So, even my present moment is “unreal” if I forget its unchanging Background or informing Spirit. Within Plato’s cave, you and I are “seeing” something that is not there. We’re seeing a world that is white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist and patriarchal. The “real” embraces none of those things.

In other words, we’re trapped. We’re living in an unreal world X 4. It is a changing world inescapably tied to the past, the future, and to a deceptive shadow theater.

And that returns us to Lesson 6, “I am upset because I see something that is not there.”

In keeping with the intention of this first part of A Course in Miracles, today’s lesson simply asks us to face up to the actual reason for any upset we might experience in our lives. We’re upset because we’re seeing something that is not there. If we saw the Ground of Being that is there, we would not be upset. We would know, in the words of The Course, “the peace of God.”

Towards achieving that peace, the lesson tells us to spend “three or four brief practice periods today . . . preceded by a minute or so of mind searching.” We’re looking for upsetting thoughts like those I listed yesterday – for whatever upsets you personally that may not be political at all. It might have to do with your relationships, with your job, with childhood trauma, with unrealized ambitions.

But this time when we confront our upsets, we’re instructed to say for example,

I am angry at _____ because I see something that is not there.

I am worried about _____ because I see something that is not there.

Again, the purpose here (and of the entire first part of our Workbook lessons) is to clear our minds of false perceptions.

So, use the words of today’s lesson to empty your mind of that’s irrelevant. Say repeatedly:

I am upset because I see something that is not there. . ..

I am upset because I see something that is not there. . ..

This is Mike Rivage-Seul signing off. Please join me again tomorrow when we’ll examine Lesson 7. Till then (and always) God’s blessings on you all.

For previous episodes in this series, please go to my podcast site.

Episode 13, Lesson 5: I’m Angry at the Democrats But Not for the Reasons I Think

Welcome to Episode 12 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. Today we’ll examine together Part 1, Lesson 5 of The Course’s Workbook for Students. It’s found on pages 8 and 9 of the text and its central thought reads: “I am never upset for the reason I think.”

In practice, the lesson invites students to search their minds three or four times during the day for “sources” of upset and the feelings that result. In the text’s words, we are to apply the day’s idea to “any person, situation or event you think is causing you pain. . . The upset may seem to be fear, worry, depression, anxiety, anger, hatred, jealousy, or any number of forms.” The lesson emphasizes however that the diversity of emotions is illusory. In the end, it is caused by something hidden. That something will be identified in later lessons.

Following the lesson’s instruction, you might say simply,

I am not angry at _____  for the reason I think.
I am not afraid of _____  for the reason I think
I am not worried about _____ for the reason I think.
I am not depressed about _____ for the reason I think. 

In attempting to follow those instructions and after last Tuesday’s shellacking of Democrats at the polls, it’s not difficult for a Course in Miracles social justice warrior like me to list my own current sources of upset and their corresponding emotions. They include

  • Anger when I realize that I seem to care more about getting Democrats elected than the Democrats themselves do! I mean, I can’t understand why they sit around idly while the Republicans in state after state draw gerrymandered maps that effectively deprive Blacks and Hispanics of their Constitutional rights to vote. Why have the Democrats not passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect their own constituents? They seem not to care. In response, I find myself caring less and less.
  • A sense of betrayal over Democrats’ expectations that constituents will vote for them even though the party hasn’t followed through on its campaign promises about immigration reform, a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and immediate control of pharmaceutical prices. Biden’s party surely hasn’t earned my vote.
  • Despair over Democrats’ refusal to act on the Green New Deal, college debt forgiveness, protection of those voting rights, and increased taxes on the rich despite the popularity of such measures.
  • Confusion when I realize that Democrats can’t pass those extremely popular pieces of legislation despite currently controlling the presidency and both houses of Congress.
  • Frustration when despite the pandemic, the Biden administration steadfastly refuses to implement Medicare for All.
  • Cognitive dissonance when I hear Joe Biden champion environmental protection at the Glasgow COP 26 meeting, while at the same time encouraging G7 countries to increase oil production and refusing to shut down the Enbridge Pipeline and similar Big Oil projects.   
  • Fear for my children and grandchildren when I perceive the implications of the White Fascist Party once again taking over our government in 2022 and 2024. I’m convinced that the White Party’s Donald Trump is coming back in some form.
  • A sense of being robbed when my so-called representatives without a second thought, can find billions for the money laundering scheme called “national defense,” and billions more in the form of tax benefits for the rich and subsidies for fossil fuel companies, but can’t find similar funding for popular programs like those I referenced earlier. That’s your money and mine that they’re laundering.   
  • Rage at the patriarchy’s insistence on controlling women’s bodies in so many ways not limited to contraception and abortion.
  • Sadness when I realize that all the issues just listed give the impression that the country I love is in the process of degenerating into a failed state before our very eyes.   

Yes, I (and perhaps you) may be feeling the disparate emotions like just listed – anger, betrayal, despair, confusion, frustration, cognitive dissonance, fear, a sense of being robbed, rage, and sadness. However, according to lesson 5 of A Course in Miracles, all those feelings are the same. As we’ll see in subsequent lessons, they all reduce to one as yet unnamed emotion caused by something also unnamed that is no more real than the shadows in Plato’s cave.

For today, however, it’s enough to take inventory of the sources of your own upset and the emotions they evoke. Try to do that for several brief periods during the day.

Then, we’ll get back together for further exploration of the illusions we experience in our culture’s version of Plato’s Cave. Remember, our guide here is Jesus the Christ. His purpose in these initial lessons is to free us from the illusions governing life here in the belly of the beast as empire justifies its destruction of the world reducing us all in the process to the level of the wretched of the earth.

A Course in Miracles will instruct us in how to resist that cruel reduction in Jesus’ spirit. Please join me tomorrow for more on that vital topic.     

Episode 12, Lesson 4: These Thoughts Do Not Mean Anything

Welcome to Episode 12 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. Today we’ll examine together Part 1, Lesson 4 of The Course’s Workbook for Students. Its main idea reads as follows: “These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the things I see in this room [on this street from this window, in this place].”

As Lesson 4 puts it, the purpose of today’s introspection is (1) to help students separate the meaningful from the meaningless, (2) to help them take a first step towards seeing that the meaningless is found outside us, while the meaningful is found within, and (3) to begin training students’ minds to separate similarities and dissimilarities.

Towards those ends, the lesson itself asks us to review “the thoughts that are crossing your mind for about a minute. Then apply the idea to them.” The lesson further instructs us to “identify each thought” that crosses our mind “by the central figure or event it contains, for example: This thought about _____ does not mean anything. It is like the things I see in this room [on this street, and so on].” In keeping with our reflections so far – about Plato’s Parable of the Cave – the lesson twice refers to our common thoughts in terms of “shadows.”

With that in mind and in the spirit of the social justice focus of this podcast, here are 25 ideas generally accepted without question in U.S. culture. According to today’s lesson, all of them are entirely meaningless. They’re illusions; they are completely untrue. Ask yourself if you still believe them.

  1. “America” is the greatest country on earth.
  2. Ours is a Christian nation and God is on our side.
  3. The Founding Fathers established a democracy.
  4. The U.S. Constitution is not subject to interpretation according to changing historical circumstances.
  5. All U.S. citizens are equal under the law.
  6. The U.S. Supreme Court is unbiased and fair.
  7. U.S. politicians serve “the people” and not their donors.
  8. The policeman is your friend.
  9. White people from Europe embody the highest achievements of human society.
  10. “America’s” wealth accumulation has nothing to do with land stolen from the indigenous or with 400 years of unpaid and underpaid labor from African slaves and their descendants.
  11. Capitalism-as-we-know-it represents the best possible economic system.
  12. Intellectual property is a thing.
  13. Life itself can be morally patented.
  14. Vital resources are scarce.
  15. Capitalism is not the reason for climate change.
  16. With 4.5% of the world’s population, the United States deserves to control the entire world.
  17. With 20% of the world’s population, China should be subject to the United States.
  18. Foreigners (from e.g., Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala) want to come to America because of its greatness and not because U.S. wars and climate destruction have devastated their countries.
  19. Borders are sacred.
  20. The notion of patriarchy is an invention of what Rush Limbaugh called “feminazis.”
  21. Women should obey celibate churchmen in matters like contraception and abortion since the celibate clergy know more about the way women’s bodies work than women themselves.
  22. The fact that up to 50% of fertilized ova end up spontaneously aborted is irrelevant to the abortion debate.
  23. Our country is under attack by terrorists and immigrants (i.e., by the poor of the world).
  24. To defend ourselves from such attacks, we need to spend $2 billion each day.
  25. Nuclear and space weapons can defend us from terrorism.

To repeat, according to A Course in Miracles, none of these ideas is true. Not one. Instead, they have been foisted upon us by the ones in the cave who carry statues before the shadow-producing fire – viz. by our parents, pedagogues, priests, politicians, publicists, propagandists, and philosophers. All of them are like us; none of them knows anything but shadows. As we’ll see, only the hated prophetic escapees from our culture’s cave, only those who have realized that all reality is one and that the earth belongs to everyone, know the truth.  

In fact, as noted in the introduction to the Student Workbook, truth lies 180 degrees away from the just-listed common convictions of our white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist patriarchy.

So, to complete today’s exercise, give some thought to the 25 convictions I’ve listed. I’m sure you can think of others. Then as instructed by today’s lesson say to yourself, “This thought about _____ does not mean anything. It is like the things I see in this room, [on this street and so on].

I’ll see you here tomorrow to review Lesson 5.

For previous episodes on “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors,” please see my podcast site. Also, please consider purchasing a copy of A Course in Miracles, so you might really give it a try and better follow these podcast episodes.

Episode 11, Lesson 3: I Do Not Understand Anything at All about COP 26 or Climate Change

Welcome to Episode 11 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. And today we’ll examine together Part I, Lesson 3 of The Course’s Workbook for Students.

In the first part of the Workbook, we’ve been deconstructing our illusory understandings of the world. We’ve been imagining ourselves as residents in Plato’s Cave completely deceived by our culture, its educational system, by its advertising, its politicians, priests, and publicists. It’s all illusion.

In line with that insight, today’s lesson reads: “I do not understand anything I see in this room, [on this street, from this window, in this place].”

For purposes of this podcast and its concern with social justice, the lesson’s central idea might better be phrased, “As a captive in my culture’s version of Plato’s Cave, I do not understand anything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place.]”

Or: as a beneficiary of a system that is white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, and patriarchal, I understand nothing at all about the world.

The truth of this last phrasing was especially illustrated this morning on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” and its coverage of the 26th meeting of COP (Congress of Parties) on climate change. The meeting began today in Glasgow, Scotland.

Global South guests on this morning’s “Democracy Now” described it in scathing terms invisible to most of us who are even taking the trouble to notice that COP 26 is taking place. “Democracy Now’s” guests spoke of:

  • White Supremacy: They described the Glasgow gathering as “the whitest and the most privileged climate summit ever, with thousands from the Global South unable to attend because of lack of access to COVID vaccines and visa issues.”
  • Dysfunctional Capitalism: They added that the exclusion of participants from the Global South was intentional to silence their voices highly critical of specifically capitalist schemes such as carbon trading and “Net Zero Carbon Emissions” that will permit the world’s biggest “free market” polluters (mainly the United States) to continue business as usual. As a result the Paris Climate Accord goal of keeping global temperatures below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, will not only be missed, but global temperatures will reach the catastrophic level of 3 degrees above those pre-industrial measures.
  • Neo-Colonial Imperialism: The capitalist world’s business as usual includes ongoing subsidization of the fossil fuel industry and unabated plans for expanded oil drilling and pipelines across lands belonging to indigenous peoples. Unchanged business plans means that Africa’s 1.5 billion people who are responsible for about 3% of global warming will continue bear a vastly disproportionate share of climate change’s ravages. Those consequences will predictably turn the continent’s largely agrarian populations into impoverished climate refugees. The refugees will in turn be xenophobically excluded from seeking asylum in countries like our own.
  • Patriarchal Rule: Even though 60-80% of the non-industrialized world’s farmers are women, the ones making the decisions that will adversely affect their livelihoods are men like Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, and the predominantly male CEOs of fossil fuel corporations.   

In the light of all of this, Lesson 3 might well read, “I do not understand anything at all.” I don’t even know how white supremacy works because (as a white person) it works for me. I do not how capitalism works, because (as an American) it benefits me. For the same reason, I do not know how imperialism or patriarchy work.

In Plato’s Cave, I know nothing about climate change.

But guess who does know about climate change and how the world works for whites, capitalists, imperialists, and men. It’s those would-be delegates excluded from the Glasgow conference. It’s those spokespersons from the Global South who know the ins and outs of the real effects of carbon trading and “Net Zero” policies. It’s those poor women farmers made to bear the brunt of climate chaos.

It’s the poor who according to Christian faith (and Jesus’ voice in A Course in Miracles) constitute the site of God’s revelation of what’s wrong with the world and what to do about it. Indirectly, A Course in Miracles is asking us to listen to them – to the voices of the excluded who resonate with the voice of Jesus. The historical Jesus was one of them.

Think about those people from the Global South today as you repeat (almost as a mantram) the central expression of Lesson 3. As you focus randomly on whatever your eyes light upon, say “I do not understand anything I see in this room, [on this street, from this window, in this place].”

As you watch television, or read the paper say, “As a beneficiary of a system that is white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, and patriarchal, I understand nothing at all about the world.”

To access previous postings in this series on A Course in Miracles, please go to my podcast site.