Readings for the First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 63: 16B-17, 19B; 64: 2-7; Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19; I Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 33-37
Last week, Pope Francis wrote a beautiful Covid-19 reflection in the New York Times (NYT).
He recalled how the pandemic’s unsung heroes reminded him of his own brush with death when he was just 21 years old. At that tender age, he was hospitalized with a pulmonary infection that ultimately cost him part of a lung.
At the height of his crisis, two nuns working as nurses in his Argentine hospital ignored doctors’ prescriptions and doubled the dosage of penicillin and streptomycin in one case and increased his pain killers on the other. Their courage in doing so, the Pope is convinced, saved his life.
Generous, courageous souls like the two religious sisters who helped him then have reemerged, Francis noted, during the pandemic. They’re the “saints next door.” They’ve saved innumerable lives as nurses, doctors, caregivers. They’re the essential workers who in many countries have regularly been applauded at doorsteps and windows with genuine gratitude and awe.
The selflessness of such heroes has sometimes cost them their lives. But many among those champions sacrificed freely knowing as Francis put it, that “it is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call.” They represent the antibodies to an infection among us far more dangerous than Covid 19 – the virus of indifference.
Writing pointedly in the premiere U.S. newspaper, Francis identified that more dangerous virus with governments that have not put the well-being of their people first. Instead, they have “shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths.” They’ve pandered to groups opposing travel restrictions, social distancing and facemasks as if such measures constitute “some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom!” Francis said that worship of that kind of liberty has become for many a kind of ideology obstructing all understandings of common good.
In Francis’ view, such selfish shortsightedness shows that Covid-19 is merely one of the pandemics currently afflicting our planet. Hunger, violence and climate change are others. All of them lack perspective and generosity.
Responding effectively means attuning our sensibilities to the pain of others who have been deprived of life’s basic needs – work, food, housing and human dignity. Responding means recognizing that we’re never saved alone; we are bound by human solidarity and reciprocity.
Reading the pope’s words, I couldn’t help thinking of parallels between them and our readings for the first Sunday of Advent. Together, they call us to reverse course – to wake up from our collective stupor to the presence of what some call God in the neighbors, heroes and martyrs whom Francis’ words identify so poignantly.
What follow are my “translations” of the readings in question. Please check the originals here to see if I’ve got them right.
Isaiah 63: 16B-17, 19B; 64: 2-7
We have lost our way;
We’ve hardened our hearts;
We no longer even know
What faithfulness means.
We feel somehow unclean,
Polluted and aimless.
Yet, we long to see more deeply
To reality’s very heart
As never before.
Reunion with You, Divine Mother
Is what we ultimately crave –
To be refashioned
As if we were clay
In your lovely hands.
Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19
So, please show us your face.
Save us from ourselves.
Bring us home.
Your care for us
As a shepherd guarding her flock,
As a gardener tending her vine.
I Corinthians 1: 3-9
You’ve already done that
You’ve answered our prayer
In Yeshua, the Christ.
His loving kindness
And revolutionary teachings
Bring clarity, insight
And serene understanding.
Meaning to our communal lives.
Mark 13: 33-37
(Like the Buddha)
Yeshua commanded us
To wake up
What sleepers miss:
Constant divine manifestations
At our very doorstep
When we expect
Morning, noon and night.
Recently, the editorial board of OpEdNews (OEN) — where I’m a senior editor — opened an on-line thread about QAnon and similar right-wing political movements. In the course of the exchanges, editors criticized the latter simply as “conspiracy nuts” whose screeds should be banned from OEN.
After all, conspiratorial political analysis (often supported by odd mythologies, cosmologies and spiritualities) centralizes reptilian aliens. It ends up holding that the world is controlled by a cabal of pedophiles up to their necks in the business of human trafficking. The cabal is somehow associated with the “illuminati,” and with Luciferian Satan worship connected with the consumption of the adrenalized blood of trafficked children. For many, such references raise the specter of anti-Semitism.
Moreover, the conspiratorialists in question support President Trump as a champion of children victimized by such commerce. His actions on their behalf is demonstrated, they say, by his 20 executive orders intended to inhibit such traffic. His border wall is largely responsible for restraining it dramatically. All of this, they observe, is ignored by the corrupt mainstream media.
Additionally, QAnon and others of their stripe dismiss Covid-19 as a “plandemic” fabricated to “reset” the world economy even more in favor of its controlling one-percenters while intensifying their already oppressive management of the remaining 99%. Accordingly, mask mandates and social distancing measures should be resisted in the name of common sense and personal liberty.
Without enumerating them all, OEN editors wondered, what’s not to reject in such apparently unhinged allegations?
The point of the following is to answer that question. In fact, it will argue that in religious and historical perspective, the QAnon conspiracy theorists speak more truth than perhaps even they intuit. As we’ll see, the world has indeed been controlled for millennia by a Luciferian Satanic cabal headed by groups of Illuminati with many deeply engaged in the practice of worldwide pedophilia. What’s more, allegations of anti-Semitism though worrisome, often have the effect of protecting pedophiles and deflecting attention from the major business interest that the vice represents.
The values of those involved their opponents say, are so alien to decent people that the guilty ones might as well be invaders from another planet. They seem completely controlled by what psychologists call the primitive reptilian brain. Excluding higher brain functions, it fosters pathological obsession with money, power, pleasure and social status; it excludes empathy and compassion. Reptilian aliens indeed.
We’ll also see that none of the terms many find off-putting – not Lucifer, Satan or illuminati – is sinister, much less evil or self-evidently crazy. And there’s a certain sense in which both Satan and Lucifer have long been undeniably worshipped especially by all westerners including Christians and Jews. And finally, the existence of a controlling unelected cabal and a huge worldwide pedophilia ring is itself beyond question – as is the fact that the already rich are benefitting spectacularly from the coronavirus pandemic.
I want to make this case because realizing the elements of sanity in movements like QAnon opens the door to dialog and cooperation with those on the right whom progressives can too easily dismiss as one-dimensional conspiracy fanatics. Again, they’re not crazy. They’re mostly working-class people who like the rest of us know something’s deeply wrong with the world. They correctly grasp that what’s wrong involves the elite, widespread child abuse and human trafficking largely ignored by the mainstream media.
For starters, QAnon’s allegations of globally organized pedophilia reflect an undeniable fact. Personally, I know what I’m talking about, because as a former priest, it turns out that I was unwittingly inducted into what everyone now sees as a de facto global pedophilic ring impacting more than 1.2 billion people. I’m referring to the Roman Catholic child rapists systematically protected by colleagues, bishops and popes. Think about it: the phenomenon is worldwide; it’s pedophilic; its coverup constitutes a conspiracy. Saying so is not insane.
Additionally, as shown in the recently released McCarrick Report, the Catholic ring had connections to an even wider pedophilic practices among the world’s elite. Its iceberg tip as suggested (in the Epstein scandal) enjoyed connections with the CIA, mi5, mi6, Mossad, and mafias of various types throughout the world. It’s arguably linked to Hollywood, academia and governments across the planet.
Again, all of that is just the tip of a huge iceberg whose gargantuan proportions simply stand to reason. The case of the Catholic Church shows that the pedophilic appetite is there. And, of course, it’s not confined to the clergy. This means that there is big money to be made in the trafficking of children connected with general prostitution, massage parlors, pornography, stripping, live-sex shows, mail-order brides, the foster child system, military prostitution, sex tourism, body organ harvesting, and associated money laundering and blackmail operations.
(Just a microcosmic example. . . One trafficked girl can be forced to have sex with 10 to 15 men each day. A 2003 study in the Netherlands found that on average, a single sex slave like that can earn her procurers at least $250,00 a year. Needless to say, business models involving that kind of money are highly attractive to organized crime and others.)
And it is by no means a stretch to argue that government officials are involved in the traffic – not any more than to allege that they profit from and protect the drug trade and ancillary money-laundering. We know too much to deny that. We know about the CIA’s direct role in the Central American drug trade during the 1980s (and beyond), as well as the connections between Mexico’s drug cartels and police and government officials in Mexico.
Relatedly, ex-NSA officer and whistle blower, Bill Binney, has maintained in pubic interviews that employing his former bosses’ unprecedented surveillance technology, the NSA could easily keep track of, reveal, and take legal measures against the entire human trafficking network. He says that with ten people, he himself could within thirty days identify not only domestic enemies, but every traitor, every elite child molester, and every money-laundering white-collar criminal in the world.
So, it’s not unduly conspiratorial to allege that members of the world’s elite get together to conceive, plan and protect the operations involving children just listed. Again, we know too much about J. Edgar Hoover and his deals with mafia kingpins. In addition, the Epstein scandal itself and its implications of government officials, royals from various countries, the CIA, Israel’s Mossad, Catholic Church officials, and bankers for purposes of money-laundering, reveals a level of criminal planning that fulfills the very definition of conspiracy.
For instance, what do you think the world’s financial elite are doing during G7 and similar conferences? If it’s true that human trafficking is among the fastest growing enterprises in the world yielding billions to trillions in revenue each year, do you think they can avoid its discussion? If not involved in its day-to-day activities, bankers simply can’t avoid involvement in its money-laundering schemes? It would be insanely naïve to think otherwise.
Instead, it is perfectly sensible to affirm that a powerful faction of the world’s elite (if you don’t like the word “cabal”) is deeply involved in pedophilic and associated operations that are fostered, protected, and extended virtual immunity from prosecution. Their processes, procedures and crimes go virtually unreported in the mainstream media. (Think of how little we’ve heard from Ghislaine Maxwell since her arrest).
And it’s all connected with the “illuminati,” secret societies and conservative rejection of the same. Everything in the modern world is. That’s especially true in the United States whose very founders were children of the Enlightenment; they were illuminati. And in the 18th century, people like them had to form secret societies such as the Free Masons complete with identifying handshakes and passwords. They needed them simply to protect themselves from the Catholic Church establishment and their royal antagonists.
Additionally, and despite the spirit of the French Revolution, the illuminati worldwide had not yet entirely jettisoned belief in God. Instead, they were deists. They had largely rejected the Bible in favor of a “watchmaker divinity” who had created a self-governing, clock-like universe, set it spinning according to Newton’s laws and had not been heard from since. Many of the Founding Fathers of the United States were all illuminati in that sense.
Ironically and to this day, Christian fundamentalists find that kind of Founding Father secularism highly objectionable. They continue to mistrust science, evolution, psychotherapy, Marxist criticism, and modern biblical scholarship. No wonder the term “illuminati” retains sinister overtones for Republicans whose most powerful wing is comprised of white Christian evangelicals.
No wonder the latter can overlook the moral failings of Donald Trump and even see him as a messiah. Such apparent contradiction survives as one of our nation’s anti-intellectual cornerstones.
Satanic, Luciferian Cults
As for Lucifer and Satan . . . The Constantinian betrayal of the authentic Jesus tradition (during the 4th century CE) turned Christians generally into Satan worshippers. Paradoxically, it also had them vilifying Jesus who was originally identified as the Great Bearer of Light (Lucifer) for his liberating message that contradicted the world’s self-serving imperial morality.
To be more specific, the book of Job shows that the being called “Satan” was in Hebrew lore a prominent member of God’s heavenly court. In fact, Satan was originally the representative of the Persian Empire in those celestial precincts. (Evidently, it was impossible for the ancient biblical authors to believe that an entity as powerful as Persia could not find representation in the ultimate seat of power.) As the imperial advisor of Yahweh, Satan was the defender of empire’s law and order.
It was precisely this Satan whom Jesus repeatedly repudiated in the gospel accounts of his words and deeds (see Matthew 4:10 and Mark 8:33). In his tale about Jesus’ temptation in the desert, Luke (4:6) has Satan (now identified with the devil) showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and telling him “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” In other words, according to early Christian tradition, attainment of imperial power is dependent on Satan worship.
Jesus’ rejection of Satan’s offer was a rebuff to empire that reached its apotheosis in the Book of Revelation where (according to Apocalypse mythology) Satan and his imperial legions were expelled definitively from Yahweh’s heavenly realm (Revelation 12: 7-12).
Such rejection in the atmosphere of hated imperial Rome, led Jewish Christians to imagine Jesus as “Lucifer,” the bearer of light – the ancient world’s avatar consistently associated with the morning star, the planet Venus, and with human wisdom and liberation.
The point is that all of this was reversed when under Constantine a prevailing faction of church leaders agreed to exercise condominium with Rome over its vast empire. To do so, they had to in effect deify Satan and call him “God” while vilifying Jesus’ revolutionary spirit by demonizing Lucifer. Thus, Jesus’ antinomian, anti-imperial stance became heresy, while obedience to law and empire became orthodoxy.
So, even according to biblical texts, there is truth to the contemporary conspiratorial position that the world is run by worshippers of Satan.
Standard articles about QAnon and anti-Semitism begin by observing that the movement is not doctrinally anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, because of its denunciations of a world-controlling elite including figures such as George Soros and the Rothschilds, QAnon is often accused of that bigotry. Moreover, as we’ve seen, it and similar groups allege that the elite in question are connected to criminal enterprises that sometimes include the consumption of adrenalized blood by the so-called Satanists just referenced.
In the eyes of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and others, such criticisms and allegations, understandably evoke “anti-Semitic tropes” that are considered enough to justify labeling and dismissing those using them as basically anti-Semitic. However, (again, though understandable in the light of the Holocaust’s unspeakable horrors) the charges ignore at least six important factors:
Because of its frequent misapplication, the term “anti-Semitism” has been politicized almost to the point of meaninglessness. It has been used to discredit supporters of Palestinian rights, upholders of international law, members of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement as well as Jewish leaders such as Bernie Sanders and Noam Chomsky. The term has even been used to characterize those who do not completely endorse the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu.
In fact, Alan Dershowitz, longtime colleague of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, has already played the anti-Semite card.
Nevertheless, according to the Anti-Defamanation League, anti-Semitism is not a specific plank in Q-anon’s platform. Instead, while noting the earlier referenced trope allusions, the League has said “the vast majority of QAnon-inspired conspiracy theories have nothing to do with anti-Semitism.”
George Soros and the Rothschilds are integral parts of the one percent criticized by virtually all progressives without anti-Semitic overtones.
Anti-Semites can be found in almost any group one cares to name. Offending tropes (e.g. “eating of blood”) actually originated with the Roman Catholic Church, were shockingly given voice by Martin Luther, and were reprised by Lutherans and Catholics in Nazi Germany. Yet neither Luther nor most of the groups just mentioned are routinely dismissed as anti-Semitic.
The charge of anti-Semitism is frequently stretched to discredit allegations of worldwide trafficking in children as “conspiracy theory” thus protecting the traffickers involved.
In summary, all of this impedes honest discussion of human trafficking in general and pedophilia in particular. Such prevention has arguably been an important factor enabling individuals like Jeffrey Epstein, Alan Dershowitz, and Ghislaine Maxwell to spend decades freely engaging in the traffic of underage females.
None of the foregoing is meant to endorse QAnon or related so-called conspiracy theories. It is however to say that their adherents should not be dismissed out of hand. In fact, they occupy terrain that is largely friendly to progressives – despite their support of Donald Trump. For instance:
They are not our class enemies; we all belong to the working class
They are sworn enemies of the one percent.
They correctly recognize the alien, reptilian, and pathological nature of the world’s elite controllers
They call us to recognize our own identities as illuminati and as satanic insofar as we support empire
They absolutely and correctly distrust the mainstream media.
They are similarly and justifiably suspicious of government officials.
They specifically recognize that official responses to the pandemic are deeply unfair and therefore highly suspicious
Their moral concern for children, child abuse and human trafficking is completely admirable.
Realizing such areas of convergence makes dialog and cooperation possible. That in turn helps us overcome the divide and conquer strategies of our keepers who would have us believe that potential allies are irredeemable deplorables who should be excluded even from the revolutionary pages of OpEdNews.
Readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: EZ 34: 11-12, 15-17; PS 23: 1-3, 5-6; I COR 15: 20-26, 28; MT 25: 31-46.
This Sunday’s readings raise the central political question of our day: what is the purpose of government? Is it simply to protect the private property of the well-to-do? Or is it to sponsor programs to directly help the poor who (unlike their rich counterparts) cannot on their own afford adequate food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education – even if they are working full-time?
Currently, the idea that government’s task is to help corporations even it means hurting the poor, elderly, and newly arrived has been incarnated in Washington’s response to Covid-19. It has amounted to a giant give-away to billionaires including the president’s own family. Today’s poor, middle class and future generations will pick up the tab for that particular wealth redistribution upward.
Today’s readings reject all of that. And they do so on a specifically political liturgical day – the commemoration of the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” Yes, this is a political liturgy if ever there was one. It’s all about “Lords” and “Kings” and how they should govern in favor of the poor. It’s about a new political order presided over by an unlikely monarch – a king who was executed as a terrorist by the imperial power of his day. I’m referring, of course, to the worker-rebel, Jesus the poor carpenter from Nazareth.
Today’s readings promise that the rebel – the “terrorist” – Jesus will institute an order utterly different from Rome’s. That order recognizes the divine nature of immigrants, dumpster-divers, those whose water has been ruined by fracking and pipelines, the ragged, imprisoned, sick, homeless, and those (like Jesus) on death row. Jesus called it the “Kingdom of God.” It’s what we celebrate on this “Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe.”
(Btw: in the eyes of Jesus’ executioners, today’s commemoration would be as unlikely as some future world celebrating the “Solemnity of Osama bin Laden, King of the Universe.” Think about that for a minute!)
In any case, our readings delineate the parameters of God’s new universal political order. To get from here to there, they call governments to prioritize the needs of the poor and those without public power. Failing to do so will bring destruction for the selfish leaders themselves and for the self-serving political mess they inevitably cultivate.
Our first selection gets quite specific about that mess. There the prophet Ezekiel addresses the political corruption Lord Acton saw as inevitable for leaders with absolute power. Ezekiel’s context is the southern kingdom of Judah in the 6th century BCE. It found itself under immediate threat from neighboring Babylon (Iraq). In those circumstances, the prophet words use a powerful traditional image (God as shepherd) to inveigh against Israel’s pretentious potentates. In God’s eyes, they were supposed to be shepherds caring for their country’s least well-off. Instead, they cared only for themselves. Here’s what Ezekiel says in the lines immediately preceding today’s first lesson:
“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! . . . But you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.”
In other words, according to Ezekiel’s biblical vision, government’s job is to address the needs of the weak, the sick and the injured. It is to tenderly and gently bring back the wayward instead of punishing them harshly and brutally.
A great reversal is coming, Ezekiel warns. The leaders’ selfishness will bring about their utter destruction at the hands of Babylon.
On the other hand, Judah’s poor will be saved. That’s because God is on their side, not that of their greedy rulers. This is the message of today’s responsorial psalm – the familiar and beloved Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd. . . “) It reminds us that the poor (not their sleek and fat overlords) are God’s “sheep.” To the poor God offers what biblical government should: nothing but goodness and kindness each and every day. Completely fulfilling their needs, the divine shepherd provides guidance, shelter, rest, refreshing water, and abundant food. Over and over today’s refrain had us singing “There is nothing I shall want.” In the psalmist’s eyes, that’s God’s will for everyone – elimination of want. And so, the task of government leaders (as shepherds of God’s flock) is to eradicate poverty and need.
The over-all goal is fullness of life for everyone. That’s Paul’s message in today’s second reading. It’s as if all of humanity were reborn in Jesus. And that means, Paul says, the destruction of “every sovereignty, every authority, every power” that supports the old necrophiliac order of empire and its love affair with plutocracy, war and death instead of life for God’s poor.
And that brings us to this Sunday’s culminating and absolutely transcendent gospel reading. It’s shocking – the most articulate vision Jesus offers us of the basis for judging whether our lives have been worthwhile – whether we have “saved our souls.” The determining point is not whether we’ve accepted Jesus as our personal savior. In fact, the saved in the scene Jesus creates are confused, because their salvific acts had nothing to do with Jesus. So, they ask innocently, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”
Jesus’ response? “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
But more than personal salvation is addressed here. Jesus homage to Ezekiel’s sheep and shepherd imagery reminds us of judgment’s political dimension. So does Jesus’ reference to the judge (presumably himself) as “king.” And then there’s the church itself which centralizes this climactic scene precisely on this Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe. All three elements say quite clearly that “final judgment” is not simply a question of personal salvation, but of judgment upon nations and kingdoms as well. To reiterate: in Matthew’s account, the final judgment centralizes the political.
And what’s the basis for the judgment on both scores? How are we judged as persons and societies? The answer: on the basis of how we treated the immigrants, the hungry, ill-clad, sick, and imprisoned.
On that basis, Jesus’ attitude towards the United States as earlier described ought to be quite clear. It’s the same as Ezekiel’s when he predicted the destruction of Israel at the hands of Iraq:
“Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.”
Ironically enough, that “fire prepared for the devil and his angels” is today embodied in the west coast’s raging fires kindled by our mistreatment of Mother Nature – whom we routinely submit to the most horrendous form elder abuse.
Referencing his own text, Ezekiel might say, “You read it here first.”
Here in Connecticut, where we’ve been living these last three years, the non-denominational church that Peggy and I are aspiring to join is sponsoring a six-month “mindfulness dialog” on “Reimagining Religion.” About a dozen people are participating under the leadership of Danny Martin, a former Catholic priest and Thomas Berry scholar.
So far, I’ve found the whole experience both inspiring and a bit troubling. As I’ll explain below, the inspiration comes from a very thoughtful mindfulness dialog process itself. The trouble comes from the tendency of the process to overlook the proverbial elephant in the room in terms of contemporary political realities. Those realities have an imperial United States of America assuming exactly the international dominance to which Adolph Hitler aspired almost a century ago. In the prophetic spirit of the Judeo-Christian tradition, such development cannot be ignored or given second place by those wrestling with religion’s significance.
The Mindfulness Approach
To begin with, our approach to reimagining religion has three phases, connecting, exploring, and discovering:
Connecting involves our trying to pinpoint the human experiences that give rise to the religious impulse.
Exploring has us discussing that experience in the light of relevant texts such as poetry, essays or sacred scripture drawn from various traditions.
Discovering means answering the question, “What then must we do?”
In the connecting phase, we’re combing through our lives in terms of experiences of mystery, beauty, love, and oneness with nature. These, we’re finding, put many in the presence of the “mysterium tremendum” that evokes awe, reverence, adoration – and religious responses involving story and ritual.
The exploring stage has most turning to poetry and non-Christian texts in search of meaningful story. Participants seem to share the conviction that we need a “new story” to replace the one most of us have rejected. The latter was based on belief in an old white man in the sky. He evicted our first parents from their original paradise. He then sent his divine son to redeem sinful humankind so we might gain heaven and avoid hell. We need a better story; we all seem to agree.
As for discovery. . . Our whole experience has us thinking more deeply about changes in our lives based on loving family members and neighbors precisely as ourselves (because in some real sense they truly are us) and on reverence for nature.
That Troubling Elephant
My reservations about our approach so far concern our apparent reluctance to address what strikes me as the main God-related experience facing humankind today (at least in terms of the Judeo-Christian tradition).
That experience involves the worldwide oppression of the former colonies and their resulting experience of poverty, hunger, environmental destruction and war. That entire syndrome directly involves people like us, since our country, the United States of America, is principally responsible for the oppression just referenced. In the words of Martin Luther King, we are the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
To ignore such realities is analogous to German Christians in the 1930s overlooking the rise of fascism with its imperial ambitions and immediate persecution of communists, socialists, Jews, people of color, Roma, homosexuals, the disabled and immigrants. I can imagine the irrelevance of German Christians in 1933 gathering in a church basement to discuss reimagining religion. How would we judge them in that context if they focused primarily on their interior and interpersonal lives while Germany was ablaze and about to set the world itself on fire?
Of course, not all German Christians did that. In fact, in the face of fascism’s rise and Hitler’s establishment of his Third Reich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Confessing Church took on a project very like our own. As a result, just before his execution by the Nazis (for participating in a plot to assassinate der Fuhrer) Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison, advocated imagining “Christianity without religion.” That is, he wanted to reappropriate the faith of Moses and Jesus without the traditional trappings, rituals and language that narcoticized and blinded believers to the socio-political reality staring them square in the face.
The New Old Story
To my mind and in our analogous context, “connecting” should mean coming to grips with America’s role in creating the world that our system of political economy, neo-colonial ambitions, environmental devastation and militarism has set on fire. That in itself requires deep and serious study and discussion. It’s time to revisit official and competing stories of American history.
Then, “exploring” means linking the resulting new understandings with the authentic biblical narrative as revealed by modern scripture scholarship. Its relevance to the global circumstances I’m describing here is exceedingly clear. That’s because modern scholarship shows that the essence of the Judeo-Christian tradition does not centralize increasingly inapt Genesis mythologies. Instead, it tells a story of oppression and liberation that runs as follows:
Israel’s God first revealed himself by liberating slaves from Egypt.
He gave them a covenant to form a just community where widows, orphans, slaves and foreigners would be especially welcome.
Israel’s leaders often broke the covenant.
They were confronted by prophets who called them to task.
Repeatedly, Israel itself was victimized by surrounding empires – Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
In such circumstances, they were promised a new future by prophets who denounced mistreatment of the poor and announced a new future of deliverance from imperialism.
Jesus appeared in the tradition of the prophets.
He proclaimed a future kingdom where a new covenant would be in force.
His teachings on God’s Kingdom described a world where God would be king instead of Caesar.
He thus raised the hopes of the poor and the ire of the Jewish and Roman authorities.
So, they executed him.
His followers became convinced that he was somehow raised from the dead.
They formed a Kingdom community of faith, sharing all things in common.
Questions of the afterlife were left in God’s hands.
In the light of this narrative, answering the question “What then must we do?” takes on highly political and threateningly controversial features that few outside the former colonies are willing to address. That’s because most even there who drew the obvious political conclusions about opposing empire have been assassinated by the current imperial power that is absolutely intolerant of anti-imperial faith.
A Reimagined Creed
In the light of truths like the foregoing, in Jesus against Christianity, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer calls for reimagining fundamental Christian professions of faith such as the Apostles Creed. In concentrating on Jesus’ birth and resurrection, he says, they fail to honor the thrust of Jesus’ life towards resistance to domination systems, and identification with the poor and outcast.
But what forms would a reimagined creed take? Below are printed two responses to that question – the familiar Apostles Creed on the one hand and a reimagined form on the other. Personally, I find that the latter contributes mightily to our task of reimagining religion.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus
Christ, His only Son, Our Lord, who was
conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the
Virgin Mary, suffer under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried. He descended
into hell; the third day he arose again from
the dead. He ascended into heaven, sits at the
right hand of God, the Father almighty; from
thence he will come to judge the living and the
dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy
Catholic church, the communion of saints, the
forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the
body, and in life everlasting. Amen.
A Reimagined Creed
We believe in humankind
and in a world in which
it is good to live for all people
in love, justice, brotherhood and peace.
We must continually act out these beliefs.
We are inspired to do so, because we believe
in Jesus of Nazareth
and we wish to orient our lives to him.
In so doing, we believe that we
are drawn into the mysterious relationship
with the One, whom he called his father.
Because of our belief in Jesus
we make no claims to exclusivity.
We shall work together with others
for a better world.
We believe in the community of the faithful,
and in our task to be the salt of the earth
and the light of the world.
But all of this in humility
Carrying our cross every day.
And we believe in the resurrection
whatever it may mean. Amen.
Whenever I think of it, I’m drawn to the conclusion that my entire adult life has been devoted to reimagining religion. I was encouraged in that endeavor by my study and teaching of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and works. Whether we’re aware of it or not, Bonhoeffer’s represents the kind of prophetic faith our CT church group is trying to reimagine.
At the same time, I bear in mind the words and example of an outspoken mentor of mine during my graduate studies in Rome so many years ago. His name was Dan McGinn. Dan was about 15 years older than me. By his example, he taught me how to celebrate the Eucharist spontaneously and without written text.
In any case, Dan always said that if he were ever made bishop (There was absolutely no chance of that!) his episcopal motto under his coat of arms would read “No more bullshit.”
I’m tempted to recommend adopting Dan’s motto for ourselves as our church group tries to reimagine religion. While not exactly B.S., our traditional forms of belief (even the Apostles’ Creed) have been rejected as such by much of our world. Hence the relevance of our task.
What I’m suggesting here is that reappropriating the biblical story cited above and reformulating our creed accordingly would go a long way towards the culturally imperative assignment of making our faith relevant to the undeniable resurgence of fascism in our contemporary context.
Readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalms 128: 1-5; 1st Thessalonians 5: 1-6; Matthew 25: 14-30
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that Joe Biden won the presidency and that the reign of Donald Trump is more or less behind us. However, a Biden presidency is not going to cure what’s wrong with the U.S. economy.
That simple truth was underlined for me by Paul Jay’s interview of the brilliant economist and former Wall Street analyst, Michael Hudson who has written the insightful . . . And Forgive Them Their Debtsabout debt elimination and the biblical Jubilee Year.
Hudson and Jay discussed the de-industrialization of the United States whose economy has become dependent not on producing goods and services, but on the financial sector – on investments, banking, debt, stocks and bonds.
Industrialization vs. Financialization
Meanwhile, China, our country’s chief competitor, has a far healthier economic system that actually provides manufacturing jobs and a rising standard of living for its people. In our globalized economy, that’s possible, because industries are drawn to China by wages that are much lower than in the U.S.
Yet, even with low wages, the Chinese working class is prospering, because of the country’s centralized economy that provides health care gratis and free education for its people along with subsidized housing, food and transportation. Besides that, the nationalized Chinese banking system (absent the profit motive) can easily remedy any debt problems by simply writing down debts should that sector develop problems.
According to Hudson and Jay, catching up with China will be impossible for the United States as long as it continues embracing the neo-liberal capitalist model. For one thing, that arrangement finds it unthinkable to engage in long-term planning; it can’t see beyond projected returns on a quarterly basis. Among other liabilities, that makes it impossible, for example to cope with climate change, that demands anticipating weather events decades from now.
In fact, to actually compete with the centrally planned elements of China’s economy, the U.S. would have to follow systemic suit. However, its program of privatization, deregulation and tax reduction has America moving in the exact opposite direction.
Again, according to Michael Hudson, course correction would include the ideologically “impossible” steps of taming of wage spirals by:
Taking de facto central planning away from Wall Street and returning it into the hands of elected government officials
Raising taxes on the 1%
Nationalizing the banking system
Enacting a green new deal to provide productive, environment-saving jobs for the unemployed and under-employed
Providing free tuition for all post-secondary students
Forgiving the $1.5 trillion that students still owe for their educations, thus freeing them to actually buy homes, automobiles and other necessities
Nationalizing health care thus relieving both employers and employees from the burden of meeting the costs of medical treatment and pharmaceuticals
Both Jay and Hudson agreed that without some apocalyptic catastrophe and without transcending our hamstrung two-party system, the chances of taking such measures (even if Democrats had control of both houses of Congress) are nil. Consequently, China will continue to outstrip the United States economically and socially. Simply put, its system is more flexible than the neo-liberal model.
I bring all of that up because today’s readings contrast economies (like China’s) that prioritize the needs of people with those that primarily serve the already wealthy. The first type centralizes the role of women. The second is condemned in Jesus’ famous Parable of the Talents.
Here are my “translations” of the readings. You can find the originals here.
Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Deeply centered women are the anchors of the world – far more than the superficially beautiful and apparently charming. The value of virtuous women is beyond precious jewels. They not only benefit their own families with food and clothing; they also recognize and share what they have with the marginalized and poor. In fact, homemakers should be paid for housework and given high positions in government.
Psalms 128: 1-5
Whether they know it or not, such women and those they care for are blessed. They are following the Divine Mother’s path. The gardens they cultivate (actual and metaphorical) overflow with rich foods. Face it: they are responsible for the very continuance and prosperity of the human race. The men in their lives should honor them accordingly.
I Thessalonians 5: 1-6
Women’s pregnancy processes provide an apt image for the Divine Mother’s New World that we all anticipate. The enlightened among us (as opposed to those living in darkness) can already feel that the labor pangs are about to begin. Alert and clear-headed, the light-bearers stand ready like midwives to assist in the birthing.
Matthew 25: 14-30
Such assistance in service of our Mother’s New Reality calls for departure from business as usual – from a system that rewards the 1% who do no actual work, but who rely on investments that end up enriching the already affluent while further impoverishing and punishing the actually poor and exploited.
Parable of the Talents
As I was saying, the readings just reviewed are about economic systems – one that treats its beneficiaries like the family they are, the other that prioritizes money and profit. The first three readings from Proverbs, Psalms and 1st Thessalonians reflect the values of a tribal culture where women’s productive capacity was still highly valued.
On the other hand, Jesus’ Parable of the Talents centers on the male world of investment and profit-taking without real work. The story celebrates dropping out and refusing to cooperate with the dynamics of finance, interest and exploitation of the working class. Taken together, the readings put one in mind of the contrast between China’s people-oriented economy over against the U.S. profit-oriented system.
More specifically, Jesus’ parable contrasts obedient conformists with a counter-cultural rebel. The former invest in an economic system embodied in their boss – “a demanding person” the parable laments, “harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter.” In other words, like neo-liberal capitalism itself, the boss is a hard-ass S.O.B. who lives off the work of poor women farmers like the one celebrated in the Proverbs selection. The conformists go along with that system to which they can imagine no acceptable alternative.
Accordingly, the servant who is entrusted with five talents (more than 2 million dollars!) gains 2 million more and the one given two talents doubles his money as well.
Meanwhile, the non-conformist hero of the parable (like China) refuses to adopt a system where, as Jesus puts it, “everyone who has is given more so that they grow rich, while the have-nots are robbed even of what they have.” Because of his decision to drop out, the rebel suffers predictable consequences. Like Jesus and his mentor, John the Baptist, the non-conformist is marginalized into an exterior darkness which the rich see as bleak and tearful (a place of “weeping and grinding of teeth”). However, Jesus promises that exile from the system of oppression represents a first step towards the inauguration of the very kingdom of God. It is filled with light and joy.
In voting for Joe Biden on November 3rd, so many of us did so with a heavy heart. Yes, we understandably want our world rid of Donald Trump once and for all. And thank God he’ll soon be gone — at least temporarily.
But obviously, Trump is not the problem. As this reflection has suggested, the problem is a system that prioritizes the welfare of investors like the rich man in the Parable of the Talents. And we all know that Mr. Biden and his running mate have no intention of departing from that economic arrangement.
Biden and Harris can’t even imagine a mechanism that treats everyone like family members rather than as interchangeable clients.
Yet somehow, like Paul in the reading from Thessalonians, the enlightened among us can already feel that the labor pangs of the new world Jesus envisioned. Alert and clear-headed, we must commit ourselves to pushing the system in that direction – towards something reflective of Michael Hudson’s recommendations, towards the North Star Jesus called God’s Kingdom.
Hoping against hope, pushing the Biden administration down that path represents our challenge over the next four years.
Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wis. 6:12-16; Ps. 63: 2-3; I Thes. 4:13-18; Mt. 25:1-13.
Last Thursday, Juan Gonzalez of “Democracy Now” provided the best post-election analysis of voting trends that I’ve heard. It sharply departed from the conventional wisdom that, he said, routinely wonders about the “under performance” of black and brown voters in the just-completed general election.
Instead, Gonzalez pointed out that African American, Latinx, Chicanx, and even Native American voters stepped up in an unprecedented way with more of them voting than ever – and most of them, of course, casting their ballots for the Biden-Harris ticket.
True, he said, there was a 2% increase in the number of them voting for Donald Trump. But he pointed out, it’s not percentages that win elections, but actual votes cast. Gonzalez asked, “Would you rather have 70% of 12 million votes, or would you rather have 68% of 20 million votes?”
The real surprise, Gonzalez noted, was in the increase of white suburbanites – and especially white suburban women – who voted for Donald Trump. If anything, that was the real “under-performance” calling for further analysis.
Why is it that Republicans are increasingly becoming America’s “White Party” with white women exhibiting decreasing difference in their voting preferences from white men who actually shifted a bit away from Trump? And why do so many Christians continue to support someone like DJT?
Gonzalez answer? There is a surprisingly significant number of Americans – white, black, Latinx, gay, straight, atheist and Christian – who are quite comfortable with Donald Trump’s imperialist message of “America First” global dominance. Whether they’re aware of it or not, they (at least subconsciously) don’t want the sun to set on the declining U.S. empire. So, they respond positively to imperialism’s conventional wisdom of maintaining “full spectrum dominance” over the rest of the world. It’s an American thing divorced from any “identity politics.”
I bring all of that up because today’s readings call attention to the difference between the conventional wisdom that Gonzalez decried and the radical wisdom of Jesus the Christ who had no time for empire or for making Rome or even Israel great again.
To show what I mean, here are my “translations” of the day’s selections related to Jesus’ profound wisdom – with a surprise twist in today’s Gospel parable of “The Wise and Foolish Virgins.”
There, the anonymous and conservatively Jewish evangelist called “Matthew” turns the unconventionally wise Jesus into a teacher of the world’s conventional wisdom of taking care of #1. In effect, he transforms Jesus from what we might call a “progressive” (or what I would call an anti-imperialist “radical”) into something like a contemporary Republican. No wonder today’s Christians feel comfortable supporting Donald Trump!
Please read to original texts here to see if I’m exaggerating. The first three readings reflect Jesus’ approach to wisdom. The last one seems to contradict it.
Wisdom 6: 12-16
Goddess-like Wisdom is easily encountered by those who seek her out. In fact, she lovingly looks for us even before we start our search for her. She is nearer to us than our jugular veins. Honoring her is actually the height of informed intelligence. You might say that human beings are naturally wise.
Psalms 63: 3-8
Whether we know it or not, wisdom is our shared quest. It’s more valuable than life itself. Without wisdom our lives are parched, meaningless and deprived. Wisdom’s nourishment brings us gladness and everlasting joy.
I Thessalonians 4: 13-18
But what about those who die before achieving the full enlightenment offered by wisdom’s goddess? Have their lives been wasted? “No,” says St. Paul. Mysteriously, even they will be enlightened by the same cosmologically irresistible powers that were manifested in the person, life and teachings of the master of wisdom, Jesus the Christ. This is no idle fantasy, though the hopeless claim it is.
Matthew 25: 1-13
Even the evangelist called Matthew found Jesus’ unconventional wisdom about sharing to be a bit much. So, in his version of Jesus’ parable about the wise and the foolish bridesmaids,” he turned Jesus into a teacher of a conventional wisdom that the world could more easily endorse. “Take care of yourself first,” he has Jesus teach in his story. “Your selfishness will be rewarded,” Jesus seems to say. ‘Foolish people – especially thoughtless women – will be shut out of God’s kingdom, just as they deserve.”
Let me say a bit more about the parable that tries to domesticate Jesus. It’s about those who embody the characteristics of wisdom described in the first reading – the wise virgins. It is also about those who lack such qualities – the foolish bridesmaids. The wise ones brought enough oil to keep their lamps alight while they waited to escort an unexpectedly delayed bridegroom to his ritual rendezvous with his intended. The foolish ones made no such provision.
Obviously, this is a women-oriented story. And that’s quite fitting for exploring the topic of wisdom traditionally identified as feminine – almost as a goddess. The story is full of wisdom symbols: not only wise and foolish virgins, but wedding feasts and bridegrooms, sleeping and waking, lamps, oil and light, closed and locked doors. All of these are archetypes. Their richness suggests an enlightened storyteller; it suggests someone like Jesus.
And yet there are also elements in today’s gospel that suggest a voice that does not belong to the prophet from Nazareth. For one thing, this is perhaps the only instance in the gospels where women are presented in a negative light. Here I’m thinking of the foolish bridesmaids. Throughout the Gospels, women appear consistently in a positive light. It seems Jesus took care not to reinforce the prejudice against them that so endemic to his deeply patriarchal culture – and to our own.
For another, this parable doesn’t contain any of the reversals or “unconventional wisdom” that we’ve come to associate with Jesus’ teachings and method of story-telling. Parables, you’ll recall, are stories which present a problem meant to engage their audiences. They do so by addressing a real-life concern (often expressed in a question presented by one of Jesus’ opponents). Typically, Jesus’ answer turns the tables on the questioner surprising him with some version of Jesus’ great dictum: “The first will be last and the last first.” Think of the “Good Samaritan” or the “Prodigal Son.” We don’t find any of those kind of surprises in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.
On the contrary, instead of unconventional wisdom and surprising reversals, we find that this story concludes with a highly conventional moral. It’s embodied in the strange refusal of the wise virgins to share their oil with the foolish ones. Again, the lesson seems to be “Be prepared and take care of #1. Let the improvident take care of themselves and reap the consequences of their ‘foolishness’.”
Of course, that runs counter to a theme that earliest Gospel traditions firmly centralize, namely that of sharing even in the face of scarcity. As you recall, that motif appeared in the feeding of the 5000 in Mk. 6:30-44 and in the feeding of the 4000 in 8:1-10. Both instances embodied a “miracle enough” made possible because Jesus inspired people to overcome selfishness and share the little they had. The surprise was that in sharing scarce resources (five loaves and two fishes) there was more than enough for all.
The bottom line here is that Matthew seems to have domesticated Jesus – as I said, making him very Republican-like.
Last week in OpEdNews, RJ Piers wrote an extremely insightful article called “Letting Go of Christianity During the Trump Era.” There the author recalled years of commitment to a Christian faith that required faithful observance of conventional morality centered around avoidance of drinking, drugs and premarital sex.
In the light of his abstinence, the author found it more than disappointing to see Christians rallying around a character like Donald Trump with his three marriages, assaults on unsuspecting women, and separations of children and babies from their mothers and fathers. For Piers (as for so many of us), Christian faith was all about conventional morality. And to see Christians deserting that morality to endorse someone like Trump was enough to suggest his own abandonment of Christian faith itself.
Personally, I found the argument intriguing.
However, even a casual reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus was not about such conventional expectations. His focus wasn’t drinking, drugs, or premarital sex. On the contrary, he transgressed community moral standards at every turn. He repeatedly broke the sacred Sabbath law, forgave a woman caught in flagrante with an anonymous man, was accused of being a drunkard and friend of prostitutes, intermingled with despised foreigners, heretics, and n’er do wells. He finished his own life completely disgraced on death row, a victim of torture and of a form of capital punishment specifically reserved for enemies of Roman imperialism.
Remembering all of that is important not only for helping us see how churches have followed Matthew’s lead in domesticating Jesus. It also helps us see Jesus for who he was despite that process of normalization that began less than two generations after his assassination.
Matthew’s parable of the ten bridesmaids is a case in point. Ironically, its domestication of the radical Jesus juxtaposed with the rest of today’s readings calls us to return to the master’s unconventional wisdom. That wisdom rejects obsession with conventional morality.
Again ironically, Matthew’s attempts at taming Jesus remind us of the master’s more important focus. As shown by his crucifixion, it must have been on politically radical rebellion against the kind of imperialism that Juan Gonzalez correctly suggests has seduced so many of our fellow citizens despite their claims to be followers of Jesus the Christ.