Don’t get too excited about Joe Biden and his pretense at boldness in the model of FDR.
FDR? Don’t make me laugh. Biden doesn’t even measure up to Eisenhower’s liberalism!
The man and his party have already surrendered to the fascist Republicans who are busy passing new Jim Crow laws to insure their continued minority rule. The Democrats could prevent that by passing the “For the People” Act (HR1). But that would insure continued Democratic rule. It would also require suspension of the Senate filibuster. Uncle Joe and the Dems tremble at the very thought.
Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats just won’t play hard ball. Remember how the fascists refused to even consider Obama’s SCOTUS appointment, Merrick Garland? With the presidential election 11 months off, they said they wanted “the American People” to have a voice in the matter. Then the fascists turned around and rushed through the appointment of a right-wing fanatic Amy Coney Barrett – less than two weeks before the 2020 election!
That and the appointments of sexual predators, Thomas and Kavanaugh, have rendered the SCOTUS absolutely corrupt. None of us should recognize the validity of its decisions.
Yes, Trump is gone for the moment. But enjoy the respite while you can. He’ll soon be back in one form or another – very likely worse than in his last incarnation. And the reason he’ll be back is because the Democrats are gutless wonders who don’t represent any of us. They represent only their rich donors.
Think about it: “The American People” overwhelmingly support Medicare for all, $15 an hour minimum wage, free college, tuition debt forgiveness, gun control, and higher corporate taxes. But can we expect “our” elected officials to follow suit? Of course not! They don’t care what we want — only what their donors demand.
Face it: we’re living in a failed state. Gridlock remains the order of the day. Nothing substantial is done for any of us ordinary people.
Compare “our” government’s gridlock with China’s efficiency – which enjoys (according to U.S polls) the approval of 90% of its population. That sounds like democracy to me.
Do you know how China solved its drunk driving problem? It decreed that a first offense would result in 2 weeks in jail. A second conviction leads to the permanent confiscation of one’s driver’s license! Problem solved.
Last week, there was an extremely rare school shooting in Russia. Immediately, President Putin introduced new restrictions on gun ownership. Our country has mass shootings every week. How do our legislators respond? “Thoughts and prayers.”
Biden’s foreign policy is virtually the same as Trump’s. Old Joe’s man, Tony Blinken says he’s worried about China, the Uyghurs, and the world’s “rules-based order.” But he won’t condemn Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, will he? He won’t even cut off funding of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince or call him the “killer” he is. Oh yes, “Putin’s a killer,” but not the man who had a Washington Post journalist murdered and dismembered.
What rules-based order?
And what about Cuba? And the Iran deal and old Joe’s continuance of the Donald’s crippling sanctions there? And Venezuela?
And the Pro Act? There’ll be no protection of workers under the Biden Administration. Why? See my note above on filibuster.
I hate to break the news, but it’s all smoke, mirrors, posturing and hypocrisy.
We’re living in a failed state. Yes, Trump will be back.
A few days ago, I posted a trial balloon episode of my first podcast in a series called “A Course in Miracles for Activists: ACIM for social justice warriors.” It used one of those generic automatic “translations” from-text-to -voice. It featured a professional voice, but one that had predictable problems in phrasing and sometimes in pronunciation that often characterize disembodied automatic voice recordings.
My effort was a kind of place holder. I was looking for feedback. (I’ve since removed the posting.)
But with the responses I received in mind, I’m now posting “take two.” Its content is quite different from my first recording and its voice is my own. However, I’m still looking for feedback. (And please don’t pull any punches.)
I’m also looking for subscribers to my new podcast site which you’ll find here: https://acimforactivists.com/ Please use the “Follow” button towards the bottom of the page.
So, give a listen and sign up if you’re so inclined. I consider this project another step in my own spiritual pilgrimage. I’m learning as I go — both about podcasting and the meaning of life.
I came across two very disturbing pieces this morning (one written, the other a video) about faith in a time of chaos. The written article was an editorial in The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) by the paper’s former editor, Tom Roberts. It elaborated on a theme I dealt with here a number of months ago about a “hostile takeover of the Catholic Church” by wealthy hedge funders, bankers, and business leaders.
According to Roberts, the wealthy’s buyout of the church is moving forward at an alarmingly rapid and efficient pace. And this to such an extent that the rich are on the brink of becoming the church’s “new magisterium.”
That is, their money and the media megaphones it buys are enabling them to override even the voice of Pope Francis and the teachings of the official magisterium about social justice and the gospel’s “preferential option for the poor.”
In place of those doctrines, the Magisterium of Money is centralizing issues that nowhere appear in the biblical tradition, viz., abortion, homophobia, free market economics, voter suppression, and Trumpian politics. It’s convincing Catholics that those unbiblical matters represent the heart of Catholic moral concern.
The second disturbing piece that crossed my desk this morning was frighteningly related to the first. It too unwittingly affirmed the superiority of the viewpoint of the wealthy over that of the poor championed by the church’s social teaching.
The affirmation took the form of a video invitation to join a course by Caroline Myss, described as “one of our greatest modern mystics.” Her course is called “The Mystical Truths Behind Radical Change.” The course’s trailer explained an image that is central to this particular mystic’s understanding of the spiritual life.
The human condition, Dr. Myss explained, can best be understood in terms of a stationary structure like the Empire State Building. Like those constructions, we’re all outwardly fixed and immobile in our settings. Internally, however, movement abounds. Elevators move us upward, even to penthouses high above the dirt, smells, and squalor that constitute the reality of those living on comparatively low rent ground floors.
For instance, from the top of the Empire State Building vistas of extraordinary beauty unfold. Squalor, noise, and disagreeable odors disappear. They’re replaced by antiseptic panoramic visions revealing the city’s order and splendor. Central Park, the Hudson River, clouds and even birds suddenly materialize. At night, the danger of Batman’s Gotham is replaced by a brightly lit, enchanted fairy kingdom called Manhattan.
According to Myss, her image represents the task of the spiritual life. It’s like taking an elevator to the top floor of our more modest (10 floor) stationary buildings. Spiritual development is about attaining a level of consciousness inaccessible from the ground floor.
I have no doubt about Dr. Myss’ good will and mystical acuity. And, at a certain level, I get her point about the need for “higher consciousness.” My fear, however, is that her image as well as her understanding of the spiritual life feeds into and supports the project of the Magisterium of Money. It implicitly contradicts Catholic Church social teachings and their preferential option for the poor.
Those teachings are based on the fundamental revelation (in a poor first century construction worker) that mystical awareness is developed primarily on the ground floor, among the street walkers, gang bangers, and garbage collectors. What some call “God” is found precisely in the ones invisible from the 10th floor, and even more so from urban penthouses. I’m talking about people like Jesus himself – harassed by the police and who end up in jail, in the torture chamber, and on death row.
In other words and according to the official Catholic magisterium, the spiritual life and “higher consciousness” is found precisely by descending from penthouses and fairy kingdoms to the stink, dirt and noise that cry out for the radical change Dr. Myss advocates and that the Magisterium of Money completely ignores.
Ironically (and as the Jesus event clearly teaches) “higher consciousness” remains inaccessible from the spiritual equivalent of penthouse perches and corner offices on Wall Street.
Over the past week, three approaches to the widespread availability of anti-Covid-19 vaccinations have crossed my desk. One was the comical music video (above) celebrating a supposed post-vaccine normalcy including a return to restaurants, movies, gatherings with family members, friends, grandchildren and mask-less interaction with the world at large. I couldn’t help smiling and laughing at my own relieved celebration of freedom’s prospect after more than a year of quarantine restrictions.
The second approach however was more sobering. It was an essay by Ernesto Burgio published in the Wall Street Journal’s Science and Technology International Magazine. Its basic message was “Not so fast; the human race is not nearly out of the woods.”
The third slant on the expected end of our current crisis returned me to the world of comedy and entertainment – to Bill Maher of all people and his recent riff on China’s competition with the United States (see below). He called it “We’re Not ‘Losing’ to China – We Lost.” Without saying so, Maher’s thesis implied that China’s system of governance holds much more promise of dealing with Burgio’s dire warnings than does our own.
Finally, and speaking specifically as a theologian, the three pieces just referenced caused me to jump to a fourth level, a spiritual one. The leap had me concluding that nothing less than a China-inspired change in the West’s guiding spiritual mythology will save us from destruction.
Let me explain.
The 1st Anthropocene Pandemic
In his Wall Street Journal piece, Burgio pointed out that scientists have been predicting something like SARS-CoV2 pandemic for the last 20 years. In fact, Covid is merely the most dramatic manifestation of a long-expected more general biological crisis resulting from a two-century long “War on Nature” – from what Pope Francis has called a systemic attack on humankind’s “Common Home.”
In recent memory, pandemic precursors have already surfaced as outbreaks of:
Covid-19 and those predecessors along with the pandemics to follow are the consequence of climate change, deforestation, and the creation of mega-cities that pack humans together in circumstances redolent of our related mistreatment livestock on factory farms. The upshots of it all were prepared by related culturally induced comorbidities such as obesity and diabetes exacerbated by unhealthy diets dominated by sugars, salt, oils, and chemical preservatives.
According to Burgio and in view of such systemic causal links, it is senseless to seek salvation primarily in pharmaceutical remedies (including vaccines). What’s demanded instead is systemic reform of the post-modern lifestyle including rejection of fossil fuels, adoption of environmentally friendly diets (with drastically reduced meat consumption), and careful restoration of animal habitats and ecosystems.
The problem is, such radical lifestyle reforms are virtually impossible for capitalist cultures like the one found in the United States, the most powerful causal engine of environmental destruction. Especially here, where private enterprise is king, there is simply no central authority powerful or effective enough to institute the rapid comprehensive changes required to head off future pandemics, much less to save the planet. Indeed, half the American population cannot bring itself to even recognize that the pandemic is real, that human activity causes climate change, or that we’ve indeed transitioned into a new (Anthropocene) geological age.
And that brings me to Bill Maher’s observations suggesting that any hope that the human race might have lies with China.
The Chinese Promise
The title of Maher’s piece says it all: “We’re Not ‘Losing’ to China; We Lost.” That’s because (in Maher’s words) unlike us, when Chinese authorities see a problem, they fix it. For example, and specifically relevant to Covid-19, when the pandemic hit, they threw up a quarantine center with 4000 rooms in 10 days. They made robots to check children’s temperatures and got them back in school almost immediately. As a result, China has returned to something close to normal. It will be the world’s only major economy to register significant growth during this extraordinary year.
In fact, Maher’s rant echoes what Burgio himself pointed out in his essay when he said:
“. . . it is an indisputable fact that Asian countries, first of all China, but also South Korea, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore have been able to stop the pandemic in the bud. It is also clear, to refute those who say that only authoritarian governments have been able to stop the pandemic by limiting civil liberties in a coercive and sometimes violent way, that Cuba, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland have done the same and have had very few deaths and minimal economic costs. All these countries have implemented precise strategies to contain the chains of infection, tracking and monitoring systems, organized quarantine areas and departments specifically dedicated to medium-severe and critical cases, implementing the gold standard in the management of pandemics: focusing on and strengthening primary health care.”
So, if it wasn’t because of the “authoritarian” character of its government, how explain China’s flexibility not only in dealing with Covid-19, but with its short-order elimination of extreme poverty, its rapid development of infrastructure, and its uniquely effective “foreign aid” as demonstrated in its Belt and Road Initiative?
Answering that question brings me to the earlier-mentioned realm of theology and spirituality. The answer is that China’s “Civilization State” (and eastern culture in general) is more effectively spiritual than anything found in western “Nation States.”
The fact is that Chinese culture deeply influenced by Marxism recognizes more clearly than do westerners the truth of Burgio’s starting point – his approving reference to Pope Francis’ recent encyclicals (Laudato Si’, and Fratelli Tutti) with their defense of the earth as humankind’s “Common Home.”
Instead, the West’s individualism and emphasis on competition prevents it from embracing anything resembling Francis’ appeal to the common good. This has been especially so since its endorsement of Margaret Thatcher’s dictum: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.”
Regrettably, Thatcher’s point is supported by the fundamental Judeo-Christian myth of creation. As interpreted by Augustine, it spins the tale of our first parents’ “original sin” that corrupted all humans and all of creation as well.
If we’ve been told from birth that we’re all corrupt and that nature itself has been vitiated, why would we be surprised to see one another as enemies with whom cooperation (vs. competition) is impossible? Why would we be surprised that we harbor rapacious attitudes towards Mother Nature herself or that we easily excuse governmental depravity?
Obviously, China (along with most eastern cultures) does not believe any of that. As a result, in the name of the common good and with support from the vast majority of its people, it can turn on a dime when faced with problems like the Covid-19 pandemic. As Maher says, “When the Chinese see a problem, they fix it.”
By contrast, our culture with its crippling spirituality and adversarial conception of democracy finds itself gridlocked into a syndrome of discord and immobilizing cross-purposes.
As Burgio says, Covid-19 is not a mere bump in the road. Instead, it represents a “syndemic” – an entire set of health-related problems involving myriad interacting afflictions that cannot be cured by hospital-centric health systems whose ultimate response is technological and pharmaceutical.
Ultimately, the response must be spiritual and civilizational. We must face the fact that normalcy is gone. “Vaccine Day” happy talk won’t save us. Nor will attempts to defeat, stifle, control or replace China as the world’s emerging leader not only economically, but spiritually as well. Only fundamental change along the lines of China’s flexibility and efficiency inspired by notions of common good and common home can save us now.
Just yesterday, I had two experiences that made me wonder about myself. Even at the age of 80, I’m still questioning how I should present myself in this world that by all appearances is rushing headlong into terminal disaster? Am I being too outspoken? Should I temper what I say about politics and religion?
For me, those are constant questions. They arise not only in family conversations, but more publicly – e.g., in the context of a men’s group I’m part of in our new hometown, Westport Connecticut. My self-interrogations surface as well in the church that Peggy and are aspiring to enter. It’s the Talmadge Hill Community Church located in nearby Darien. In all three instances – family, the men’s group, and in church – I find myself wondering about transgressing the boundaries of polite discourse.
Today, let me first of all tell you about what happened yesterday with the men’s group. In a subsequent posting, I’ll share my questionable behavior in church – and then in my family.
The Y’s Men
In Westport, I’m a member of The Y’s Men. It’s a group of about 200 retired men, mostly Jewish and with backgrounds in international business, law, local government, and other administrative posts. The organization gets its cleverly ambiguous name from some distant association with the YMCA, which I can’t recall.
In any case, the Y’s Men meet every week and sponsor a myriad of activities that include (among other items) hiking, golf, sailing, a book club, and (before Covid) theater in New York City. I’m enjoying all of that. The Y’s Men are typically very bright and firm I their opinions.
That firmness takes center stage every other week, when a gathering of about 50 of us meet to discuss world issues. There, as we talk about matters such as China, 5G, the Middle East, and the Great Global Reset. In those contexts, the Y’s Men reveal themselves as basically patriotic, respectful of the military, and as “Americans” who understand their country as a splendid model honoring human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
I, of course, share none of those characteristics. Informed by social analysis reflected in liberation theology, my own tendencies have me looking at international affairs from the viewpoint of the world’s majority who are poor and under the jackboot of western imperialism led by the United States of America. As a result, I often find myself at odds with my fellow discussants.
U.S. Policy in the Middle East
This week was no exception. The announced topic is “Recalibrating US Policy with respect to Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.” As usual, the conversation reflected the official position of the United States, viz. that “our” interests in recalibration are democracy and the protection of Israel from unreasonably hostile undemocratic forces represented principally by Iran, Islam, the Taliban, and Islamic terrorists.
For me, that position overlooked the provocative hostility of the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia towards Iran which is a major power in the area and whose interpretation of Islam has good reason for being defensively hostile towards foreign control of the Middle East. Consider the following:
Between 2010 and 2012, the intelligence agency (Mossad) of U.S. client Israel, assassinated four of Iran’s top nuclear scientists.
On January 3rd of 2020, the Trump administration itself assassinated Iran’s revered general, Qassim Soleimani, a national hero.
On November 11th, 2020, the Mossad also assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, yet another of the country’s leading nuclear scientists.
On May 8th, 2018, President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the internationally supported Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by which Iran had renounced alleged efforts to develop nuclear weapons. By all accounts, Iran had not violated the agreement.
Instead, the United States intensified economic sanctions on the country which increased Iran’s poverty rate by 11%.
The strengthening of sanctions persisted even during the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Despite such provocations, Iran has taken virtually no retaliatory measures either against Israel or the United States.
In the light of these facts, here’s what said at this week’s meeting:
What we’re calling a “reset” in the Middle East is really a recommitment to traditional U.S. anti-democratic policy there. It has us supporting not democracy, but client kings and potentates throughout the region particularly in Saudi Arabia as well as an apartheid regime in Israel. U.S. enemies here are Islamic nations who understand their religion as an affirmation of independence from outside control – independence from western imperialism and neo-colonialism. (For their part, the United States and its puppets call Islamic striving for independence “terrorism.”) Of course, the point of that imperial control is what it’s always been, viz. transfer of resources. And in the middle east, the resource in question is oil. Nothing has changed. Nothing will change as long as our economy remains petroleum dependent.
My intervention was largely ignored. So, using other words, I reiterated the sentiment about three times more.
And that’s my point of self-questioning here. Am I saying too much? Are my positions too radical? If so, are my efforts counterproductive in that they turn people against the very viewpoint I’m trying to share (that of the world’s poor, imperialized and silenced). Should I just shut up and listen?
Family members often caution me in the direction of such judicious silence.
Truthfully however, I find such restraint a species of self-betrayal. My role models – the people I find most admirable in the world – never bit their tongues in similar circumstances and even on the world stage. Their list is long and includes Gandhi, King, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Dorothy Day, William Barber II, Liz Theoharis, Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Jeremiah Wright, Chris Hedges, the Berrigan brothers, and the liberation theologians I’ve spent more than 50 years studying.
Most of all, the list of such truth-tellers is headed by the great prophets of the Bible and by the one who has grasped and held my attention my entire life. I’m talking about Jesus the Christ.
I’ll explore that dimension of my outspokenness and self-doubt in my next posting.
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.
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?
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.
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:
On his stinking POS
Wage workers know
That life is hard
When a plague requires
Months of misery
And hopeless days
That drain their lives
And have them wondering
If they’ll ever
Psalm 147: 1-6:
Some look to “God”
And still find words
Praise and thanks
Into transcendent plans
Of infinite intelligence,
Power, and wisdom
That one day will find
And poor workers
Their just wage.
1 Cor. 9: 16-19, 22-23:
Paul’s proud labor
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
As a day-laborer
Become faith healer
First of his friend’s
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
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:
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.
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.
Thankfully, our country may at last be entering a pre-revolutionary period. Forces of both right and left are emerging hell bent on social change.
Of course, I’m referring to the recent riots in Washington DC and the threat of further violence this inauguration week. I’m also referencing last summer’s largely peaceful Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations mis-portrayed in the media as setting entire cities aflame.
Mis-portrayals or not, both rebellions have the United States government on the run and ready to tamp down the disturbances with drastic policy changes.
Moreover, participation in the uprising by DC police, former military, and psyop officers indicates that society’s armed forces – local law enforcement and some military rank and file – are beginning to come over to the side of revolution. (Historically speaking, such switching of sides is an absolute prerequisite for any revolution’s success.)
The whole configuration has government officials like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence hiding under their desks for fear for the mobs with pitchforks.
After all, we should be clear about this: none of them, not Pence or McConnell, not Schumer or Pelosi is our friend. Quite the opposite. Their loyalties lie elsewhere – with the natural enemies of wage earners like us. They are friends of the one percent who have been exploiting the rest of us for decades. None of them deserves our sympathy or respect. It’s gratifying to see them frightened out of their wits.
It’s quite ironic, isn’t it? Those whom Dr. King called the world’s greatest purveyors of violence now have their tables turned. A week after voting to spend more than $2 billion a day on war and armaments, they’ve suddenly become pacifists obsessing about violence!
And the rest of us will be seduced by their outraged discourse unless we understand that the term “violence” is more complicated than most of us think. In fact, there’s a lot to be said in favor of revolutionary violence.
Violence Is Multi-Dimensional
Sadly, as was the case with the birth of this country, revolution necessarily involves violence. But let’s face it: so does maintenance of the system at hand. As we’ll see below, the social arrangements we experience every day are based on a violence responsible for untold suffering and death. In the eyes of many, the only rational response is to defend ourselves in kind. And the violence is often justifiable.
Speaking precisely as a theologian, I’ll say, they may be right. In fact, even Catholic bishops like Brazil’s Dom Helder Camara and St. Oscar Romero of El Salvador made a similar argument years ago during their peoples’ own revolutions against U.S.-supported dictatorships.
Both prelates pointed out that “violence” is more complicated than most of us think. It actually has four dimensions – and only one of them (the one usually most ardently vilified in our culture) is by any stretch justifiable. The levels include (1) structural violence, (2) the (often revolutionary) violence of self-defense, (3) reactionary police violence, and (3) terrorist violence. According to Camara and Romero, only the second level can claim any legitimacy.
Let me explain.
The riots I’ve been referring to here are an indication that U.S. citizens are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. Consciously or unconsciously, we’re mad about unjust structures – about economic, social, and political arrangements – whose short-list includes:
A government that has criminally mishandled a pandemic it has allowed to kill 400,000 of us (and counting)
Completely inadequate health care that few can really afford
A rigged electoral system
Police repression unevenly targeting people of color
A bailout of the rich and powerful and a middle finger to the working class, unemployed, and uninsured during a crisis that has record numbers of us unemployed and plagued by inescapable debt
Inadequate wages that have most of us up to our ears in hock
Unaffordable education along with overwhelming student debt
Unpayable rents coming due
The maintenance of a military system that spends more than $2 billion each day, while increasing numbers of Americans are sleeping in the streets and under bridges
An embarrassing infrastructure that is falling apart before our eyes making our cities, transportation systems, breadlines and beggars on the street look like Brazil used to look.
Government inaction about climate change and immigration
Again: all of that (and more) represents structural violence. It causes untold suffering and kills people every day. However, it has been such a part of our daily lives that few of us even recognize it as deadly, criminal and even homicidal.
And if someone is trying to kill you, anyone has the right to self-defense.
Violence of Self-Defense
And that brings me to Camara’s and Romero’s second level of violence, the response of oppressed people to the first level.
Self-defense is a human right. Perhaps the heroic among us – like Gandhi, King and those who followed them – can forego its invocation. However, let’s not fool ourselves, the vast majority of Americans – in fact the vast majority of Christians – is not and has never been pacifist.
Far from it, most of us – even religious people – are enthusiastic advocates of “just war,” always rationalized as self-defense. (That $2 billion we allow our government to spend on “defense” each day is proof enough of that.)
Even more to the point, our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, underlines the right of citizens to engage in the very type of violence displayed in Washington last week. Referring to the origins and aims of government, Jefferson and his co-signers declared: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Judging from the violent actions of our founders, those words arguably justify Americans’ assuming arms, destroying property, and arresting criminally negligent officials administering a government as dysfunctional as the one described above.
The inevitable reactionary response of violent institutions to citizen rebellion constitutes the third level of violence. It’s what we saw last summer in response to the (again) largely peaceful demonstrations of BLM activists precisely against out-of-control police forces.
This level of officially sanctioned violence took the form of tear gas, pepper spray, beatings, mass arrests, and running over protestors with squad cars.
It’s here, of course, that the problematic differences between the revolutionary forces of the left and those of the right come under blindingly bright light. Our system’s endemic racism and its accompanying white privilege prompt police and military forces to align with white revolutionaries, while crushing their black and brown counterparts.
The difference in response ignores the commonality of complaints shared by basically working-class protestors. (The disparity describes the arena of dialog and cooperation that must be recognized and entered by all participants. But that’s another story.)
In any case, because this third level of violence supports a criminal status quo, it is just as illegitimate as the first level.
The fourth level of violence is that represented by terrorism – in the case of the DC riots, domestic terrorism.
The FBI defines domestic terrorism as “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
According to this characterization, what occurred in Washington on January 6th fits the category. Its acts were violent and against the law. They were committed by a group seeking to further goals stemming from domestic influences – in this case, that of a sitting U.S. president inciting action to reverse an officially sanctioned and repeatedly court-vetted election.
Likewise, the definition’s parameters could justify classifying some of last summer’s BLM protests as terroristic. After all, they sometimes involved property destruction and were motivated by religious, social and racial concerns.
All of this reveals however the system-serving nature of terrorism’s official definition. It too supports the status quo and forbids revolutionary action of the type supported by the Declaration of Independence. Hence, like the system itself, the definition is entirely questionable.
Such conclusion is further justified given the fact that its proponents (the FBI and U.S. government) themselves stand accused of domestic and international terrorism on a scale that absolutely dwarfs the pre-revolutionary events of 2020. By all accounts, state terrorism is a far greater and more destructive problem than any domestic form.
So how should we look upon the pre-revolutionary events currently fomented by social activists at both ends of the U.S. political spectrum? The answer is: with both enthusiasm and caution.
Enthusiasm because this country needs a revolution – even entailing destruction of property. Our government no longer represents anyone but the 1%. Its police forces support that government and terrorize black and brown people. Its electoral system is completely corrupt. “Our” representatives are standing by idly while literally thousands are needlessly dying every day. Etc., etc., etc. etc.
As Helder Camara, Oscar Romero and Thomas Jefferson posthumously suggest, the crucial moment may have thankfully arrived. And if history provides any indication, the moment may sadly witness desperate people doing desperate things – in ways that are completely understandable and arguably justified.
Those who recognize the need for revolutionary change are patriots, though many of them have been badly misinformed to the point that they are punching downward rather than above.
And that’s where the caution comes in. For any revolution to serve all of the people, forces at both ends of the political spectrum must recognize their shared common ground. The short-list shared above makes that point quite clearly. Trump’s supporters have far more in common with Black Lives Matter advocates than they do with their cult leader.
Rather than echoing the official chorus uncritically denouncing undifferentiated “violence,” forces on both the left and right need to think more critically about the topic. We need to unify against our common enemy and threaten its supporters with consequences for their treasonous misrepresentation.
Last week, Michael Moore asked an important question on OpEdNews. He wondered “Why Are We Not Uprising?” His revolutionary issue was the lack of single-payer healthcare so relentlessly highlighted by the worldwide covid-19 pandemic. Why no revolution, he asked, when so many are dying from clearly remediable causes – when the vast majority of Americans want single-payer?
Response to Moore’s article showed that he had indeed touched a revolutionary chord.
But then last Wednesday, when an actual uprising took place, everyone, it seemed, wanted to join hands across the proverbial aisle separating left and right. They jointly lamented the shocking breakdown of law and order. (The “Risings” Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti provide an example of that shared reaction.)
Think about it, everyone said: the rioters actually “desecrated” the Capitol Building’ “sacred” space! They broke some windows. They took selfies of themselves standing at the podium of the House of Representatives. They ransacked poor Nancy Pelosi’s office! They forced Mitch McConnell and Co. to run for their lives.
Washington policemen responded with a wink and a nod.
The horror of it all!
Something similar (with important differences) happened this summer, when Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrators took to the streets. Theirs’ was a largely peaceful uprising in the spirit of Martin Luther King. But then, agents provocateurs (and perhaps some demonstrators themselves) had the temerity to break into and loot Wal-Mart’s “sacred” precincts. Windows were smashed; fires were set.
That time, police responded with an iron fist. Demonstrators were beaten, tear-gassed and arrested.
Yes of course, there were those important differences between the two insurrections just cited. The DC protagonists were Trump supporters and right-wing fanatics. Their issue was election fraud. The cause of the BLM demonstrators was police brutality directed towards black and brown people.
Despite those distinctions however, don’t you see what’s happening? Michael Moore’s wish has come true! The first phase of the revolution is unfolding before our very eyes. But even its protagonists don’t recognize its portent and promise.
That’s because they’ve been hoodwinked into seeing each other as the enemy. Rather than joining forces against their common overlords, they’re punching down. The rightists think their enemy are blacks and immigrants whose numbers are rapidly changing U.S. demographics. Meanwhile, leftist demonstrators are the very ones mistakenly vilified by the rightists and their sympathizers among the police.
The empowering solution is for all of us to see the common revolutionary terrain on which we’re standing, namely:
Citizen anger, be it left or right is entirely justified
Both what happened In DC this week and in streets across the country (and world) last summer are the initial stirrings of a widespread working-class revolution.
Michael Moore is right. He’d agree, I think, that the real violence in question here is not breaking windows or setting fires. It’s a system that in the midst of a worldwide pandemic refuses (despite agreement between Democratic and Republican majorities) to refund our taxpayer dollars in the form of single-payer healthcare and guaranteed income for workers displaced by forces beyond our control.
That’s our money they’re not returning to us in this emergency!
Everyone can also agree with Trump supporters that our election system is entirely fraudulent. Voting machines are completely questionable; they should be replaced by paper ballots. Campaign contributions are nothing but legalized bribery. Voter suppression’s many forms (from unnecessary ID laws to the dismantling of the U.S. post office) are a sad fact of American life. Gerrymandering is hideously anti-democratic. So is the Electoral College. The list of fraudulence goes on.
Pelosi and McConnell do not represent us, but their donors. Following the example of our Founders (cf. Jefferson on this!), we should force them all to flee for their lives from outraged citizens and their pitchforks whether the attack comes from the right or the left.
The offices of our mis-representatives deserve to be ransacked.
Ordinary people should seize congressional podia and make their voices heard.
The police too are working class people misled into identifying fellow workers as the enemy while defending their own natural enemies.
I’m currently reading Barack Obama’s autobiography, The Promised Land. It’s an account of a well-meaning ambitious young black man whose rise to the pinnacle of political power gradually but inexorably transforms him into the servant of a class he initially identified as inimical to the interests of the people he wanted to help. It’s the story of an imperceptibly slow cooptation, early-onset blindness, and betrayal of ideals and common sense in favor of power, profit and prestige.
A similar cooptation threatens all of us at this pre-revolutionary moment. It will succeed if we allow our overlords to sell us a narrative that covers up the workers’ revolution that has the Pelosis and McConnells of the world frightened out of their wits. Like young Mr. Obama, we’re overlooking how the rich and powerful are blinding us to our common cause as wage-earning Americans.
Michael Moore (and the rest of us) should take note.