This is the first song I ever played in public. That was back in 1965 when I was still in the seminary, a year before I was ordained. On our patron saint’s feast day, St. Columban’s Day (November 23rd), we always put on some kind of show. “Old timers” (far younger than I am now) would sing their favorite songs. I remember that our moral theology prof, Tom McElligott, would sing “Mick McGuire” every year. Well, believe it or not, on this particular St. Columban’s Day, I had the gall to perform this little ditty. Later on, it became my signature party piece. I’ve done it a million times. (Still can’t get it exactly right!)
Readings for First Sunday of Lent: Dt. 26: 4-10; Ps. 91: 1-2; 10-15; Rom. 10: 8-13; Lk. 4: 1-13.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent – the annual 40-day process of repentance and purification leading up to Easter (April 4th).
The readings for this Sunday begin on a strong political note. In fact, the Gospel selection issues a powerful summons for all of us to divest of all loyalty to U.S. empire. It reminds us that unless we do so, we end up worshipping Satan instead of God (or Source or the Ground of Being, or the Great Mother) however we might imagine Her.
Put more starkly, the snippet from Luke’s account of Yeshua’s temptation in the desert confronts us with the fact that QAnon is unwittingly correct in saying that the world is run by a cabal of Satan worshippers. It’s governed by a gang best described by OpEdNews’ editor in chief, Rob Kall, as “the devil’s Christians.”
I mean, the readings identify the worship of Satan as a prerequisite for endorsing empire of any kind – be it Rome’s or that of the United States.
The story of Yeshua’s temptation makes it clear that the Master rejected all of that. Even more shocking: subsequent history shows that his “followers” embraced fervently what he rejected so unequivocally. As a result, those pretending to follow Yeshua have been worshipping Satan since at least the 4th century of our era.
To illustrate my point, consider first of all the extent of U.S. empire and secondly the narrative under consideration. Then draw your own conclusions.
The best source I’ve come across for detailing the current extent of U.S. empire is Daniel Immerwahr, a professor of history at Northwestern University. A few years ago, he published a book called How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States. It describes the actual extent of U.S. empire that remains hidden even, as Immerwahr notes, from PhD historians.
Begin with his description of the occult U.S. realm that so concerns him. Immerwahr traces its inauguration to the period immediately after our country’s founding. It was then that settlers incorporated territories seized (in clear violation of treaties) from Native Americans.
Then in 1845, the U.S. absorbed nearly half of Mexico – Texas first and then [after the Mexican American War (1846-’48)], what became Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. By the end of the 19th century, the U.S. had added Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, and Wake Island.
If we add to this the implications and actual invocation of the Monroe Doctrine (1823) in order to control the politics of Latin America, we can see forms of U.S. colonialism consistently extending throughout the western hemisphere.
Coups in Africa [e.g. Congo (1961), Ghana (1965), Angola (1970s), Chad (1982)] established U.S. hegemony there. Similar interventions in the Middle East (e.g., Iran in 1953) along with the establishment of Israel and Saudi Arabia as a U.S. proxies controlling political economy throughout their region established United States control there.
Factor in the 800 U.S. military bases peppered across the world and one’s understanding of our empire’s extent expands exponentially. (Immerwahr notes that Russia, by contrast has 9 such bases; the rest of the world has virtually 0).
To understand the sheer numbers involved, think of our continued military presence in South Korea (35,000 troops) Japan (40,000), and Germany (32,000). Besides this, of course, there are the active troops who daily kill civilians and destroy property in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere. In total we’re told that there are about 165,000 troops deployed in 150 countries throughout the world – though, in the light of what I’ve just recounted, even that number seems vastly understated.
In any case, all of that describes an extensive, highly oppressive, and extremely violent American Empire.
And our leaders are proud of it. Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson thought of colonialism as marvelous. However, by the first decade of the 20th century, politicians became increasingly uncomfortable with “the ‘C’ word,” and exchanged references to colonies for the gentler euphemism, “territories.”
But whatever name we give it, the reality of U.S. empire stands in sharp contrast to today’s Gospel reading and its description of Yeshua’s basic proclamation with its negative judgment on empire and colonialism.
Yeshua Rejects Empire
As a prophet and actual victim of empire, Yeshua made his fundamental proclamation not about himself or about a new religion. Much less was it about the afterlife or “going to heaven.” Instead, Jesus proclaimed the “Kingdom of God.” That phrase referred to what the world would be like without empire – if Yahweh were king instead of Rome’s Caesar. In other words, “Kingdom of God” was a political image among a people unable and unwilling to distinguish between politics and religion.
According to Yeshua, everything would be reversed in God’s Kingdom. The world’s guiding principles would be changed. The first would be last; the last would be first (MT 20:16). The rich would weep, and the poor would laugh. Prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the Kingdom, while the priests and “holy people” – all of them collaborators with Rome – would find themselves excluded (MT 21:31). The world would belong not to the powerful, but to the “meek,” i.e., to the gentle, humble and non-violent (MT 5:5). It would be governed not by force and “power over” but by compassion and gift (i.e., sharing).
That basic message becomes apparent in Luke’s version of Jesus’ second temptation described in today’s Gospel episode. From a high vantage point, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth. Then he says,
“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.”
Notice what’s happening here. The devil shows Yeshua an empire infinitely larger than Rome’s – “all the kingdoms of the world.” Such empire, the devil claims, belongs to him: “It has been handed over to me.” This means that those who exercise imperial power do so because an evil spirit has chosen to share his possession with them: “I may give it to whomever I wish.” The implication here is that Rome (and whoever exercises empire) is the devil’s agent. Finally, the tempter underlines what all of this means: devil-worship is the single prerequisite for empire’s possession and exercise: “All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
However, Yeshua responds,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Here Yeshua quotes the Mosaic tradition summarized in Deuteronomy 26 to insist that empire and worship of Yahweh are incompatible. Put otherwise, at the very beginning of his public life, Yeshua declares his anti-imperial position in the strongest possible (i.e. scriptural) terms.
Christians Embrace of Empire
Now fast forward to the 4th century – 381 CE to be exact. In 313 Constantine’s Edict of Milan had removed from Christianity the stigma of being a forbidden cult. From 313 on, it was legal. By 325 Constantine had become so involved in the life of the Christian church that he himself convoked the Council of Nicaea to determine the identity of Yeshua. Who was he after all – merely a man, or was he a God pretending to be a man, or perhaps a man who became a God? Was he equal to Yahweh or subordinate to him? If he was God, did he have to defecate and urinate? Seriously, these were the questions!
However, my point is that by the early 4th century the emperor had a strong hand in determining the content of Christian theology. And as time passed, the imperial hand grew more influential by the day. In fact, by 381 under the emperor Theodosius, Christianity had become not just legal, but the official religion of the Roman Empire. As such its job was to attest that God (not the devil) had given empire to Rome in exchange for worshipping Yahweh (not the devil)!
By this process, the devil actually became the Christian God!
Do you get my point here? It’s the claim that in the 4th century, Rome presented church fathers with the same temptation that Yeshua experienced in the desert. But whereas the Great Master had refused empire as diabolical, the prevailing faction of 4th century church leadership embraced it as a gift from God. In so doing they also said “yes” to the devil worship as the necessary prerequisite to aspirations to control “all the kingdoms of the world.” Christians have been worshipping the devil ever since, while calling him “God.”
On the contrary, today’s readings insist that all the kingdoms of the world belong only to God. They are God’s Kingdom to be governed not by “power over,” not by dominion and taking, but by love and gift. Or in the words of Yeshua, the earth is meant to belong to those “meek” I mentioned – the gentle, humble, and non-violent.
Yet, as Dr. Immerwahr attests, those very people living in the West’s former colonies in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia are exactly the ones ceaselessly victimized by the empire historians have so well-hidden from our consciousness.
As described in Immerwahr’s How to Hide an Empire, colonialism and neo-colonialism are diabolic abominations in the eyes of Yeshua’s God. They represent nothing less than a system or robbery currently bent on confiscating the rich resources of the Global South. Authentic followers of Christ can never support such depredations.
The conclusion is inescapable. QAnon is right! The world is in fact run by a cabal of Satanists from the halls of the Vatican to the White House, to the Supreme Court and all those Christians who serve the interests of empire under the aegis of our nation’s armed services and the military-industrial complex. All of them have become the devil’s Christians.
On this First Sunday of Lent, we should pray sincerely and work tirelessly for the defeat of such an abominable system.
Forgive me if Covid-19 isolation is finally getting to me. But (like many of you, I’m sure) I find there are just so many things to be upset about these days. So, let me relieve the pressure and mention just three: the attack on the capitol, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R Ga.), and the Super Bowl.
Did you see the film presented by the Democratic impeachment team last Tuesday? If not, click on the video above. I found that collage both disgusting and perversely empowering. On the disgusting side:
- It was ultimate proof of white privilege, wasn’t it?
- I mean, during BLM protests right-wing media and Republicans were outraged when some businesses were set on ablaze.
- However, those same media along with those Republican officials – the very ones under attack during the insurrection – find excuses to downplay white supremacists ravaging the nation’s congress. Can you believe that?
- Imagine if the insurrectionists were black, armed and destroying capitol property – roaming about looking for officials to kill.
- Don’t tell me that a lot of black protestors wouldn’t have been shot.
- We’d never hear the end of it.
- For sure, police protection would have been much heavier. (If you’ve been to DC during protests, e.g., against the war in Iraq, you know the place is always absolutely crawling with cops lining the streets in phalanx dressed in heavy riot gear just waiting to pounce.)
- Or what if the insurrectionists had been Muslims? We’d be bombing some poor country like Yemen right now in self-righteous response.
- And what about all that money DC (and every other city in this great country of ours) spends on policing? You mean, they couldn’t prevent that fiasco?
Nonetheless, while disagreeing with its cause, I somehow felt rebelliously good about the insurrection.
- It showed that revolution is possible — what it would look like if we followed the advice of Thomas Jefferson about regular citizen uprisings.
- I loved the thought of Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi (and Mike Pence!) hiding under their desks.
- Their lives shouldn’t be threatened, but they do need to be afraid of us. They’re not. And disgracefully, beneficiaries of white privilege are the only ones at this historical juncture whom the system allows to intimidate irresponsible politicians.
- I mean, Pelosi and McConnell are not our friends.
- Neither are Biden and Harris.
- And of course, neither is Trump.
- None of them represents us; they exclusively represent their donors.
- They won’t even consider universal health care during an actual pandemic. They refuse to keep campaign promises to increase the minimum wage to $15 and to send out $2000 (not $1400!) checks when so many have been out of work for nearly a year.
- Yes, those were democratic campaign promises! It’s how they won Georgia.
- They lied!
- No wonder people are angry.
And don’t get me started about U.S. congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R Ga).
- So, she wants Obama executed?
- She’s called for the murder of Nancy Pelosi – specifically with a bullet to the head?
- Imagine if Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib had said that about Mitch McConnell — a bullet to his head.
- Even if you or I uttered such monstrosities, SWAT teams would be at our doors right now with battering rams.
- But she’s allowed to continue serving as a government official.
- Double standards, anyone?
- White privilege?
The Super Bowl
And then there’s the Super Bowl with white people complaining about the NFL’s predominantly black workforce calling attention to wanton police murders of their unarmed racial counterparts.
- Whites’ response to the reduced Super Bowl TV audience? Too much mixture of politics and sports. “Get woke. Go broke,” they say.
- They ask, “Why politicize a football game?”
- Good, that’s what I say! In fact, I’ve been saying it for years. I mean why play the National Anthem, “honor our troops,” and normalize war with special flyovers of air force weapons of mass destruction (aka fighter planes) at every major sports event you care to name? What’s the connection? I don’t get it. (Imagine if your boss had you stand for the National Anthem before work each day.)
- At least Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) is on the right page on this one. He’s decided to eliminate playing the “Star Spangled Banner” before any home games. Good idea, Mark. If everyone followed suit, it would save me from wondering whether to stand or not.
- And thanks Colin Kaepernick!
Of course, my cabin fever list could go on and on. So could yours, I’m sure.
Readings for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Job 7: 1-7; Psalm 147: 1-6; 1 Cor. 9: 16-19, 22-23; Mark 1: 29-39.
Tomorrow, 6,000 Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama will vote on unionization. Of course, their decision will affect workers throughout Amazon’s mammoth enterprise – most of them non-white. The company employs 798,000 full-and part-time employees. In 2019, its net revenues were around $280.5 billion. Its CEO, Jeff Bezos, is himself worth about $184 billion. He’s the second richest man on the planet.
Work at Amazon
Despite company profits and the wealth of its chief, there’s good reason for the unionization drive including alienated labor resulting from:
- Low pay: Recently, Amazon raised its wages to $15 per hour. It also extended to its workers a $2 per hour bonus for “heroic” service during the pandemic. However, the company has since removed that extra pay in the light of its claims that the pandemic’s severity has diminished. Amazon workers dispute that assertion, while maintaining that $15 per hour remains inadequate remuneration for their heavy workloads. And besides, Amazon workers’ unprecedentedly profitable production increases during the pandemic need due reward.
- Intense surveillance of workers: Sophisticated AI technology tracks every move of each Amazon worker – to such an extent that those not meeting production goals can be threatened with imminent job termination by a robot without intervention from a human supervisor.
- Union-busting: That same sort of technology makes sure that workers on break do not congregate for purposes of conversation related to union organizing. Those caught engaging in such exchanges have been summarily fired.
- Wage theft: Last Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission fined Amazon $61.7 million for actually stealing tips from Amazon’s Flex drivers over a two and a half-year period. Flex drivers are hourly workers who receive no benefits and use their own cars to make deliveries.
- Dangerous working conditions: Work at Amazon is three times as dangerous as employment across the private sector and twice as dangerous as warehouse work in general. 911 records show that on the job mental episodes and even suicides are common in the Amazon workplace.
- PR to the contrary: The Amazon website proclaims that it supports the Black Lives Matter movement. However, according to Amazon’s largely non-white workforce, the items just listed tell another story.
I bring all of this up, because this Sunday’s readings suggest themes of work, overwork, and low pay. They implicitly compare the alienated work of “hirelings” and “slaves” to that of the self-chosen pro bono work done by Yeshua and Paul in service of the poor. Both types of work are exhausting. But one is human, the other not.
What I’m driving at is reflected in my translations of these thoughtful readings about work. Please check out the originals here:
Job 7: 1-7: Joining Job On his stinking POS Wage workers know That life is hard When a plague requires Months of misery Sleepless nights Overtime work And hopeless days That drain their lives And have them wondering If they’ll ever Smile again. Psalm 147: 1-6: Brokenhearted, Some look to “God” And still find words Of prayer, Praise and thanks That transform Even bricklayers’ Tattered blueprints Into transcendent plans Of infinite intelligence, Power, and wisdom That one day will find Bosses humiliated And poor workers Finally earning Their just wage. 1 Cor. 9: 16-19, 22-23: Paul’s proud labor Was teaching Which he too found Underpaid and driven As he gave hope to Those too poor to pay Just as his Master had In order to help them Regain that grin. Mark 1: 29-39: Yes, Jesus too Worked hard As a day-laborer Become faith healer First of his friend’s Feverish in-law And then Of the insane And those afflicted With unnamed infection Of every type. Sustained by prayer At early dawn, He too soon returned To his tireless grind As a selfless Pro bono physician Without borders.
Alienated Labor or Not
Do you see what’s happening in those readings?
The first one from the Book of Job indirectly reveals reluctant wage labor (a la Amazon) to be like sitting on top of Job’s famous pile of excrement (Job 2: 8-13). It’s pure drudgery. It’s slavery. Its misery leads to sleepless nights, and a shortened life entirely deprived of happiness.
By way of contrast, the second and third readings describe unalienated labor. In both the case of Paul and Yeshua, the work is completely exhausting and without monetary remuneration – but by their own choice. (The gospel reading’s description of a typical “day in the life” of Yeshua the Christ is actually quite detailed. It’s up in the early morning for prayer and then dealing with a constant stream of impoverished peasants seeking relief from diseases both mental and physical. Then it’s on to the next town for a round of the same – all without charge.)
Of course, the difference between the work Job’s text references and that of Yeshua and Paul is that the latter determined their own workload and pace of activity. They exhausted themselves because they freely chose to do so – not in the service of a distant wealthy slavedriver like Bezos, but in service to Life Itself.
Though union organizers don’t put it this way, that’s the ideal of the labor union movement – a humanized workplace, where workers have voice and some control over conditions in the place where they spend fully half of their waking hours.
As economists like Richard Wolff point out, an even more humanized workplace would be run entirely by workers. They’d determine for themselves every aspect of their workday – what to produce, where to produce it, the pace of work, and what to do with the profits. In such a cooperative there’d be no alienation, no intense surveillance, no dangerous working conditions, no underpayment or wage theft.
Naturally, all of us have to work. But exhausting labor too (like that of Yeshua and Paul) can bring a sense of joy and participation in creation of the universe like that described in today’s responsorial, Psalm 147.
Even work for Amazon could be dignified – absent the intense surveillance, constant race against the clock, low pay, and wage theft at the hands of one of the wealthiest companies in the world run by the globe’s second richest man. That sort of work can and does drive people over the edge even to the point of suicide.
The efforts by Alabama’s Amazon employees to unionize represent an attempt by wage earners to humanize all of that harshness. Within the capitalist system as we know it, unionization is the closest workers can get to escape slave-like conditions and completely alienated labor. The real humanization however would come from transforming the workplace into a cooperative where employees would be self-empowered.
As always, the call of today’s readings is to do what our faith tells us the Great Father-Mother God did: become human. In today’s instance that means humanizing the workplace. That means opposition to Amazon’s exploitation of workers. It implies support of unions everywhere. It suggests support of the co-op movement.
Religion is in extremis – on its deathbed; it’s breathing its last.
That’s the unmistakable conclusion reached by Dr. Ronald Inglehart, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Michigan. He was interviewed recently by OpEdNews editor-in-chief, Rob Kall.
Over the last 40 years, Inglehart has overseen a study of the worldwide viability of religious belief and practice in every inhabited continent on the planet. The work of his international World Values Research Team has covered the beliefs of 90% of our globe’s inhabitants.
The survey’s results have been published in Inglehart’s new book, Religion’s Sudden Decline: What’s Causing It and What Comes Next. And if Rob’s interview is any indication, it shouldn’t be missed.
I say that as a liberation theologian whose discipline has long anticipated the conclusions reached by the World Values Survey.
Let me explain.
Religion’s Sudden Decline
Personal experience (even with our own children) tells most of us that despite the dominance of white evangelicals over the Republican party, and despite the claim of most Americans to “believe in God,” religion has largely lost its power.
What’s surprising about Inglehart’s study, however, is its claim that the decline has reached a “tipping point” over the last ten years.
That is, after a post WWII surge in religious fervor from 1947 through the early 1950s, disaffection with religion has gradually increased not only within the U.S. population, but worldwide. Over the last decade, it has reached an epidemic point of no return. That’s what “tipping point” means.
All of that raises the question of the meaning Inglehart assigns “religion,” and (for me) that meaning’s relationship to liberation theology.
For Inglehart, religion represents a cross-cultural survival mechanism found in every human community on the planet. In the face of their overwhelming insecurity in the face of wild animals, famine, wars, unpredictable weather patterns, and high infant mortality rates, humans have traditionally sought refuge in religion’s moral order that ensured most prominently survival of the species. The resulting morality of survival mandated:
- Large families
- That women’s bodies be controlled as “baby factories”
- That they stay at home and care for their offspring
- That human morality adopt a prohibition of birth control, abortion, divorce, and unproductive sexual behaviors such as homosexuality
However, with the advent of modern medicine, decline in infant mortality, and the emergence of the welfare state, such restrictions became unnecessary. The role of women changed.
And with that mutation, the door almost imperceptibly began to swing open towards a world without religion. That new context even showed signs of accepting non-binary sexuality.
Another factor contributing to that liberation has been the progressive decline of authoritarian government and the spread of democracy. Inglehart recalls that ancient hunter-gatherer tribal societies were more egalitarian. (For more than 50,000 years they worshipped female goddesses.)
However, with the rise of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, power became increasingly centralized in palaces and manors while the majority of the world’s population remained disaggregated and relatively powerless.
To maintain that situation, kings, royal classes, emperors, popes, and priests emerged. They hijacked the more democratic popular religious beliefs and practices of matricentric societies. Increasingly, the divine was imagined as masculine.
The resulting patriarchy used religion to shore up its power and to justify the consequent wealth disparities. This entailed creating and invoking their “divine right” which enabled the minority of rich and powerful patriarchs not only to rule over their inferiors at the local level, but (where possible) to impose their sway over weaker neighboring peoples in the form of empires. The point of it all was to transfer wealth from the weak to the strong.
Once again, on Inglehart’s analysis, the decline of empires following the Second Inter-Capitalist War simultaneously undermined the reigning political order and religious beliefs in the ideological remnants of that dispensation. No more divine right of kings.
Moreover, the decline in question was accompanied by new conceptualizations of governments’ very purpose and the emergence of the welfare state. No longer was the state’s raison d’etre to be defined from the top-down. Instead, (as Rob Kall says) it became a “bottom-up” affair.
Increasingly (and most successfully in Scandinavian countries) the point became (at least modest) wealth transfer from the top to the bottom and the provision of free health care and education, along with subsidized housing and transportation.
In other words, as Inglehart would have it, the rapid decline of religion’s influence was due to liberation movements in general – most prominently, to the women’s liberation movement and anti-colonialism – that have swept the planet since the Second Inter-Capitalist War.
All of that brings us to liberation theology and its alternative reconceptualization of religion.
In its Christian form (and there are parallels in Judaism, Islam, engaged Buddhism, etc.) liberation theology is reflection on the following Yeshua the Christ from the viewpoint of the poor and oppressed committed to the collective improvement of their lives economically, politically, socially and spiritually.
Put otherwise, liberation theology is a champion of anti-imperialism, and anti-colonialism. It is pro-women’s liberation and stands on the side of the LGBTQ movement. In that sense, it is anti-religion as understood by Dr. Inglehart’s study. It welcomes the death of traditional faith.
Moreover, liberation theology’s critical approach to the Bible (along with 90% of biblical scholars over the last century) recognizes the “battle of the gods” implicitly described by the World Values Survey.
Its understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition exposes the class struggle over the biblical God within the pages of the Bible itself. Fundamentally, the conflict pitted the God of Moses against the God of David and the royal classes.
More specifically, the Moses tradition celebrated the liberation of slaves from Egypt as its foundational event. Slave liberation led to a loose confederation of nomadic tribes whose decentralized religious “covenant” prioritized the rights of widows and orphans while mandating hospitality to strangers – just as Dr. Inglehart describes.
For its part, the Davidic tradition’s covenant had Israel’s God assuring dynasty to David and his sons – to Judah’s royal crime families with their wealth exploitation of disaggregated peasants along with imperial ambitions that sacrificed young men’s lives in pointless wars. To that end, the royals and their scribes advanced an idea of a blood-thirsty war God who delighted in the slaughter of “enemy” men, women, children and animals.
In the meantime, the biblical prophetic tradition stood on the side of the Mosaic covenant.
In the first place, the prophets opposed the creation of royalty at all (1 Samuel 8). In the second place, their social criticism advocated the interests of those widows, orphans and strangers (https://www.openbible.info/topics/widows_and_orphans). In the third place, they suffered the predictable consequences experienced by all (then and since) who speak truth to the patriarchy. They were ostracized, exiled, imprisoned, assassinated or formally executed https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Killing-Prophets
Yeshua the Christ appeared in the prophetic tradition. As such, his story emerges as profoundly anti-religious in Dr. Inglehart’s sense. His incarnation took place not in a palace or temple, but among the poorest of the poor – in a stable and on the banks of the Jordan river as a disciple of a harsh critic of the temple priesthood and its co-dominion with Rome’s imperialists.
All of that (and so much more) identifies Yeshua as a great prophet in the tradition of Moses, the liberator of slaves in Egypt, and of predecessors like Amos who defended the poor, criticized the rich, and scandalized everyone by condemning temple sacrifice and imposition of laws that penalized the poor and favored the rich.
And besides, Jesus was more than a prophet, social critic, and movement organizer. He was also an incisive mystic, a seer. He saw and taught the fundamental unity of all people and of all creation. He taught love of neighbor as oneself, because he evidently recognized that one’s neighbor is in fact oneself. There is really only one of us here. Or, as Paul of Tarsus put it, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28).
Nevertheless, if religion has been historically so retrograde and negative, why bother with it? Why continue reading something like the Bible? Why claim adherence to the teachings of Yeshua the Christ?
More personally, why should I continue to work as a theologian and contribute to an OEN series called “Homilies for Progressives”? Why not follow the implications of Dr. Inglehart’s study and jettison faith altogether along with its supporting documents?
For me, the answer to all these questions is threefold:
- First of all, because though undeniably in decline, religion remains a potent source of meaning for the world’s majority. You might even say that its stories supply their popular “philosophy.” It organizes their experience. They might not know much about history, economics, or political parties, but they know what they’ve been told about the Bible, the Bhagavad-Gita, or the Holy Koran. To ignore this truism is to tragically surrender a potential tool of human liberation to its enemies.
- Second and relatedly, because even in the face of encroaching irrelevance, patriarchal religion remains that powerful tool in the arsenal of the oppressors of women, widows, orphans, immigrants, gender nonconformists, and the current empire’s oppressed and slaughtered subjects. (Of course, I’m speaking here of the United States.) The servants of patriarchy invoke religion at every turn. They use it to justify their wars. They employ religion to rationalize massive theft of natural resources across the globe. They need it to explain the wholesale destruction of the earth as subject to God-endorsed human domination. Religion’s liberation potential therefore needs to be understood and exposed as a countervailing, in-kind force for good. In this context sound biblical theology is an indispensable instrument for dismantling “divinely sanctioned” structures of oppression.
- And thirdly, because the mystical strain found in the Judeo-Christian tradition (as well as in all major religions) addresses life’s most fundamental questions –about the nature and meaning of life at its deepest level; about our relations with one another and with the environment, about those mistakenly perceived as foreigners and enemies, about power, love, money, and justice.