Beyond Eurocentric Theology: How Jesus Is (and Is Not) the “King of the Universe”

Readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: 2 SM 5: 1-3, PS 122: 1-5; COL 1: 12-20; LK 23: 35-43

Since taking up residency in Spain two months ago, I’ve developed a new understanding of why I’ve learned Spanish. It has allowed me to access lines of critical thought that would otherwise be closed to me as a resident of the imperial Global North.

Those lines have given me a new understanding of this Sunday’s liturgical focus, viz., the celebration of “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” They have shown me how that phrase, “King of the Universe” can be understood in two ways, one that is oppressive and the other that is liberating – one that is Eurocentric and the other that is truly universal.

The Solemnity calls westerners to change our minds from Eurocentrism to one that sees Jesus as promising a New Order where the poor and oppressed displace the earth’s traditional rulers.

Let me try to explain what I mean.

Critical Thinking

To begin with: a word about the critical thinking I’m referencing. (I intend to write much more about this in upcoming posts.)

I’m talking about Global South scholars who have shaped my worldview over my last 50 years. They include Costa Rica’s Franz Hinkelammert, Mexico’s Enrique Dussel, and Puerto Rico’s Ramon Grosfoguel. I consider the first two to be colleagues and mentors of mine. I worked with them in Brazil and Costa Rica.

My initial reason for reconnecting with these scholars while in Spain was to sharpen my understanding of the language here. However, what I’ve learned has gone far beyond that superficial intention. 

That’s because the current project of my mentors is the reinterpretation of the “universal history” of humanity in ways that are anti-colonial and decolonized, and that put in ideological perspective the understanding of Jesus as “King of the Universe.”

Fake Eurocentric History

Their critical vision holds that the traditional tri-partite periodization of western history as (1) antiquity, (2) middle ages, and (3) modernity is deceptively Euro-centric and colonial.  It completely distorts human experience as if universal history were synonymous with European history – as if God’s self-revelation began with the Hebrews 1200 years before the dawn of the Common Era, as if philosophy started in 5th century (BCE) Greece, and as if modernity began with the European Renaissance in the 16th century CE.

According to Hinkelammert, Dussel, and Grosfoguel, none of that is true. It ignores the fact that in terms of world history, Europe and its understandings of God, philosophy, astronomy, physics, and industrial development are completely marginal. Theology and philosophy began in Africa (think Egypt and the Bantu nations) thousands of years before Moses and Socrates.

Its development moved eastward towards India and China, leaving a marginalized Europe on the periphery.

For instance, China experienced its Renaissance long before Europe. Islam’s understanding of the world based on scientific principles (including the heliocentric universe) preceded Galileo’s and Newton’s by centuries. In fact, the latter European “greats” largely copied their insights from Chinese books printed on presses that predated Guttenberg’s by hundreds of years.

China also developed processes of steel production long before Europe. In the 19th century, it sent advisors to England’s city of Sheffield to teach industrialists there how best to make their world-changing product. 

Of course, there is so much more to be said here. But you get the idea. My teachers are insisting that Europe’s culture and achievements, far from groundbreaking were marginal and derivative – not at all central.

This means that establishing the central figure of European religion as the “King of the Universe” was completely ideological, misleading, and imperial. It was part of a colonial project that allowed European despots to delegitimize much older and more deeply spiritual visions – like those of India and China. Europeans used the universalization of their religion to justify their holocausts of “pagans,” “witches,” “Indians,” and “infidels” all in the name of their false “universal” God.

Jesus’ Universal Meaning

But none of this means that Jesus does not have a universal meaning which is in fact portrayed in today’s liturgical readings for the celebration of the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.”

The texts identify Jesus as a member of a class that perhaps alone merits the term “universal,” viz., the poor and oppressed everywhere – the victims of imperial kingdoms be they European, Muslim, Chinese, or Indian.

The historical experience of such people is shared across cultures. It includes poverty, houselessness, hunger, rejection by their “betters,” rebellion, police harassment, arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution. It’s all remarkably similar regardless of the historical period or culture in question.

According to Christian belief, that’s the “universal” experience their God chose as the vehicle for revealing the Divine Self. And it’s all reflected in today’s final reading from Luke, Chapter 23. Consider its content for a moment.

Here, Reza Aslan’s best-seller, Zealot, is the most accessible guide I’ve come across. It clarifies what I’ve been saying by paying particular attention to Jesus’ cross, and to the Roman inscription identifying Jesus as “King of the Jews,”

Take the cross first. It was the mode of execution reserved primarily for insurrectionists against the Roman occupation of Palestine. The fact that Jesus was crucified indicates that the Romans believed him to be a revolutionary terrorist. Aslan asks, how could it have been otherwise?  After all, Jesus was widely considered the “messiah” – i.e., as the successor of David in today’s first reading who was expected to lead “The Great War” against Israel’s oppressors.

Moreover, Jesus proclaimed the “Kingdom of God,” a highly politicized metaphor which could only be understood as an alternative to Roman rule. It would return Israel, Jesus himself promised, to Yahweh’s governance and accord primacy to the poor and marginalized. The Romans drew logical conclusions.

Put otherwise, the Roman cross itself provides bloody testimony to the radical threat from below that the empire saw personified in Jesus.

That threat was made specific in the inscription the Romans placed over the head of the crucified Jesus. It read, “King of the Jews.”

Typically, those words are interpreted as a cruel joke by the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate – as if he were simply poking fun at those who saw Jesus as the worthy successor of Israel’s lionized King David.

However, according to Aslan, nothing humorous or ironic was intended by the inscription. Instead, it was a titulus. Every victim of crucifixion had one – a statement of the reason for his execution.

The motive for Jesus’ crucifixion was the same as for the many others among his contemporaries who were executed for the same crime: aspiring to replace Roman rule with home rule – with an Israel governed by Jews instead of Romans. The titulus on Jesus’ cross, along with the cross itself identify him as the antithesis of what he eventually became, a tool of Eurocentric empire.

Conclusion

For years while I was teaching at Berea College in Kentucky, I taught a Great Books course called “Religious and Historical Perspectives.” It was the best education I’ve ever received.

However, the course followed that tripartite historical organization referred to above — ancient roots (in Israel, Greece, and Rome), Middle Ages (with virtually no mention of the Ottoman Empire), and Modern developments (focused on Galileo, Newton, and figures like Marx, Dawin, and Freud).

There was hardly a word about Islam, and none about the great world cultures of India and China. In other words, for all its virtues, the course was completely Eurocentric and colonial. Its treatment of Judeo-Christian texts implicitly justified belief that God chose the Mediterranean West as the exclusive site for his (sic) Self- Revelation.

Moreover, references to Jesus’ “kingship” along with the iconography of the European Renaissance gave the unspoken impression that “Christ the King,” along with his mother “Mary Queen of Heaven and Earth” were from the royal class or at least its supporters.

According to Hinkelammert, Dussel, liberation theologians, and so many others from the Global South, all of that not only distorts history itself, but the true meaning of the significance of a Divine King who was truly universal in the sense of sharing the invariable lot of the poor and oppressed.

According to perspectives from the Global South, the “Kingship” of Yeshua of Nazareth promises to turn the world upside-down. In the words attributed to Jesus mother in Luke’s Gospel (1: 46-55), Jesus reigning from the cross embodies Mary’s promise to “put down the mighty from their seats and exalt the humble.”

From that perspective, today’s liturgical celebration promises the eventual triumph of the marginalized over their royal , imperial, eurocentric oppressors. It’s all about the coming Great Reversal.

In the Bible, the Real Terrorists Resemble Imperialist “Christians” More Than Muslims

Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 MC 7: 1-12, 9-14; PS 17:1, 5-6, 3, 15; 2 THES 2:11-3:5; LK 20: 27-38. 

As I’ve note in a recent posting here, one of the wonderful aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition is how so much of it reflects the consciousness of the poor and oppressed, while at the same time giving expression to a “preferential option for the poor.” That’s a gift for us in a culture that generally despises poor people, oppresses the world’s impoverished majority, and spins the news in ways that ignore the poor and reflect a decided “preferential option for the rich.”

This morning’s first reading is especially valuable for us who live in under the torture regime of American Empire. It actually invites us inside the heads of tortured “terrorists.”

It raises the question, who are the real terrorists – the forces of empire or those who resist them? In doing so, the reading from Second Maccabees sheds light on the contemporary debate about torture in service of empire. It also highlights parallels between the mentalities of “terrorists” then and now. The reading calls us to question our support for the entire War on Terror — for all our wars.

For starters, consider torture itself. Our culture actually debates torture’s use, its effectiveness and morality! (See video above.)

Previously, that would have been unthinkable. Torture used to be considered one of those intrinsic evils about which there simply could be no debate.

However, ever since Abu Ghraib gave the lie to George W. Bush’s famous prevarication, “The United States doesn’t do torture” – ever since our government’s redefinition of the word to exclude even waterboarding – it has become apparent that Bush (and so many others of our “thought-leaders”) was lying. So today, many prominent “court intellectuals” have been pushed to actually defend torture’s permissibility.

But what do tortured terrorists actually think about having limbs removed and tongues cut out? Read today’s selection about the Maccabee brothers and find out.

The Maccabees were members of a heroic family of guerrilla fighters who in the mid- 2nd century BCE terrorized the invading Greek forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. (Actually, “Maccabee” wasn’t the family’s name; it was more a nom de guerre for an entire resistance movement. The word meant “Hammer” – the Hammer Gang – so-called because of its delight in pounding to mincemeat the invaders of their beloved homeland. The term “Maccabee” was similar to “al Qaeda,” when it simply meant “the list” – a reference to the Rolodex of assets the CIA used when it employed al Qaeda back when they were “freedom fighters” against the Russians in Afghanistan.)

For his part, the Seleucid king, Antiochus, was anti-Semitic in the extreme. He considered the Jews historically and culturally backward. For him and his empire’s advancement, Jews had to be brought into the 2nd century BCE even if it meant their kicking and screaming the whole way.

Today we might understand Antiochus’ project as “modernizing” the Jews – as Hellenizing them for purposes of imperial control. Evidently the Seleucid king subscribed to the position that if empire can persuade conquered peoples to adopt its patterns of thinking and especially of imagining God, the task of imperial administrators is made that much easier.

Many Jews agreed with the program of Antiochus. After all, the Greeks’ empire seemed invincible. If the empire couldn’t be beat, it was better to join it willingly. So, these “Hellenized Jews” stopped circumcising their sons, and changed their diets even to include eating pork. They became more Greek than the Greeks.

They also became the targets of Maccabee “terrorist” attacks. In today’s terms, such Hellenized Jews would be the targets blown up by Maccabee suicide bombers in marketplaces located in Jewish but Greek-loving neighborhoods. (Even if the Maccabee targeting may have been more selective than that, it is certain that Hellenized Jews were as much the objects of Maccabee terror as were the Seleucid forces themselves.)

In countering such extremism, Antiochus IV proscribed the Jewish religion as itself criminal and illegitimate. This was very similar to the way many “Americans” consider Islam. So Greek troops burnt and otherwise desecrated copies of the Torah in much the same way as our “Christian” troops have frequently been caught burning or urinating on the Holy Koran and on corpses of Muslim resistance fighters.

Though the Greeks considered the Maccabean forces to be terrorist, faithful Jews admired them as national heroes and servants of God. They understood that the Maccabees were fighting a Holy War against the much more powerful Seleucids. It was David against Goliath all over again.

In any case, according to today’s selection from Second Maccabees, seven brothers of the gang’s leadership were finally arrested (along with their mother) by the Greek invaders. (This would have been reported to Greeks “back home” as a great triumph – “Senior Leaders” captured making “our troops” and “our world” much safer.)

Then the torture and the screaming start.

To begin with all eight are beaten with whips and instruments designed to tear open their flesh. Then following standard operating procedures still practiced today, other enhanced interrogation techniques were used to torture the brothers one after the other in the presence of their blood-drenched mother, herself near death. The purpose here, of course, was to induce the woman to divulge names, places, and plans that she was privy to as the wife of the one who started the Jewish resistance to the Seleucids.

But what does she do? And what about her sons?

In a word, they are all – mother as well as her sons – completely defiant.

“What do you expect to achieve by questioning us” one of the brothers shouts? “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

Even at the point of death he spits out the words: “You accursed fiend” (I wonder what expletive he really used!), “you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”

Another of the brothers sees that his torturers are actually enjoying their work. (The text refers to cutting out his tongue and amputating his hands as “cruel sport.” Does that remind you of Abu Ghraib?) So, he sticks out his tongue and stretches out his hands inviting them to do their work. “It was from Heaven that I received these,” he says. “I’d rather lose them than offend Yahweh” (read Allah).

“Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage,” the text says. Far from being intimidated, the freedom-fighter “regarded his suffering as nothing.”

Just before dying, another of the tortured brothers undergoing the very same cruelties says: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.” As indicated by those words, conviction of a happy eternity moved these guerrilla fighters to embrace death willingly. (Seventy-two virgins, anyone?)

So, what goes on in the heads of the tortured? Disdain for their torturers. Defiance. Show of courage. Love for the motherland. Hope.

And what goes on for the people they die for? Admiration. Elevation of martyrs and the tortured to sainthood. Motivation to follow their example.

And ultimately victory for the tortured and assassinated. . . . I mean, against all odds, the Jewish resistance – the Hammer Terrorists – did succeed in evicting the Greeks from their homeland.

As I was saying, this reading should cause us to reevaluate our attitude towards terrorism, terrorists, and the scandal of debating the pros and cons of torture.

Liberation Theology: the Answer to Tom Paine’s Prayers?

A recent OpEdNews article entitled “Jesus for the Left, Jesus for the Right” adopted the following lead, “The fact that the religious left and the religious right can both use the Bible to back up their opposing agendas shows us that the Bible is meaningless.”

I found the essay interesting, especially since it quotes me as a liberation theologian advocating a “Jesus for the left” position that (in my brother-author’s opinion) is no more well-founded than the “Jesus for the right” view. Both are simply matters of bias, he held. Each side merely chooses biblical texts that support its prejudices while ignoring problematic ones that contradict them. The left likes socialism and selects accordingly. The right opposes socialism and does the same thing.

As his remedy, my dialog partner argued for:

  • Reason not the Bible
  • Deism not religion
  • Thomas Paine not Jesus

This Article

What follows here attempts a largely appreciative response to my friend’s argument. In fact, I and most liberation theologians and biblical scholars agree with Paine’s critique of pre-Enlightenment religions founded on the naïve approaches to the Bible enumerated in the article under review.

Nonetheless, I found my friend’s critique did not go far enough. His equation of Jesus- for-the-left with Jesus-for-the-right remains mired in Thomas Paine’s pre-modern approach to biblical texts.

I wish it had gone further. 

I mean my friend’s piece ignored the fact that “Jesus for the left” theology takes seriously relevant discoveries in archeology, history, ancient languages, and in texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls. It wrestles with developments in literary analysis and critical studies involving recognition of diverse literary forms. It does the detective work of redaction criticism that traces down the historical and political reasons for editors’ changes in scrolls over centuries of revision with its additions, omissions, contradictions, and errors.

In other words, Jesus-for-the-left scholarship is founded on scientific method and advances unknown to Thomas Paine and other sons and daughters of the Enlightenment. Unfortunately, they are also largely ignored by Jesus-for-the-right advocates who as a result remain vulnerable to the criticisms of Paine and my brother author.

Without getting too far into the weeds of modern biblical scholarship, let me show what I mean by first expressing appreciation for Paine’s critique of religion, by secondly illustrating the advances in biblical science since Paine, and thirdly by reflecting on liberation theology as a politically powerful alternative to Paine’s 18th century Deism.

Paine’s Criticism  

A great deal of Thomas Paine’s criticism of traditional religion as understood before the Enlightenment was spot on. That approach to the Bible was unscientific. It understood the Bible as a single book inspired by a single author (viz., God). Before the advent of modern biblical scholarship, the Bible’s interpreters tended to read texts literally as though they were all infallible statements of historical fact. This led to the inanities and contradictions Paine struggled against and which my dialog partner rightly lampooned.

So, as a seeker of truth, Paine could write with reason:

“I do not believe in the creed professed by … any church that I know of . . . All national institutions of churches . . . appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind and monopolize power and profit. . . Whenever we read the obscene stories . . . with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind. . .The Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world. . . The fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation, by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty.”

Harsh words, no?

However, I don’t know a single liberation theologian who would argue with Paine’s criticism. In fact, it is a principal purpose of liberation theology to free humans from what Paine rightly calls the terror and enslavement of religious forms meant to consolidate the power and profit of the professionally religious. Liberation scholars do so by basing their approach to the Bible on the discoveries of modern scientific scholarship.

Paine would have welcomed both their commitment to science and the revolutionary implications of their work.

Biblical Science

The discoveries in question are myriad and complex.

At the simplest level though, they tell us that what we call “The Bible” (The Book) is not a book at all, but a collection of books – an entire library written by different authors at different times, under vastly different circumstances, and for different and often contradictory purposes involving what we call today “class struggle.” No wonder then that we often find an upper-class God supporting the royal classes with their debaucheries, exploitation of the poor, and bloody wars all fought (as they are today) in the name of their deity.

All of that becomes even more complicated when we realize most of the literary forms within the Bible are far from history as we understand it. Yes, there are “Annals of Kings” (like Saul, David, and Solomon). But those represent the work of court historians whose job was to glorify their employers, not to tell the truth; all of them must therefore be taken with a grain of salt.

But besides such “histories” the Bible also contains myth, legend, debate, and fiction. There are letters. There are ancient laws that seem superstitious and ludicrous to moderns. There is poetry and song. There are birth stories and miracle accounts that all follow predetermined patterns. There are prophetic texts and wisdom literature including proverbs, jokes, and plays on words. And then there’s that strange literary form called “apocalypse” which, scholars tell us, was a form of resistance literature written in code during times of foreign occupation and oppression. If all of these are read as history, as statements of fact, or as somehow predicting the future, it’s easy to see how misunderstandings result.

What’s more, virtually all biblical scholars (even the most politically conservative like Josef Ratzinger, aka Benedict XVI) tell us that the Bible’s basic story is that of the formation of the Jewish people. And that account, the scholars say, begins not in Eden, but in Egypt and the deliverance of slaves from bondage there. It’s a story of liberation. All the rest is commentary.

The rest is also an account of the struggle between the poor and oppressed on the one hand against the royalty, generals, priests, and scribes on the other who consistently tried to wrest away from the poor a God the privileged wanted to support the elites’ status quo. It was a struggle between the establishment and the prophets who defended the poor as God’s favorites. What we find in the Bible then is a “battle of gods,” a kind of theogony.

According to the scholars I’m referring to, Jesus appeared in the Jewish prophetic tradition. He was a poor man himself – a prophet, a mystic, a storyteller, a healer, a social critic, an opponent of oppression by priests, kings, and emperors. And the one certain thing we know about him was that he offended the Establishment (Rome and its temple and court collaborators) to such an extent that they arrested, tortured, and killed him. Significantly, they used a form of execution reserved for rebels, revolutionaries, and terrorists.

Yes, Jesus was on the side of the poor and oppressed. But close examination of texts shows that even the evangelists (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) often altered the Master’s radical pronouncements to suit their own more conservative purposes. Scholars like those in the famous Jesus Seminar have developed criteria for (tentatively) separating the wheat of Jesus’ own words from the chaff of his editors. Liberation theologians avail themselves of such scholarship.  

Alternative to Deism

So, if it’s all so complicated, why not just pitch it all in favor of Paine’s reason and Deism which conceptualizes God as the Great Watchmaker in the sky who set the world spinning according to its own rules and hasn’t been heard from since? Why not just reason everything out abstractly?

To my mind, the answer is because we are human beings. And humans need stories. Perhaps some, like my dialog partner find abstract reason and an even more abstract concept of God more inspiring and helpful. If so, good on them.

But I repeat: most of the rest of us need stories. In fact, many like Nesrine Malik hold that with everything falling apart in our world, we need more not fewer stories.

My reply is that we already have the stories we need. And the ones found in the Bible are shared across the western world and by Islam. We all know those tales. They can bring us together and shed a penetrating transcendent light on issues that plague our world just as they did those of Jews living under foreign imperialism – including Jesus and the early Christians under Rome.

When those issues are confronted in the face of the liberating God of the Exodus or of Jesus and his pronouncements about God’s Kingdom, they can generate the power to move people to revolutionary action.

The experience inspired by liberation theology in Latin America during ‘70s and ‘80s is proof enough of that. Without liberation theology one cannot explain the Nicaraguan revolution, nor similar movements in El Salvador, Brazil, or Argentina. One cannot explain the pink tide that subsequently swept all of Latin America including the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chavez.

What I’m saying is that liberation theology provides a scientifically based revolutionary potential that Tom Paine would have admired.

(However, it must also be acknowledged that without liberation theology, one cannot explain the rise of the religious right in America and elsewhere in the world. Its Jesus-for-the-right was instrumentalized for reactionary purposes by the Reagan administration precisely to combat liberation theology which was seen by the CIA and State Department as a threat to U.S. national security.

That is, besides inspiring social activism, liberation theology evoked the exact type of persecution and martyrdom suffered by the early church under Rome. Such parallels say a great deal about liberation theology’s authenticity.)    

Conclusion

I hope it is evident from the foregoing that I very much respect what my friend wrote in “Jesus for the Left, Jesus for the Right”. However, I worry about its call to surrender religion and spirituality to right-wing forces. To my mind, there is no more powerful or important ground to defend.

Like the Constitution and American history, spirituality has always been and remains contested terrain. The fact that the left and right have differing interpretations and narratives by no means proves anything about “meaninglessness.”

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The struggle over history’s versions, over the Constitution’s interpretations, and especially over biblical texts only serves to illustrate their importance and the need to approach them with the scientific spirit of Thomas Paine.

Had he been exposed to modern biblical science, I believe Paine would have embraced liberation theology. He may have seen it as his counterpart, Noam Chomsky does in the film clip at the head of this essay. Paine may even have accepted liberation theology as the answer to his prayers.

How U.S. Capitalism Works: House Painters That Cover the Earth

“I heard you paint houses.”

“Yes, sir, I do. I also do my own carpentry.”

Those were among the first words exchanged between Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and his “house painter,” Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

Of course, in the Mob’s parlance, “painting houses” refers to the blood splashed on walls when hitmen like Frank Sheeran do their work. “Carpentry” refers to getting rid of the resulting corpses. Sheeran does both.

I was reminded of “The Irishman” recently, when Antony Blinken all but admitted that the United States was responsible for the terrorist attack that (against international law) destroyed civilian infrastructure represented by Nord Stream pipelines One and Two.

Blinken said the attack presented America with a “tremendous” business opportunity – to sell natural gas to Europe.

His remarks made me realize first that the U.S. is in fact the most active “house painter” and “carpenter” in the world. Like the Sherwin-Williams’ claim, it “covers the earth” – with hitman efficiency. It gets rid of bodies by just not counting them — or at least by vastly undercounting them.

Think about the paint spilled.

“America” is responsible for virtually ALL the wars waged on the planet since WWII: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ukraine. . . That’s the short list. And those wars have taken millions of lives – turned walls bloodred across the globe.

Remember, it’s not China that started and funded those conflicts. Neither is it Russia. It’s the United States.

But that’s not the end of the “Irishman” connections. Think about the logic behind the Nord Stream attacks. It’s how gangsters operate. It’s what “our” government does. It’s what capitalists do routinely instead of competing according to free market theory.

In fact, few of the most powerful among them seem to even like “natural” marketplace dynamics where business concerns succeed by producing a better product or service. No, they prefer to adopt mob tactics and simply whack their competitors. They deconstruct their rivals’ infrastructure.

Do you remember this scene from “The Irishman?” It’s where “Whispers” (“not that Whispers; the other one”) asks Frank Sheeran to do what’s necessary to put a competitor’s laundry business out of commission.  Here’s the exchange:

Note the similarities between Whispers’ request and Blinken’s intimations about U.S. involvement in Nord Streams’ destructions.

Like Blinken, Whispers is a business front man. He’s financing an Atlantic City laundry service that’s making money hand over fist.

Face it: Blinken is also a front man for oil, gas, and arms industry concerns.

However, both men have powerful competitors. Whispers’ challenger calls itself Cadillac Linen. It’s located in Delaware. It’s underselling Whispers’ business and threatening to take away its customers.

That’s like Russia and China for Blinken. They’re both outcompeting the United States in energy and manufacturing. That has Blinken, Wall Street, and powerful oil and gas concerns exactly in Whispers’ position.  As they keep insisting, they’re “more than a little concerned.”

In both cases, something must be done. But what? Whispers’ could lower his prices and upgrade his product to better compete. According to capitalist theory, that’s the way to win back his hotel and restaurant clientele now seeking lower costs and superior service with Cadillac Linen.

For his part, Blinken could simply recognize that Russia and China now enjoy overwhelming logistical benefits. They’re both much closer than the U.S. to the main buyers of their products.Their shipping costs are therefore lower. There’s nothing nefarious about that. Capitalist theory calls it “comparative advantage.”

Additionally, with its higher “social wages” (i.e., government subsidies in areas of food, rent, healthcare, entertainment, education, etc.) China can easily outcompete America with lower wages for its workers.

Under its present form of capitalism (with all but non-existent “social wages”) the U.S. simply can’t keep up. To get back in the game, Blinken’s handlers could decide to match China’s social programs to compensate for lower wages. They could arrange for workers to have nationalized health care and free college tuition. They could institute nationwide rent control and stop treating food and medicine as commodities instead of as human rights.

Alternatively, and according to capitalist theory, they could simply accept the fact that they can’t compete, back out of the relevant markets and seek prosperity elsewhere.

That’s the way the system’s supposed to work.    

But no. Both Whispers and Blinken instead choose bombing over free market competition. Whispers wants Sheeran to do to Cadillac what he and the U.S. army did to Berlin during World War II. He wants him to destroy his competitors absolutely.

Blinken evidently chose something similar relative to Russia’s Nord Stream I and II. All fingers point to U.S. involvement in the pipelines’ destruction. After all, “Dark Brandon” Biden had threatened to do the deed. Additionally, more than any other suspects, America had the motivation and capacity for performing the task in question. As Blinken’s words indicate, Wall Street, and U.S. energy concerns, and America itself benefit most from the destruction of Nord Stream I and II. As Blinken admits, the destruction of Russia’s property is “tremendous” for America.

It’s hard to believe the United States wasn’t responsible.

In their recent co-authored book, The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power, Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad compare the United States to the Mafia. Their identification is more than apt. Like the Godfather, U.S. mobsters demand that everyone bend the knee or else. Their answer to most problems of market competition involves threats, sanctions, guns, and bombs – almost never lower prices, product improvement, increased social wages, or diplomacy. Instead, in the form of death squads, hitmen like Frank Sheeran, and lethal drones, they continue to “cover the earth” with red just like the Sherwin-Williams ad says.

China especially is adopting a different tack. And if it can avoid being provoked into responding in kind to American Mafia tactics, it will probably come out on top.

China’s just better at capitalist dynamics than the U.S. or E.U.

Rediscovering Mary Magdalen but Losing the Historical Jesus: Clysta Kinstler’s “The Moon under Her Feet” 

Everybody loves Mary Magdalen. That’s true for me especially.

As I’ve shown in previous articles (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) I’m intrigued by recent attempts by Magdalene scholars like Lynn Picknett to restore the Magdalene (whatever the term might mean) to the status accorded her in the Gnostic Gospels as “the apostle of apostles.”

Traditionally identified by a hostile Christians patriarchy as a forgiven, humiliated, and groveling former prostitute, the Magdalene of the new scholarship would even further rehabilitate her into an Egyptian priestess and quasi-goddess.

That’s the case with Clysta Kinstler’s 1989 novel, The Moon under Her Feet. The book was recently recommended to me by a dear friend and fellow Magdalene admirer. The Moon was reviewed early on in the New York Times. It is beautifully written. Its endnotes alone are worth the book’s purchase. They reveal the author’s careful research and startling ability to make overlooked connections between relevant scholarly pursuits including history, mythology, and biblical interpretation.

Nevertheless, as a liberation theologian, I must admit my disappointment with Kinstler’s tale. It indeed provides intriguing insights about main character, the Magdalene. But as for her ultimate lover, Yeshua of Nazareth, Kinstler’s novel falls prey to the trap set by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century.

The trap transforms Yeshua from a prophetic working-class revolutionary into a socially harmless Egyptian “dying and rising” god with little relevance to the world he sought to replace – one dominated then and now by imperialism, oppression, and unnecessary poverty all obscured by a justifying set of myths supportive of ruling classes and their self-serving social order.

Let me show you what I mean by first describing Mary Magdalen as portrayed in The Moon under Her Feet, second by doing the same for Yeshua her ultimate consort, and third by contrasting that figure of Yeshua with his portrayal in liberation theology. My conclusion will underline the importance of making such contrast.

The Moon and the Magdalen  

Throughout The Moon under Her Feet, its main character, Mari Anath, gradually assumes her role as head of the Jerusalem Temple’s priesthood of women. According to Kinstler’s account, these holy women still represented an essential part of the Jewish tradition. “Mari” was an extremely popular name in first century Palestine.  “Anath” was the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek warrior-goddess, Athena. “Magdalene” signified the high priestess’ office. For Kinstler, the term actually meant “high priestess.”

The holy women in Magdalene’s cloister resided inside the Temple’s entrance, just beyond the location of the currency exchange services where the despised Roman denarius was traded for the ritually more acceptable Jewish shekel.

Mistrusted by the patriarchal Pharisees and Jewish high priests, the women within the Temple convent enjoyed the reverence of ordinary Jews who still honored Ashera, the traditional but officially suppressed spouse of Yahweh. From Israel’s earliest origins, peasants, craftspeople, fishermen, the poor, beggars, and social outcasts insisted on worshipping Ashera alongside Yahweh. In fact, their devotion meant that no king could enjoy popular support without the blessing of the High Priestess – without her anointing and union with her in a ritual marriage called Hieros Gamos.

Therein lies a major theme of The Moon under Her Feet. For as the high priestess, Mary the Magdalene had to negotiate marriage invitations from her first husband, Phillip the Herodian, and from his brother Herod Antipas. Philip sought Mary’s blessing on his tetrarch rule over his four Jewish provinces. The quest of his brother, Herod Antipas, was to validate his claim to a Goddess-blessed kingship of the Galilee, the region of Palestine where Yeshua was born. 

Accordingly, the Magdalene joined Philip’s harem as a teenager thus confirming the legitimacy of his tetrarchy. Later, after securing an amicable divorce from Philip, Mary found herself the object of his brother’s quest for Goddess confirmation of his own reign over Galilee which his subjects were loath to recognize, since he was so obviously a mere puppet of Israel’s Roman occupiers.

To escape her fate, Mari Anath induces a near death experience in which she travels to the underworld and thereby achieves a vastly intensified spiritual enlightenment which subsequently serves her well as the consort of Yeshua. Her famous anointing of his feet with tears and precious ointment officially designates Yeshua as God’s Christos (messiah). The consummation of marriage with him represents the Hieros Gamos required of any valid king. Without the Magdalene, Jesus is no messiah. He is no king (Kinstler 260).

The Moon and Yeshua

Before assuming her duties as head priestess, Mari Anath’s role model was her namesake, Almah Mari. As reigning high priestess, Almah became the mother of Yeshua who precisely as her offspring, had been pre-designated to be Israel’s expected Messiah – its liberator from Roman domination.

 “Almah Mari” meant “pure maiden,” or “virgin.” However, the latter term did not connote asexual abstinence, but independence from male claims to spousal ownership.

For the Magdalene, her mentor was the very incarnation of Isis-Ashera, “Queen of All the Worlds; Mistress of Heaven, Earth and Hell; Mother of all things; eternal Wisdom, Truth and Beauty; keeper and protectress of all who call upon” her (14, 148). Those titles reflected Almah Mari’s love for Egypt to which she (and her son) often returned for inspiration and study.

According to the Magdalene’s faith, Almah Mari’s son, Yeshua, followed the path of typical deities belonging to the Egyptian mystery cults so popular in Rome and its provinces during the first century of the common era. Characteristically, they were virgin born, descended to earth, lived there and taught a while, were sacrificially killed, journeyed through the underworld to conquer its forces of darkness, rose from the dead, and finally ascended to heaven. From there, they offered eternal life to devotees who participated in rituals where the god’s body was eaten in the form of bread and whose blood was drunk in the form of wine or ale (41, 73).

More specifically, the Magdalene understood Yeshua as the incarnation of Osiris and the very presence of Dumuzi, the oldest of the mystery cults’ dying and resurrected gods (306). According to the Magdalen’s mythically complex theology, Yeshua was his own father — the spouse of his mother impregnated by the Sacred King Sharon. [Soon afterwards, Sharon took his own life thus following the ritual prescribed for gods of the mystery cults in question (40).]

In Kinstler’s story, Yeshua was also the identical twin brother of Seth, whom Yeshua later renamed Judas Scarios (204). As Seth, Judas had won the heart of the Magdalene, fathered two children with her, and eventually married her as the last of her three husbands (following Philip Herod, and Yeshua himself).

Jesus in Liberation Theology

Rejecting such speculation and complex mythologies, liberation theology emphasizes what can be known of Jesus from history, archeology, written records, laws, and the predictable constants of class struggles across the centuries against imperialism and its exploitation.

It employs what Jesuit theologian Roger Haight calls the secular “principle of analogy.” It holds that “we cannot normally expect to have happened in the past what is thought or proven to be impossible in the present.” This means that liberation theology is committed to demythologizing the religious understandings that Kinstler’s tale takes so seriously. It recognizes them for what they were – ideologies justifying relationships of royal classes over disempowered subjects.

To Haight’s analogy principle about the past, I always add the corollary, “we can expect to have happened in the past what normally occurs in similar circumstances in the present.” This recognizes for instance that one can justifiably assume that imperially occupied and oppressed people in first century Palestine normally responded the way their counterparts do in the modern world: they harbored deep resentments, formed resistance movements, attacked their oppressors, and suffered the brutal consequences at the hands of merciless occupiers who despised the insurgents. Extensive Roman records show that this was indeed the case in first century Palestine.    

From that perspective, the Yeshua of liberation theology emerges as one of innumerable miracle-workers in Palestine claiming to be the “messiah.” In context, that term could mean only one thing: restoration of Israel’s independence from its Roman imperial occupiers.

Like all such would-be Christs, Jesus was executed by the Romans who killed criminals like him using the method they reserved for insurgents – hanging on crosses publicly displayed to discourage others tempted to follow suit. After consumption by dogs and vultures, what was left of executed insurgents like Jesus probably found final disposal in a common grave.

However, what separated Jesus from others like him was a distinctive belief that soon after his execution emerged among his female disciples. Led by an obscure figure called Mary Magdalene, the women gradually persuaded doubtful male disciples that their Master had somehow returned to life.

The belief spread and caused Jesus’ followers to reassemble in communities that lived according to Jesus’ “communistic” ideals. They sold their surplus possessions, distributed the proceeds to the poor, and held everything else in common (Acts 2:42-47).

In other words, Jesus’ followers continued to embody what liberation theologians describe as the divine “preferential option for the poor.” Awareness of that option coincided with Israel’s own national beginnings. Those origins revealed the Hebrew God, Yahweh, as the champion of slaves in their resistance to Egyptian slavers.

For Israel, Yahweh was the enemy of everything Egyptian, including Egyptian gods and their accompanying mythologies, the culture’s royal families, and (of course) its temples with their priests and priestesses.     

With all of this in mind, liberation theology is highly critical of understandings that emerged with the emperor Constantine in the 4th century of the Common Era that transformed a working-class prophet into a Roman “mystery cult” God.

After Constantine, Jesus became interchangeable with those earlier-described dying and rising gods such as Osiris, Isis, and Mithra. To repeat, that’s pretty much what happened to Jesus. He became one of those gods – for Constantine and the Christian tradition he shaped – and now for Clysta Kinstler.

Conclusion

I remember reading somewhere that after Nicaea and its “definition” of Jesus’ identity as “fully God and fully man,” it became virtually impossible to distinguish Christian worship ceremonies (what became the “Mass”) from those honoring dying and rising gods such as Isis, Osiris, Mithra, or the Great Mother. I wondered how that was possible.

After reading The Moon under Her Feet, I find my question answered. I see how easily even a crucified peasant prophet like Yeshua – one said to have been executed and risen from the dead – could be transformed from a working-class hero to a harmless royal god.

Under Kinstler’s pen, the Master not only comes from the temple culture of which he was so critical, he even takes on royal appearance with “Hasmonean” features, reddish hair, and blue eyes that turned to hazel and then brown (146).

Yeshua ends up looking like this:

Meanwhile, contemporary forensic archeologists say Jesus probably looked like this:

In other words, by the process depicted in The Moon under Her Feet, the poor are once again robbed not only of a major hero, but of the God whose incarnation looks like them and champions their liberation and a world order structured in their favor.

Unanswered Prayers: God Is Not Our Errand Boy

Readings for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9; 2 Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14; Luke 17: 5-10

This Sunday’s readings address the question of unanswered prayers and the frustration of those who look for evidence of God’s presence in the world but find none.

With that query hanging in the air, here are my “translations” of this week’s selections They represent a prayerful dialog between frustrated believers (like most of us) on the one hand and the Being some still call “God” on the other – with Yeshua’s own example and insight added at the end.

Please check out the actual texts here to see if I got the translations right. I’ll conclude with a few reflections of my own.

1.	Our Prayer

Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2:2-4
  
 I’ve been praying
 Dear Mother, 
 For your Queen's Reign to come,
 For violence to cease
 For relief from our misery.
 Yet you seem deaf
 To my pleas.
 After all,
 Wars continue
 Violence increases
 Everyone’s at 
 Each other’s throat.
 What should I think?
  
2. God’s Response

 Only this:
 (And write it in stone!)
 My timetable,
 My order
 Is vastly different
 From yours.
 What’s invisible,
 What seems delay to you
 Is always 
 And perfectly timely for me.
 So, be patient
 Keep your commitment
 To my just order.
 My answer to prayer
 Is never late.
 It is omnipresent.
  
 3. Our Reply

Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9
  
 I have heard your response,
 Holy Mother.
 I’m thankful and happy
 For the reminder.
 Your words
 Are solid as rock.
 It’s true:
 You know far more
 Than us.
 You have never
 Let us down.
 I will therefore not ever
 Lose faith
 Against your 
 Proven fidelity.
  
 4. Light from Yeshua

2 Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14
  
 Such words of response
 Are wise.
 They are the expression
 Of a Holy Spirit,
 Within us all.
 It can set
 The world ablaze
 With love.
 It is courageous
 And disciplined,
 It expresses the
 Strength of God.
 It enables us
 To endure even prison
 And hardships
 Of all kinds.
 It is the very Spirit
 Of Yeshua, the Christ.
  
 Luke 17: 5-10
  
 When Yeshua’s followers
 Prayed for stronger faith,
 He reminded them
 That even a little bit
 Can change
 Expectations profoundly.
 Never forget, he said,
 That you are not in charge;
 Love is.
 You are only Love’s servants.
 God is not
 Your errand boy
 Beholden to
 Culturally-shaped 
 Plans and needs. 

My Own Reflections

With those readings in mind, i.e., when we allow the words of the Divine Mother to open our eyes and ears, when we listen to the prophets (her spokespersons), we see concrete manifestations of Goddess presence and siding with the poor everywhere. Right now, they’re evident, I think, in at least three areas, viz., in:

  1. Nature Itself: Regardless of human efforts to obscure and deny the divine, its presence calls constantly to us in events so close to us and taken-for-granted that they’ve become invisible. I’m thinking about the sun, the ocean, trees, the moon, stars, wildflowers – and our own bodies whose intelligence performs unbelievable feats each moment of our lives.
  2. Liberation Theology: This rediscovery of God’s preferential option for the poor has changed and is changing the world. One cannot explain the pink tide that swept Latin America during the 1970s, ‘80s, and 90s – not Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, Venezuela – without highlighting the inspiration provided by liberation theology. Neither can one explain the rebellion of the Muslim world against western imperialism without confronting Islam’s inherent liberating drive – again on behalf of the disenfranchised, impoverished, and imperialized.
  3. Contemporary Social Movements: Think Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Sunrise Movement, Yellow Vests, Standing Rock, the Green New Deal, and prophetic figures like (once again) Greta Thunberg, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and Pope Francis with his landmark climate encyclical Laudato si’. All these movements and figures stand on the side of the poor and are having their effect.

Conclusion

Martin Luther King once famously said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but that it bends towards justice. “Justice” in his vocabulary meant overcoming the laws and social structures crafted by the rich and powerful to keep the poor in their place. King (and Malcolm as well) was a practitioner of African American liberation theology. As such, he was gifted with eyes to see differently — to see the Judeo-Christian tradition as revealing a God on the side of the poor.

That’s what our Sunday liturgies of the word reveal consistently. This week is no exception. It invites us simply to open our eyes.

Sunday’s Readings “Translated” as a Catechism on Liberation Theology

Just to complete my reflections on the “Dives and Lazarus” parable centralized in last Sunday’s homily, here are my “translations” of the day’s readings. As I said on Sunday, these liturgical selections provide a virtual catechism on liberation theology which I consider the most important theological development of the last 1500 years. Please check out the actual readings here to see if I’ve translated them correctly.

Amos 6:1A, 4-7
  
 The Spirit of Life informs us that:
 Complacent “religious” people
 Are in for a sad surprise.
 They might be enjoying
 Their “Sleep Number” mattresses
 And Lazy Boy chairs;
 While gorging on Wagyu Beef
 And meats 
 No one else can afford;
 They might be attending 
 A-list concerts
 And drinking Chateau Lafite
 While reeking of Chanel Grand Extrait.
 But the world’s on fire!
 And its flames will soon consume
 Even the decadent lifestyles
 Of the super-rich.
  
  
 Psalm 146: 7, 8-9, 9-10
  
 For the poor,
 There’s a certain Schadenfreude
 In all of this.
 For God’s future assures
 Downfall for the rich
 While promising 
 Justice for the oppressed
 Rich food for those now hungry
 And liberation for the imprisoned.
 The obtuse will see,
 We’re told.
 The overworked
 Will be relieved.
 Immigrants and refugees
 Will be safe at last.
 Children born out of wed-lock
 And abandoned women
 Will finally know peace.
  
 1 Timothy 6:11-16
  
 So, be of good heart.
 Despite appearances,
 That golden future awaits
 Those who live like Jesus.
 He was so committed 
 To the poor 
 To justice, non-violence
 Patience and love
 That the imperialized world
 Could not stand it.
 Nevertheless, his powerful
 Christ-consciousness
 (That you btw have promised
 To live by)
 Will bring the world
 A completely new order
 And enlightenment beyond
 Our wildest imaginings.
  
 2 Corinthians 8:9
  
 In fact, Jesus accomplished
 All of that
 By becoming a poor man
 Not a rich one
 So that we might know
 Where true wealth lies
 And live accordingly.
  
 Luke 16: 19-31
  
 Jesus illustrates
 His meaning
 With the story
 (Told to the complacent believers)
 Of poor Lazarus
 Who often begged
 From a rich man.
 But soon had Dives
 Begging from him
 And experiencing
 The awful frustration
 Of unbridgeable gaps
 In consumption
 And in ability
 To communicate
 The desperation
 And torment, 
 Of hunger and thirst
 Even if revealed
 By a ghost from the other side. 

Report from Spain: Socialism after a Fascism’s Long & Bloody Winter

I lead a charmed life. My life has been governed by what some New Age spiritual teachers call “The Law of Attraction.” Simply put, the Law states that like attracts like. It holds that what consumes one’s thoughts eventually manifests in one’s life.

So, what has consumed my thoughts and attention?

As a theologian, teacher, and world-traveler, they have been focused on understanding the world (and especially spirituality) from the underside – not from the usual viewpoint of the rich and powerful, but as experienced by the world’s colonized, but the poor and oppressed.

And what has that attracted to me?

Almost unbidden, it has brought me extraordinary experiences throughout the former colonial world and Global South. It has attracted extended sojourns in Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, Mexico, Zimbabwe, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and Israel-Palestine. Early on, during my graduate studies and their 5 years in Rome, I also found myself journeying throughout all the home countries of European colonizers in Italy, Great Britain, France, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, and Germany.

At every stop, I’ve had the privilege of working with and engaging in conversation scholars and activists much more informed than me about the ins and outs of colonialism.

All of that has helped me understand colonialism for what it is – a system of robbery. In the form that has shaped the world, it has had white Europeans and their descendants (a very small fraction of the world’s population) roaming the planet and subduing its entirety for purposes of transferring its wealth and resources to the so-called “Mother Countries.” As a result of colonialism, white Europeans and their descendants has prospered; those they’ve colonized have largely been impoverished.

My current stop in this rather automatic Odyssey has brought me to Granada in Spain a country that happens to be governed by a socialist coalition. Coming from a right-wing country like the United States, that’s noteworthy. Whereas, of course, there is not even a Labor Party in the U.S., Spain happens to be run by a left-wing coalition between the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and an even further left anti-austerity party called PODEMOS (“Yes, We Can”).

For decades in this country, such development would have been undreamt of. This because Spain’s left-wing political shift follows hard upon a long period of extreme right-wing rule by the infamous Francisco Franco, who governed the country with an iron fist from 1936 to 1975.

Franco was a Fascist who allied himself with Hitler and Mussolini during World War II.

After the war, his anti-communism secured unwavering support for his regime from the United States which is always more friendly towards fascism than socialism.

To establish and maintain his power wielded on behalf of landowners, industrialists, and the Catholic Church, Franco slaughtered more than 200,000 Spanish workers, trade unionists, teachers, intellectuals, and others who sided with the country’s poor and disenfranchised.

Over the next few months, I want to find out more about that. I also want to get a better idea of what’s really happening here in Europe generally. To that end, I’ll be talking to as many people as I can about these matters.

In the short term, I anticipate that my principal dialog partner will be a language teacher I’ll be employing to help me recover my fluency in Spanish. I’ll keep you posted here.

Greetings from Spain & Apologies for Such a Long Silence

The Queen Mary 2 by which Peggy and I made our way from NYC to South Hampton before traveling by plane to Madrid and then to Granada in Spain. Our stateroom was on the 11th deck, 2nd room aft.

If anyone’s paying attention, I must offer an apology for such a long gap between postings here. The fact is that for the past 10 days, I’ve been absolutely unable to post anything. The reason? Peggy and I have been in transit from the U.S. to Spain (Grenada), where we’ll be living for at least the next 2 or 3 months. There has also been a serious issue with COVID.

We’ve come to Spain at the invitation of our daughter and son-in-law who are here on a year-long sabbatical. We’re so grateful, since this gives us all that time to be with 5 of our 7 grandchildren.

Getting here was an adventure. For one thing, it involved a 7-night cruise on the Queen Mary 2 (QM2 pictured above). I never imagined my making such a voyage. I guess my face is still red from doing something so luxurious. (How do I square that, for instance, with my professed commitment to liberation theology? Oh well, as Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself.” Sigh.)

I must admit though that the cruise was wonderful for all the reasons you might suspect: non-stop sumptuous meals, people waiting on us hand and foot, top-class floor shows, dancing, music performances of various kinds in the ship’s many pubs, bars, and parlors, and long hours of silent contemplation of divine presence nowhere as clearly evidenced, I think, as in the ocean. (Someone has said, “The ocean doesn’t simply remind us of God. The ocean is God.” In some mysterious way, I think that’s true. We’ve all come from the water. About 60% of our bodies is water, even now.)

And while I can’t claim that all of that wasn’t fun, it also made me think guiltily about white privilege, colonialism, wealth disparities and the fast-approaching end of my own life.

Yes, almost all of the Queen Mary’s passengers were white. And almost all of the waitpersons were not. Most of the latter turned out to be from the Philippines. And their attitude reflected what colonists have always expected from “the white man’s burden”: “We exist to serve you. How can I make you more comfortable, sir? Can I get you anything else?”

Never, I’m sure, did it cross most of our minds that these “servants” had their own ambitions, romances, families, worries, contradictions, rich stories — and hidden resentments about “the master.”

Oblivious to all that, most of us passengers had the means necessary to have such a luxurious experience. Most of us were wealthy and old. At one point, it occurred to me that the QM2 resembled a floating nursing home with many of the voyagers using canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. The fact is that in 10-years time, few from among us will still be alive. So much for wealth, privilege, and colonialism. Then (as now) all that will matter is what that vast ocean embodies.

I got a sharp reminder of such mortal realities just after disembarking from the QM2 last Sunday. I came down with a devastating case of COVID 19.

I know; I know: what did I expect getting on a ship like that? As one of my friends asked long before our departure: “Do you know what your and Peggy’s favorite game must be? It’s probably Russian Roulette. That’s what you’re doing spending 7 nights on a ship during COVID! You’re toying with your lives!”

Well, my friend turned out to be right. And after a very long day of travel on Sunday, the malady kicked in big time. I literally thought I was going to die.

Thanks be to God, I didn’t of course. But before closing my eyes Sunday night, I did mumble to Peggy, “If I don’t make it through the night, honey, know that I love you and it’s been a good run.”

I even thought, “This would be an easy way to slip out, wouldn’t it? — except there’ll be all the difficulty involved in shipping my body back to the States. Too bad.”

My internal monologue continued, “But there’s still so much left for me to do.”

“And what would that be?” I asked myself.

“Nothing,” came my quick and honest reply. Nothing. And that was it. I felt surprisingly ready to go. I felt so tired.

Three days later, I’m still feeling exhausted. But here I am writing. So, I guess I’m out of the woods.

Time will tell.

What the Unclothed Female Form Reveals about the Great Cosmic Mother – And Ourselves

“Mother of the World” by my colleague, Meryl Ann Butler, Managing Editor of OpEdNews

I’m taking a chance here. At 82 years of age, I’m going to risk embarrassing myself by reconsidering the message and significance of what some consider to be “pornography,” i.e., the images of ordinary mature women found on the internet.

I’m going to propose that like their prehistoric, sculptured counterparts found throughout the ancient world, the images in question can lead us to more fully understand life and its purposes. Moreover, they can help liberate men especially from the toxic patriarchy that is responsible for our wars and the environmental omnicide produced by our economic systems.

I write as a man more deeply embedded in patriarchy than most. I was once a Roman Catholic priest who entered the seminary to embrace a life of celibacy at the age of 14. As such, I became profoundly integrated into perhaps the world’s most patriarchal system characterized by a largely unconscious misogyny and fear of women.

It was an exaggerated embodiment of the metasystem that afflicts the world in general. Like that overarching social arrangement, it told me that viewing the unclothed female form was somehow dangerous and sinful. Post-priesthood married life and reading feminist scholars has shown me it is not.

Here I’m not talking about Playboy or Penthouse, much less about degrading portrayals of young women and girls forced into the pornography trade, perhaps for the profit of others and/or for their own career advancement.

Still less am I referring to snuff films or misogynist portrayals of women in bondage, degrading situations or pain. All of those represent hideous abuses and exploitation of women for purposes of pleasing leering men devoid of appreciation or affection for women outside the pleasure the latter’s objectifications afford.

No, what I’m presenting as culturally and even theologically liberating are the willing displays of the female form by mothers and grandmothers of mature ages from middle age through the 90s. (Perhaps surprisingly to some, these can be accessed by the hundreds on the world-wide web.)

I’m going to suggest that these depictions may be seen as representing modern day equivalents of the oldest goddess images found virtually everywhere in the world’s most ancient archeological digs. Those representations with their prominent breasts, vulvas, and ochre paint (along with occasional inscriptions and accompanying mythology) call attention to what since prehistoric times have been recognized as mostly wordless texts revealing humankind’s fundamental relationship to the feminine aspect of the Divine.

Venus of Willendorf, Austria
(Tinted in red ochre, ca. 30,000 BCE)

What I present here is inspired by the work of Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor and their classic 1987 workThe Great Cosmic Mother: rediscovering the religion of the earth. Granted, the two authors often rail against pornography in the negative senses noted above (196, 328, 411, 383, 391-92). However, their treatment of the deep meanings revealed in specifically female processes associated with their unique physical characteristics suggest what I’m about to share.

The Central Significance of the Clitoris

Undoubtedly, the most unique of the characteristics in question is the clitoris. As such, it is a fitting starting point for any reverent search for divine revelations contained in the wondrous feminine form. Beginning with the clitoris also obviates criticisms by some who might find here no more than transparent rationalization of the sexual pleasure that willingly unclothed female bodies inevitably provide.

Such suspicions, Sjöö and Mor suggest, reflect the traditional vilification of sexual pleasure fostered by the patriarchy which sees erotic sensations and the women who elicit them as dangerous threats to the “surplus repression” necessitated by the reigning economic system’s need to control an otherwise delightfully distracted workforce (as indicated by Marcuse in Eros and Civilization).

So, traditionally patriarchal repression has found it necessary to reject as unnatural any sexual pleasure outside the marriage context. Moreover, even within marital relations, sexual pleasure not open to conception of new life has been deemed sinful. Judgments like those require women to hide from all but their husbands their defining physical characteristics from their hair to their entire bodies in some extreme cases.

All of that is contradicted by the clitoris. As Sjöö and Mor emphasize, the clitoris is the only organ in the human anatomy whose exclusive function is the provision of sexual pleasure (4-5). This strongly suggests that sexual pleasure is built into the foundations of life itself. 

Sjöö and Mor explain: “. . . there is profound psychological and institutional reluctance to face the repercussions of the fact that the female clitoris is the only organ in the human body whose purpose is exclusively that of erotic stimulation and release. What does this mean? It means that for the human female, alone among all earth’s life-forms, sexuality and reproduction are not inseparable” (4-5).

Yes, the clitoris reveals that sexual pleasure is not only natural and part of the cosmic order; it is to be welcomed and treasured. Despite what we’ve been taught by mainline churches and Puritan culture, sexual pleasure is a fundamental human right. It need not relate to reproduction of the species. This means, for example, that contraception makes perfect sense.  

Other Female Revelations

Now consider further the rich text of the sacred female form as revealed in ancient statuary – and in what might be seen as their contemporary counterparts. Both media convey central disclosures by the Great Cosmic Mother about aspects of human life that patriarchy tragically ignores. 

·      Abundant Hair: For the ancients, hair was a symbol of cosmic power and clairvoyance (183). Famously in Greek mythology, Medusa‘s locks took the form of snakes, the ancient world’s symbol of surpassing female wisdom and divinity (57-62). Female tresses, much fuller than men’s, remind us of women’s correspondingly deeper wisdom and insights.

·      Soft Flesh: The softer physical character of women’s bodies, usually less obviously muscular than those of men, directs attention away from externals to the true source of human strength – away from bulging muscles to something interior and unseen, which is perceived in all spiritual traditions as more sacred than externals. Put otherwise, while the tendency of patriarchal religion is to separate spirit and matter, matricentric worship of the Cosmic Mother does not (172). Feminine softness reveals women’s surpassing inner strength.

·      Breasts: In virtually all cultures, female breasts have been a symbol of beauty, motherhood, and vitality. They were somehow considered the source of female identity. An inscription on an ancient goddess statue of dynastic Egypt even proclaims, “I have breasts, therefore I am” (161). As for displaying them, Sjöö and Mor observe, “In Crete, the uncovering of the breasts was a sacred gesture, symbolizing the nourishing lifestream of the mother” (213).

·      Milk and Food: Astoundingly, female bodies are sources of food for the most vulnerable of the species. Sources of food! Milk, sacred cows, and bovine horns were always associated with women whose sharing of food symbolized the primordial act that makes all of us human (408). (The image below shows why.) It is no wonder then that for millennia women were regarded as incarnating the nourishment provided by Mother Earth herself.

Diagram public domain via wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perimetrium#/media/File:llu_cervix.svg

Vulva: This female organ is especially hallowed because of its connection with first experiences of all five senses. As everyone’s gateway to the external world, it represents our first tactile experiences, the drawing of first breath, the initial experience of fragrance, and the birthed organism’s first taste (of blood). The vulva is also intimately associated with primal experiences of one’s own voice and that of one’s godlike mother. Additionally, the vulva’s appearance reminds every one of the paradisal pre-birth state of unity with Source where all needs were satisfied without effort or pain. No wonder the vulva’s attraction!

·      Menses: In all ancient goddess cultures women’s monthly periods were honored as sacrosanct. They were times of withdrawal in the company of other women to menstrual huts where, relieved of their duties and the demands of husbands and children, women could meditate, pray together, sing, dance, and simply converse (186). More specifically, such periods provided time to celebrate the great mystery that women’s blood is liquid flesh (189).  It is the very substance from which all human bodies are made. This makes women co-creators with the Great Cosmic Mother in ways that men can never be. Nothing in human creation could be more basic, holy, feminine, or divine than female menses.

·      Connection with Lunar Cycles: Menstruation connects women with Mother Nature and her most basic processes in conscious and unconscious ways that are simply closed to men (189). Like the ocean and its tides, women’s bodies are governed by the moon and its phases. This means that women possess innate mostly intuitive wisdom inaccessible to men (183). For those paying attention, such knowledge of natural processes makes women especially sensitive to violations of the Divine Mother, because those transgressions deeply affect all women and mothers. When the Cosmic Mother is raped and despoiled, when the ocean is polluted, all women suffer the same fates whether or not they can articulately identify the transgressions involved. This suggests that women’s voices about environmental destruction should be given priority over men’s.   

·      Womb and Ovaries: These miraculous unseen organs speak volumes in special need of reading in an American culture that refuses to acknowledge what the female body expresses so clearly about questions of abortion. Wombs and ovaries tell us that life does not begin when sperm fertilizes egg. Instead, it is part of a 3.7-billion-year process that erupts continuously and prolifically in countless and infinite forms (including human varieties) most of which never reach full development recognizable as flowers, plants, specific animals, or human beings. The fact that worldwide billions of eggs go down the drain unfertilized each month, and that up to 50% of fertilized ova end up in miscarriages during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy reveals that creations of the Great Cosmic Mother are far more generous, abundant, plentiful, profligate and lavish than non-females can imagine. Women intuitively attuned to these facts, recognize the significance of this tremendous profligacy in ways inconceivable to men who can never experience ovulation, menstruation, conception, miscarriage – or abortion. It exposes the absurdity of the patriarchal approach to the beginning of personal life that, if taken seriously, turns the God of patriarchy into the abortionist par excellence!

Conclusion

The prehistoric images of the unclothed Great Cosmic Mother surely represent humanity’s first volumes of theology “written” for our preliterate ancestors. Wordlessly, the statues proclaim: “In this image you’ll find all you need to know about the divine. She is beautiful, wise (her hair), strong with inner strength beyond belief (soft flesh), the liquid source of our very bodies (menses), the producer of our first meals (her breasts), our way into the world and back to paradise (her vulva), the one who shows how to live harmoniously with nature (connection to the lunar cycles), and a cosmic co-creator.

Beyond that, men’s quasi-magic reaction to the very sight of the unclothed goddesses and the sexual interaction that sometimes follows provides evidence of the Cosmic Mother’s idea of human fulfillment and purpose – not consumption and accumulation, but ecstatic pleasure and joy simply from what the earth and human relationships provide.”

What could be more beautiful, simple — and salvific in a world obsessed with materialism and consumerism that is driving the species to omnicide? We need to return to the Great Cosmic Mother.

But what about the images of mature cyberspace women? Aren’t they pornographic?

It depends on how they’re viewed. If seen appreciatively as the acts of proud subjects rather than as demeaned objects, they can edify as representing sexually independent mothers and grandmothers acting for themselves and not primarily for men, profit, or in the service of cultural misogyny, and sexism. They communicate the same message as the statues found in Çatal Huyuk (in Turkey), in ancient Egypt and throughout the African continent.

They can be seen as proudly “bodying forth” the overlooked teachings of the Great Cosmic Mother viz., that:

  • “Pornography” is a construct of the twisted perspectives of toxic patriarchy. It does not even occur in more sane societal configurations. 
  • Ordinary women owning and claiming their sexual power and independence are indeed goddesses, beautiful and inspiring.
  • Sexual pleasure is good. It is one of Life’s greatest gifts. It is everyone’s right to enjoy it in all its forms – including that provided and elicited by mature women subjects.
  • As incorporating spirit and flesh, the guidance of female wisdom is more grounded in Life and Nature than men’s. Female wisdom represents the leading edge of human consciousness.
  • Since the Great Cosmic Mother’s nourishment embodied in life’s original food producer (i.e., our mother) feeds us without charge or need to earn that gift, human economies would be more harmonious with the cosmic Design if they were similarly gift-based.
  • Nature’s cycles are mirrored in our sisters who remind us each month of the unity shared by all with the moon, ocean, tides, and seasons.
  • Life is so abundant, prolific, and lavish, that all of us (and women especially) are truly co-creators with our Great Source. Like the Cosmic Mother herself, women can choose which fertilized eggs to bring to term and which to terminate. 
  • None of us (especially men) is ultimately in charge of Life’s super-generous processes which thankfully are beyond everyone’s understanding and control but are more fully understood by women.
  • Women deserve special honor as the gateway to life that points us back home to paradise lost.
  • Our world would be a better place if women as embodiments of the Great Cosmic Mother were in charge.

With all this in mind, it is possible to approach proudly unrobed mothers and grandmothers in the following spirit of appreciation and gratitude quite foreign to the unconscious misogyny which indoctrinated me so many years ago. I express that liberation in the verses I offer here with the hope that others might share the freedom they attempt to express:

Divine Images Lost and Found

Goddesses all
They are
Unfailing springs of rapt delight
Virgins, Mothers, wizened Crones
With tresses
Surpassing even
Samson’s might,
Sweet gentle eyes
Playful, smoldering, and mischievous,
Sensuous lips
Smiling wordlessly
While wondrously expressing
Our Mother’s cosmic purpose
Through soft flesh
Fulsome breasts,
And the Great Divide
Enticing
Between extended thighs
Calling
Vagrant children’s return
To origins lost
While inviting contemplation
Of her
And our (!)
Unfathomable mysteries within.


(Special thanks to Meryl Ann Butler, OpEdNews managing editor, for her marvelous editorial guidance in helping me formulate these thoughts whose shortcomings, of course, are mine, not hers.)