U.S. Drone Policy Would Have Targeted Jesus Himself

  Last week the Obama administration admitted publicly for the first time what the entire world has long known. Through its spokesperson, John Brennan and then personally, the President disclosed that the United States has been using remotely controlled drone technology to carry out targeted extra-judicial executions in various countries in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. Such capital sentences were, the President assured, careful, deliberate, responsible, and in full accord with the law.

                Apart from questions international lawyers have about that latter claim, and despite the President’s assurances, the criteria for targeting foreign nationals – and now U.S. citizens – remain extremely loose. Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin and others have shown that their application inevitably results in the killing of civilians. In fact, hundreds of such instances of “collateral damage” have been recorded in Pakistan alone. Faulty intelligence, misidentifications of targets and failure to understand local cultures are among the reasons for such slaughter of innocents by remote control.

                According to Benjamin in her book, Drone Warfare, the criteria for drone attacks on suspected terrorists are basically two. The targeted are first of all known leaders and members of terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda. Those falling under a second criterion fit a profile of suspicious activity such as keeping company with known terrorists, lending them support, or carrying weapons in a suspicious manner.

                These, of course, are the same rules of engagement empires have always supplied their death squads to justify their murders of insurgents and the rebels-against-occupation whom empires routinely label “terrorists.” As a matter of fact, they were the same ones used by the Roman Empire two thousand years ago to justify the assassination of Jesus of Nazareth. In Rome’s eyes, he not only associated with insurgents and terrorists, Jesus was directly guilty of stirring up the people and of threatening institutions including the Jewish Temple system and the Roman Empire itself. His incendiary statements and messianic claims also made him a prime target for elimination.

If there were drone technology in Jesus’ day, a first-century equivalent of Wikileaks might well have published the following memo from Pontius Pilate to Caesar Augustus about the well-known insurgent and terrorist, Jesus of Nazareth. (Biblical references have been anachronistically added to document sources for the memo’s accusations):     

Your Majesty Exalted Son of God:

You have advised that we here at the Jerusalem Praetorium should identify targets for Rome’s careful, deliberate, responsible, and entirely legal drone operations. I write to inform you of one such target. This one goes by the name “Yeshua ben Miryam,” though his nom de guerre is “Son of Man” (more about that below). The memo which follows is of unusual length, I concede. However its detail is a measure of my desire to assure you that the evidence against ben Miryam is so overwhelming that no mistake is possible in my designating him for elimination. In fact, of all the terrorist subjects recently reported by this office, this one most clearly fulfills the protocols for our very precise remotely controlled operations. This Yeshua is not only a terrorist himself, he runs a gang of terrorists, and is armed and dangerous.

To begin with, Yeshua (aka the Master) comes from the town of Nazareth in the Galilee. As you know from our country’s experience about 20 years ago with the Jewish rebellion in Sephoris (just 5 miles from Nazareth) this has always been a hotbed of insurgents against our entirely peaceful purposes. You remember too that our policy in Sephoris was to presume that everyone in the area was somehow involved in the insurrection. That justified our death squads and scorched-earth policy. Somehow, this Yeshua escaped. I mean he should have been killed then, because no doubt he was some kind of message- runner (all the child-soldiers in his age cohort did that).

In any case, they say that his mother, Miryam, was some kind of insurgent poet. One of her pieces of cheap doggerel identifies a “mighty” jihadist God “who put down the powerful from their seat,” and who “fills the hungry with good things, while the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk.1:46-55). What I’m saying is that this character Yeshua was fed insurgent doctrine with his mother’s milk, if you will.

Besides, they report that this Yeshua of Nazareth has taken on your title “Son of God” (Mk.l:1). He apparently adopted this imperial pretension after he took over the “Baptizer Gang” run by that nationalist cult leader called John Baptizer. (Remember, he was a highly suspect character finally arrested and executed by our man in Galilee, Herod.)

Since then, our subject has not only been called “Son of God,” he’s been speaking everywhere about establishing an alternative to the Roman Empire. He calls it the “Kingdom of God.” When questioned about his intentions, he speaks vaguely in code (they call it “parables”) – an evasive technique commonly used, as you well know, by insurgents everywhere. “Kingdom of God” seems to refer to what our Palestinian Province would be like if Yeshua’s God rather than you, our august Emperor, were king. In any case, story has it that following a ritual baptism by John, this Yeshua had a vision informing him that he, not you august Caesar, is God’s son (Mk.1:9-11). Here we clearly have a rival who must be eliminated.

And if his friends are killed in the process, don’t worry; they’re all terrorists as well. The name of one, Simon the Zealot, says it all (Mt.10:4). He’s obviously a member of the Zealot insurgency that played such a destructive role against us in Sephoris and elsewhere. As for the others (there are 12 in the gang), it’s difficult to identify them, because they all carry noms de guerre. Two of them are called “Sons of Thunder” (Mk.3:17). Another is “Rocky” (Mt.16:18). Still another is probably a Sicarius (one of those knife fighters responsible for assassinations of Roman soldiers). His code name is Iscariot — note the “sicarius” reference (Jn.6:71).

As I indicated earlier, ben Miryam’s own nom de guerre is “Son of Man” (e.g. Mk8:27-38).  Our temple informants tell us that this name bears high significance in the Jewish resistance. Apparently, it comes from some “Book of Daniel” these people hold as “sacred.” In that book, the Son of Man is a Jewish hero responsible for the destruction of imperial enemies, past, present, and future. Needless to say, anyone assuming that title is a sworn enemy of Rome and its most peaceful benevolent order.

Yeshua’s own hatred for Rome and vendetta against us is unmistakable. At one point he openly identified our young servicemen as demons. He is said to have used magical powers to symbolically drown them in the sea. But first he drove them into a herd of pigs, the filthiest animals these Jews can imagine (Mk.5:1-20). Not only was that insulting to our heroic young servicemen, they say it reminded many of Yeshua’s compatriots of the first such drowning in their legendary history. Apparently, that was when Egyptian “legions” were drowned in the sea more than a thousand years ago. Once again, all of this was unambiguous code for Yeshua’s intention to overthrow our empire.  

Not only that, he has promised to bring down to rubble the Jews’ Temple in Jerusalem (Mk.13). How he’d achieve this is unclear. True, his men are armed – reason enough to eliminate them (Lk.22:36-38). It must be that he is part of the insurgency planning vengeful attack on those they see as collaborators among the Jewish clergy, especially the high priesthood. And a central target of their retribution is the temple. In fact, recently Yeshua took part in (and probably led) a demonstration there aimed at the merchants who make their living selling religious items (Mk.11:15-19). He and his violent demonstrators used whips against the peaceful temple entrepreneurs, overturned stalls and tables – no doubt a preview of the more extensive destruction this violent man has promised. And don’t mistake the depth of his violence. He makes no pretensions to be a man of peace. I have it on the best authority that he has said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword” (Mt.10:34-36).

As you can see, august Emperor and Son of God, Yeshua ben Miryam unmistakably meets both of our cautious criteria for the use of our new drone technology. If not a member of the Zealot insurgency, he has close associates in the organization, and is probably an important adviser of theirs. His connection with the Sicarius assassins has already been noted. On top of this, he travels with an armed gang, and has targeted both our troops and temple property for destruction. More than that, his “Son of Man” and “Son of God” pretentions have designated the very empire itself for annihilation. (It must be that he hates our freedom.)

My advice is to stop him now before he can do further damage. Do not worry that any of the information contained in this memo might be inaccurate. It has been supplied by Jewish “holy men” whose Commandments forbid “false witness” of any type. They have been working with us for years, and can be trusted implicitly.

Paul of Tarsus: Christianity’s First Liberation Theologian

 (This is the 2nd in a series on liberation theology)

                It is very difficult for 21st century Christians to understand Paul of Tarsus. This is because (as Evangelical theologian, Brian McLaren puts it) we read Paul backwards – just as we understand Jesus backwards. By that McLaren means we usually begin our understanding with someone like Billy Graham (or with Benedict XVI for Catholics). From there we progress to John Calvin (or Vatican II), to Martin Luther (or the Council of Trent), to Thomas Aquinas, to Augustine, to Paul and then to Jesus. That progression yields a perception of Paul who was misogynist and homophobic, who supported slavery, who taught obedience to all governmental authority, and who was concerned the priority of faith over works the way Luther was. In other words, understanding Paul backwards projects back onto him controversies and consciousness that emerged decades, centuries and even millennia after his death.

                There is another way to understand Paul (and Jesus) however. And that is the way employed by liberation theology. This “other” way begins understanding with Adam, progresses on to Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, and finally Paul. This Paul is interpreted in the light of Jesus and not vice-versa. He knows nothing of the controversies that will distort his message over the centuries to come. Instead, we find in the man from Tarsus a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul is above all Jewish, and a working man besides. Paul is an intellectual, world-traveler, Jewish mystic, radical thinker, and martyr at the hands of empire. His overriding concern is spreading Good News about Jesus and his message which centralized the welfare of the poor and oppressed.

As everyone knows, Paul’s letters represent the earliest entries we find in the Christian Testament. Written beginning around the year 50, they pre-date the gospels by 20 years or more. They are the documents closest in time to the life of Jesus of Nazareth. This makes it very significant that Paul’s letters (especially Romans and I Corinthians) reflect a clear liberation theology perspective whose defining character is a preferential option for the poor.

To perceive this reflection, it is helpful to consider Paul’s life’s circumstances in relation to Jesus. Such consideration reveals both continuities and discontinuities. To begin with, like Jesus, Paul belonged to the working class. He was a tent-maker. He was also, like Jesus, a Jewish mystic. This means he was aware that divine revelation did not belong to a single people, but was available to everyone by virtue of a common human experience.  Even more, Paul recognized a Divine Spark, i.e. a divine presence within every human being. He called it the Spirit of God. Both recognitions (of the commonality of revelation and of the Divine Spark) made Paul a universalist who saw that in God’s order national and class distinctions were meaningless. Finally, Paul, like Jesus, finished as a victim of capital punishment at the hands of the Roman Empire, though he was not executed by crucifixion, which suggests that unlike Jesus, he was not considered an insurgent or terrorist.

In addition to the similarities, Paul’s life circumstances also made him unlike Jesus in several important ways. For one, Paul was formally schooled as a Jewish rabbi, so he had more formal education than Jesus; Paul was an intellectual. Unlike Jesus too, Paul was a world traveler, and may even have been a Roman citizen. This not only helps account for Paul’s daring universalism, but for his opportunities and willingness to engage Roman philosophers on their own turf – geographically and intellectually.

Such considerations shed a bright light on Paul’s theology. There in key arguments he did not typically begin from a place of divine revelation, but from experience from which he drew rational conclusions. This made him like the Greco-Roman philosophers he was so interested in engaging.  Like the Stoics among them, he recognized the earlier referenced Divine Spark within each person. Paul, however, differed from the Stoics (and the Christian Gnostics who came later) in that he did not interpret the Divine Spark or logos as the presence of a changeless Spirit continuous with an eternal natural order. Nor did recognition of a divine indwelling spirit confirm the Stoic view that saw Rome’s political order as divinely established with the Emperor embodying the fullest expression of the divine “Word.”  

Rather, for Paul, the divine spark was identical with the Spirit of God, which Paul saw the same as what he termed the wisdom of God. That wisdom selected the poor and despised as God’s chosen people. This selection made Paul’s critical truth criterion vastly different from his Greco-Roman debate adversaries. For whereas the Greek’s criterion of truth was “what is” – the given natural and political orders – Paul’s fundamental criterion of “the judgment of God,” and “the Wisdom of God” prioritized the needs of the poor, humiliated, rejected, and despised. As liberation theologian, Franz Hinkelammert puts it, Paul’s argumentation was structured not by what is, but by what is not, i.e. by those “the wisdom of the world” excludes from consideration, viz. the poor just referenced. Seeing them as God’s chosen calls entirely into question discourse that the given world takes as normal.

To reiterate, all of this is difficult to perceive, since the liberation theology thrust of Paul’s thinking has been obscured by post-fourth century imperialized interpretations to be described in a later posting. (This also happened with the gospel accounts of the words and deeds of Jesus.) Thus on the one hand, Paul is commonly understood as pro-imperial, anti-feminist, and pro-slavery – as though the heart of Paul’s teaching were cultural rather than focusing on the counter-cultural “Wisdom of God.” Emphasis on Paul’s apparent sexism and his pragmatic approach to slavery ignores the apostle’s specific and substantive teachings about the invalidity of distinctions regarding nationality, gender, and social status. Interpretations of Romans 13 as endorsement of empire similarly ignore the center of his teaching about law and his contrast of the wisdom of the world vs. the Wisdom of God. If all authority comes from God as Romans 13 claims, then only those authorities whose legislation expresses the Wisdom of God (and its preferential option for the poor) must be obeyed.  

What Paul’s radicality means is that far from being the real founder of the Christian church (as is often alleged) Paul professed a theology that was quite foreign to his successors. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that the church was not founded by Paul, but against him. His teachings were far too radical for the digestive tracts of church leaders in the Constantinian institution that emerged in the 4th century. At that point, it became necessary to domesticate and tame Paul’s radicality and to make him like the rest of the church, a faithful servant of the status quo with its imperial oppression, misogyny, homophobia, racism, and eventual internecine squabbles about faith and works.

Until the emergence of modern scripture scholarship and interpretations like liberation theology’s we hadn’t heard from the real Paul of Tarsus since the first century.

Next Friday:  Jesus, Paul, Liberation Theology and Critical Thinking

In Memoriam: Gil Rosenberg

        Our entire church community was greatly saddened this past week when a tragic automobile accident took from our midst a treasured member, Gil Rosenberg. Gil was the devoted husband of June Widman, and the dear father of Jess and Greg. My sons, Brendan and Patrick, knew him as “coach,” because Gil was passionate about basketball and soccer. He coached Greg’s basketball team when our kids were in the Pee Wee and Junior leagues together. And for several seasons, Gil coached girls’ soccer at the Berea Community School. His players deeply respected and loved him. That was evident to all of us sitting in the stands and watching with admiration. Even more evident was Gil’s love and devotion towards his players. He was a great coach.

                Gil’s most evident trait however was his combination of intelligence and wit. As they say in Boston, he was “wicked smaht.” It seemed he could hardly put two sentences together without interjecting a joke, pun, or comic allusion to current events. I’m sure that endeared him to his students in Lexington where he taught writing. No doubt he would have something funny to say about dying right after administering a “final” exam there. Gil was cool. Gil was hip. He was extremely serious, light-hearted and comic all at the same time.

                Oh, I almost forgot: Gil was also Jewish. That’s what made his faithful attendance at St. Clare’s Catholic Church so remarkable. Gil would probably explain, “Why not? Jesus was a Jew, wasn’t he? It’s you guys who should feel weird for making him into a Christian.” And then he’d laugh, search everyone’s faces, and look away. That was his schtick.

                So where is Gil now? Surely he’s in heaven, whatever that means. I recently read a cover story in the Easter edition of Time Magazine. Perhaps you’ve seen it too. It was called, “Rethinking Heaven.” The article compared what the author called the “Blue Sky” understanding of heaven with a this-worldly take that was described as “God’s space” here on earth – a space of love, joy, and justice. Gil often inhabited that space for sure. And he drew others into it too.

                As for the “Blue Sky” approach, it refers to the place up in the sky we all imagined as children. It’s where we live after death with God and Jesus and our loved one who preceded us in death. Few of us can take that literally as adults. It seems to be a metaphor for the greatest happiness we can imagine – indescribable fulfillment and joy. It’s a metaphor for what we can expect from the God revealed by the Jewish Jesus – a God who is a loving Father, but more like a Jewish mother who just gives and gives and gives without ceasing. That’s the Mother; that’s the Father that our faith tells us Gil is somehow with at this very moment.

                All that was required of Gil to enter that heaven was surrender. I can imagine him surrendering, flashing that sly smile of his, and saying, “Let’s see what comes next – the next great adventure.” What came next, I’m sure was some sort of meeting with the Jewish Jesus, who somehow said, “Welcome home, brother.”

                As for us left behind by Gil. . . . We’re still wiping our eyes. We can barely say through our tears, “God’s speed, Gil. You are already missed. Your generosity, your dedication as a coach and teacher, your love and hard work as a father and husband, your keen mind and light-hearted wit will not be forgotten.”

Chosen Nation? No. Chosen People? Yes.

Readings for the Sixth Sunday after Easter:

Acts: 10:25-28, 34-35, 44-48

1 John 4-7, 10

John 15:9-17

 Israeli Zionists are no longer God’s people. The Palestinians are. And ironically, the Zionists are their oppressors. That’s the central thought I’d like to leave with each of you this morning. (And don’t worry; you’ll have time to talk back at me after I finish speaking. I want to hear what you think.)

                My conclusion about Zionists and Palestinians is based on four considerations. To begin with it could be reached by just paying attention to the news – to what’s been happening in Gaza for the last two years and more. In Gaza the Zionists have created a virtual prison camp very reminiscent of the ones imposed on the Jews during World War II. In Gaza, Zionists have severely limited access to food, water, and medical care. They’ve have attacked private homes, schools and hospitals; they’ve killed with impunity thousands of men, women and little children.

                Besides the news, my conclusions are also based on the writing of people who should know. Leading Jewish intellectual, Noam Chomsky lends support here. So does Jimmy Carter in his book Peace Not Apartheid. (Remember President Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Middle East Peace Process).  Just this month, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a hero in South Africa’s struggle against the hated apartheid system of segregation, called for a boycott of Israeli goods. Like Carter, he says the Zionists have created a system of apartheid in Palestine every bit as unjust as South Africa’s before 1994. All  three, Chomsky, Carter, and Tutu might agree that enforcers of a Hitlerian system like the one in Gaza, and enforcers of an apartheid system suggestive of South Africa cannot pretend that they are somehow underwritten by the God of the Bible as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

                My third reason for saying that Palestinians not Israeli Zionists are God’s people is my own observation. A few years ago I went on a three-week fact-finding tour of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. My own eyes, and the conversations we had with all sides in the conflict convinced me that the Palestinians, not the Zionists deserve our support as Christians.

                However my real motive for bringing all of this up this morning is contained in the readings for the Sixth Sunday after Easter in today’s liturgy. That’s my fourth reason for saying Israeli Zionists are not longer God’s people; the Palestinians are. Today’s readings tell us that God is love, that Jesus reveals the shocking meaning of that familiar statement, and that in the light of Jesus’ revelation, God has no favored nation at all – not the Israelis, not German Arians, not white Afrikaners, not Americans like us.  

                However, please note: saying that God has no favored nations at all is not the same as saying that God is neutral and has no favored people. God as revealed in Jesus is definitely not neutral. (To understand what I’m saying, it’s crucial to distinguish between “nation” and “people.”  “Nation” refers to nationality, race, and sovereign states. “People” transcends all of that. “God’s people” could be found in any nation, among any race, in any sovereign state – or in no sovereign state as happens with the Palestinians who have no state of their own.) The (biblical) fact is God favors some people over others. God has made what theologians call a “preferential option” for some and not for others.

                To show you what I mean, let’s begin by considering today’s second reading. Today’s selection from the First Letter of John makes two very important statements. The first is that God is love. The second is that the example of Jesus tells us exactly what that means. John is saying that by looking at Jesus we can know who God is.

                Jesuit theologian, Roger Haight, can help us understand. “Jesus is not God,” Haight has said. Rather, “God is Jesus.” That might sound confusing at first. But here’s what he means. To say that Jesus is God presumes we know who or what God is. But, of course, we really don’t. God is invisible. No one has ever seen God. However, to say that God is Jesus addresses our lack of knowledge and the nature of “the incarnation.” It means that Jesus’ example lifts the veil of ignorance between us and God. By looking at Jesus, considering his words, deeds, life’s circumstances, and choices, we get a clear idea of who God is and the nature of his love. Jesus is not God. God is Jesus.

                And what is it that Jesus reveals concerning the love of God? To reiterate, he tells us that it is partial. God’s love favors some and not others. Even before Jesus, the whole idea of “chosen people” supports that, doesn’t it?  Apart from that, however, we have Jesus’ words. He clearly did not approve of his day’s religious establishment or its leaders. He called them “hypocrites.” In Luke’s version of the Eight Beatitudes, he says, “Blessed are you poor,” and “Woe to you rich.” Those are statements about whole classes of people, and about whom it is that God approves and whom he rejects. In the Last Judgment scene in Matthew 25, Jesus talks specifically about rewarding those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and show concern for the imprisoned. Those who don’t do such things are clearly rejected – and quite definitively.  

                Besides all that, the very choices that Christian theology tells us God made in presenting God’s Self in Jesus tell us much about whom God favors.  God didn’t choose to incarnate God’s Self in the rich and powerful, though we might have expected that God would. God didn’t appear as a king, a priest, an intellectual, or even as a respectable person. Rather, Jesus as God’s fullest revelation was the son of an unwed teenage mother. He was homeless at birth. According to Matthew, he was an immigrant for a while in Egypt. The religious people of his day said he was possessed by the devil. They cast him out of their houses of worship – in effect excommunicating him. Jesus’ enemies called him a drunkard and friend of prostitutes and other sinners. The occupying Roman authorities considered him an insurgent and terrorist. (If they had “drones,” they would have killed Jesus that way because he met their “profile” of a terrorist.) In any case, Jesus ended up a victim of torture. He died a victim of capital punishment.

                Those choices on God’s part as revealed in Jesus tell us who God is and where God is to be found. God’s chosen people are the unwed mothers, the homeless, the immigrants, the mentally ill, the excommunicated, those identified by empire as terrorists and insurgents, the tortured, and executed. That’s hard for us to hear, isn’t it? It runs so counter to what we’ve always been taught and believed about God’s impartiality.

                That sort of shock puts us in good company. And that brings us to this morning’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. There the Spirit of Jesus forces a reluctant Peter to draw unexpected and very uncomfortable conclusions about God’s choices, and about his own religious identity. Peter has just been visiting a man called Cornelius, a gentile – a non-Jew who has shown interest in Jesus. (At this point, it’s worth noting, Peter is not himself a Christian. In fact, as Elaine Pagels has recently argued, Peter never was a Christian. He and James and Andrew were Jews who thought they had found the Messiah in Jesus.) So for Peter, there was no salvation outside what he understood as the Chosen Nation – Israel. And yet, in Cornelius’ home, Peter has witnessed unmistakable signs that these non-Jews (Cornelius and his family) have received the Holy Spirit of Jesus. The whole family, Peter finds, is speaking in tongues and prophesying.

                In the face of such evidence, Peter is forced to draw an uncomfortable conclusion: every nation is acceptable to God. There are no chosen nations. Israel is not God’s chosen nation. What a bitter pill that was for Peter to swallow.

                In today’s final reading – from the Gospel of John the Evangelist – Jesus tells us swallow that same pill. John’s Jesus tells us that we are to follow his own example – to love with the kind of partial love Jesus embodied. Realize, Jesus says in effect, that the people we tend to despise are really God’s specially favored ones: those unwed mothers, the immigrants, the poor, the imprisoned, tortured and people, like Jesus, on death row. In the Middle East, God’s favored ones are the Palestinians even though our whole culture, the media, and our preachers and pastors tell us the opposite.

Accepting that means informing ourselves, reading outside the culture. It involves telephone calls to the White House and to Congress. It involves voting. Bishop Tutu says it involves boycotting Israeli products. It involves prayer and reflection.

Who Are the Real Terrorists in the Middle East, the Palestinians or the Jewish Zionists?

Each Monday I’m devoting space on the blog site to reflections on current events (see the “about” section of this blog). This week I’m posting my summaries of “The Two Stories of the Jewish-Palestinian Conflict in the Middle East.” I’ve tried to clarify the two stories by presenting them in simple point-by-point fashion. The posting is intended to set up a homily I’ll share on Wednesday. That reflection will specifically address the decades-long Jewish-Palestinian conflict in the light of the readings for the Eucharistic liturgy of the following Sunday (May 13: the Sixth Sunday after Easter). Wednesday’s posting will be called “Chosen Nation? No. /Chosen People? Yes. /Learning from Jesus’ Choices.” Consider the two stories below. See if they make sense. Have I presented them fairly? Who do you think are the real terrorists? Let me know what your opinion.

THE JEWISH/ZIONIST STORY

– Jewish Israelis are inheritors of Abraham’s “Promised Land.”

– They were unjustly expelled by the Romans from their God-given homeland in 135 C.E. and dispersed throughout the world.

– After Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official Religion in 381 C.E., Jews were routinely persecuted by Christians, who tended to be anti-Semitic, identifying Jews as “God-killers.”

– Anti-Semitism eventually led to the birth of the Zionist movement in 1887.

– It sought return for Jews to their ancient homeland, now thought of as “a land without people for a people without land.”

– The Jewish People suffered their worst persecution under Christians from 1939-1945, in the Great Holocaust, which slaughtered six million Jews, and which evoked great sympathy for the Jewish people worldwide.

– So in 1947 the UN Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) gave 55% of Palestine to Jewish settlers.

– The returnees were immediately attacked by Palestinians, and by the whole Arab world in 1948, 1967 (Six Day War), and 1973 (Yom Kippur War)

– The goal of the Arabs was to drive Jewish settlers into the sea.

– Beginning in 1995, Palestinian terrorists even used suicide bombers against innocent civilians.

– Despite such outrages, Israeli Jews have generously offered Peace Plan after Peace Plan to the Arab terrorists.

– Most recently this happened in 2000 at a Camp David meeting (moderated by Bill Clinton) between Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat.

– Arafat refused a very generous offer, thus continuing the Palestinian tradition of refusing to recognize Israel’s right to existence.

– Instead Palestinians have continued mercilessly terrorizing Jewish Israelis – especially with suicide bombers.

– Naturally, in self-defense, Jewish Israelis have (1) established security zones that penetrate into Palestinian territory, (2) built a road system from which Palestinians are excluded or restricted, (3) set up checkpoints throughout the country, and (4) built a security fence to further control the terrorists.

– It is true that U.N. resolutions (most notably 242) have ordered Jewish “occupiers” out of territories captured in the 1967 war.

– However such orders come from an “international community” which history has taught the Jewish people not to trust.

– They are forced to rely only on themselves.

THE PALESTINIAN STORY

– Like the Jewish Israelis, the Palestinians are descendents of Abraham.

– From the beginning Palestinians shared the “Promised Land,” which never belonged exclusively to the Hebrew or Jewish people, but was shared by many other tribes (e.g. Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, Geshurites, Maacaathites, and Philistines).

– Jewish people were unjustly expelled from their homeland in 135 C.E. and dispersed throughout the world.

– However, Palestinians had nothing to do with that.

– Instead they lived peacefully for centuries with the few Jews who remained in Palestine over the next 1700 years.

– During this time, Jews thought of themselves not as a nation-state, but as a religion, the way Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others do.

– In the face of relentless persecution by European Christians, European Jews sought a homeland where they might live together in peace.

– They were encouraged to do so by the British, who thought of Jews in Palestine as a European colonial presence that would maintain a “beachhead” in a strategically important area of the world, which contained the “most stupendous prize” of all – a virtual sea of oil.

– With such encouragement, the “Zionist” movement was officially launched in 1887.

– It was an explicitly secular movement completely without religious pretensions.

– In fact, besides Israel, Zionists had considered colonizing Argentina, Uganda, Cyprus or the Northern Sinai region rather than Palestine.

– Palestinians resisted Zionism from the beginning with peaceful demonstrations, local and general strikes, and sometimes with violence.

– Nonetheless, in 1947 the United Nations awarded Jewish settlers 55% of Palestine, even though they represented only 30% of the population, and even though Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust.

– Outraged Palestinians protested so strongly that the UN suspended its “Partition Plan.”

– In response, Jewish settlers inaugurated a terror campaign directed both against the British and Palestinians.

– Israeli Haganah, Irgun and Stern Gang terrorists (under the leadership of future Prime Minister Menachem Begin) blew up British headquarters in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel killing scores of British, Palestinians and others.

– Jewish terrorists evicted Palestinians from their homes, and drove them into refugee camps, often simply murdering even hundreds of Palestinians at a time.

– In response the Arab world came to the defense of their brothers and sisters in Palestine.

– They were militarily weak however (having just escaped colonialism themselves).

– So they were easily defeated in the Six Day War.

– In that conquest, Jewish Israelis took over more Palestinian territory – in the Gaza Strip, on the West Bank, in the Golan Heights, and in East Jerusalem.

– The U.N. subsequently ordered Israel to abandon these “occupied territories” (in Resolution 242).

– But the Israelis (unconditionally supported by the United States) have refused to obey.

– In another attempt to expel the illegal occupiers, the Arab world attacked again in 1973 (the Yom Kippur War).

– With U.S. aid, the Jewish Israelis repulsed the attack, annexing further Palestinian territory in the process.

– Recognizing military defeat, the Palestinians since 1976 have been willing to settle for the arrangements recognized in the original U.N. partition plan – 2 states in Palestine, secure borders, and Jewish Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

– Alone in the world, the Jewish Israelis and their U.S. patrons have refused such settlement.

– In fact, far from obeying repeated U.N. resolutions Israeli occupiers have continually encroached further into Palestinian territory, building extensive illegal settlements, and a huge wall (far higher, more impenetrable and extensive than the Berlin Wall) separating Palestinians from their families, work, and vital resources.

– When Palestinian children and young people have resisted in two uprisings (“Intifadas” in 1982 & 2000) by throwing stones at soldiers in the illegally occupied territories, they have been shot by the occupiers.

 – When in 2006 Palestinians overwhelmingly elected their leaders in a democratic election, Jewish Israelis (with the support of the United States) have engaged in “collective punishment” cutting off an entire people from vital resources.

– It’s no wonder, then, that many desperate Palestinians have immolated themselves as suicide bombers, against an occupying army that is supported by the United States not only with sophisticated armaments, but with $10 million per day in “foreign aid.”

What Is Liberation Theology? (First in a series published on Fridays)

Jesus as pictured by Nicaraguan peasant artists. Undeniably human. His most faithful disciples, women. His executioners, the U.S-supported Nicaraguan National Guard.

What is liberation theology? In a single sentence: liberation theology is reflection on the following of Jesus of Nazareth from the viewpoint of the poor and oppressed like the women in the painting above. More accurately, it is reflection on the following of Jesus of Nazareth from the viewpoint of those among the poor who are committed to their own liberation. Liberation theology comes from a place of commitment to social change.

Change, liberation from what? In a word, from colonialism and from the neo-colonialism represented today by contemporary forces of corporate globalization whose leading champion is the United States of America. As we all know, those forces have half the world living on $2 a day or less. They’ve concentrated the world’s wealth in the hands of a sliver of 1% of the world’s population. Three men own as much wealth as the 48 poorest nations. Two hundred and twenty-five people own as much as today’s 3 billion living on $2 a day. According to the U.N., an annual 4% tax on those 225 would provide enough resources to feed, clothe, cure and educate the entire Third World. To the wealthy (often supported by Christians who present themselves a pro-life), such taxation is unthinkable. As a result, 30,000 children die of absolutely preventable starvation each day. In the eyes of liberation theology’s protagonists, that’s sinful and runs entirely contrary to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

And what were those teachings? (This is the heart of liberation theology.) They were first of all those of a man recognized by the impoverished as someone like themselves. He looked like them — not like me or other white people. If we are to believe forensic history experts (see posting of April 26th below), he resembled the poor majority we see everywhere in our globalized world. He probably stood about 5’1’’ and weighed about 110 pounds. His skin was brown. He was a laborer, not a scholar. His hands were calloused.

Jesus also exhibited the characteristics that good Christians among us often find repulsive and ungodly. He was the son of an unwed teenage mother. According to Matthew’s account, he was an immigrant in Egypt for a while. The good people of his day called him a drunkard and the companion of prostitutes. They expelled him from his synagogue because he didn’t seem to care about the most important of the 10 commandments – the Sabbath law. The religious authorities said he was a heretic and possessed by the devil. The occupying Roman authorities identified him as a terrorist. They arrested him. And he ended up a victim of torture and of capital punishment carried out by crucifixion which was a means of execution the Romans reserved for insurgents. He was not the kind of person Christians usually admire. He was far too liberal to merit their approval.

In fact, the gospels give the impression that Jesus spent his public life roaming from one party, one banquet to another. At one point, he is said to have enlivened a wedding feast by producing more than 175 gallons of wine for partiers who had been drinking plentifully for days. And he was always finding excuses to break the law. In fact, he made a point of violating Sabbath restrictions whenever doing so might help someone who in most cases might have equally been helped any other day of the week. He was clearly a feminist. Many of his disciples were women. He spoke with them in isolated places. He actually forgave a woman caught in adultery, while implicitly criticizing the hypocrisy of patriarchal law which punished women for adultery and not men. And Jesus refused to recognize his contemporaries’ taboos around segregations. He crossed boundaries not only dividing men from women, but Jew from gentile, lepers from non-lepers, and rich from poor. . . .    Jesus actually touched and ate with lepers and others considered contaminated and unclean. He couldn’t have been more liberal. In a sense he was an anarchist. He honored no law that failed to represent the loving thing to do. His attitude towards the law is best summarized in his pronouncement about the Sabbath. “The Sabbath was instituted for human beings,” he said, “human beings weren’t made for the Sabbath.” This was pure humanism placing human beings above even God’s holiest law. Again, it was anarchistic.

Jesus’ teachings were politically liberal too. They centered on social justice. As such they infuriated his opponents but were wildly inspiring to the poor and oppressed. His proclamation was not about himself, but about what he called “The Kingdom of God.” That was the highly charged political image he used to refer to what the world would be like if God were king instead of Caesar. In that kingdom everything would be turned upside-down. The first would be last; the last would be first. The rich would be poor; the poor would be rich. Subsequent reflection by followers of Jesus in the Book of Revelation teased all of that out and drew the conclusion that with the dawning of God’s kingdom, the Roman Empire would be destroyed and replaced by a new heaven and a new earth entirely unlike empire. There (as indicated in the Acts of the Apostles) wealth would be distributed from each according to his ability to each according to his need. There would be room for everyone. If that sounds like communism, it’s because, as the Mexican exegete Jose Miranda points out, the idea of communism originated with Christians, not with Marx and Engels.

Once again, most of this is not the kind of thing  Christians are usually thought of as endorsing. But that’s the vision of God, Jesus, and his message that liberation theology presents. And it’s all supported by the research of 90% of contemporary biblical scholars, even those who know little or nothing of liberation theology.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What questions do you have about liberation theology as defined in this post?

2. Why do you suppose the U.S. government was so alarmed by the rise of liberation theology in the 1960s?

3. Would the U.S. government have been similarly alarmed by Jesus himself? Why? Why not?

4. Are you upset by the idea of liberation theology as described above? Why?

Next Friday: “St. Paul: Christianity’s First Liberation Theologian”

Occupy the Church: a strange dream

I had a strange dream last night. Just before retiring, I had read Maureen Dowd’s New York Times (NYT) piece on the Vatican’s hysterical attack on U.S. nuns (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/opinion/sunday/dowd-bishops-play-church-queens-as-pawns.html?hp). According to Pope Ratzinger and His Holy Office of the Inquisition (now renamed “The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” – or something like that) the good sisters are spending too much time on social justice issues and the poor.  They’re not giving enough attention to the crucial issues that so concerned Jesus — contraception, abortion, and same sex marriage.

Dowd was having none of that.  And her editorial was right on target. But it was the responses below the on-line version of the column that I found even more compelling. Comment after comment not only supported the nuns, but expressed outrage at a church that covered up and minimized the importance of male pedophilia, while attacking its hard-working, self-sacrificial women for following the example of Jesus himself. New York’s Cardinal Dolan attempted explanation by pointing out that only a “tiny minority” of priests has been involved in raping young boys. Technically he was right, I guess. One responder to the Dowd article said the figure is “only” 5-8% of priests worldwide.

With that comforting reassurance in mind, I closed my eyes. My dream soon unfolded.

There I was in my local church in Kentucky. I was sitting in my usual place in the third row on the lectern side of the aisle. Our pastor was preaching about abortion again, and I suspect my thoughts had wandered off. . .

But then I was suddenly snapped-to when just across the way from me, Mary Kelly (a former Sister of St. Joseph) stood up. Her husband, Ken, himself a resigned priest from the archdiocese of Chicago was standing beside her.

In a firm but gentle and clear voice, Mary called out: “Excuse me, Fr. Philip.” She was interrupting the priest!

Flashbulbs erupted in the church. Three strangers who appeared to be newspaper people had run down the aisle and were taking pictures of Mary and of our startled pastor.  

Mary repeated, “Excuse me, Fr. Philip.” Behind her about 20 voices echoed, “Excuse me, Fr. Philip.” When the people who had just spoken stood up, I realized something “organized” was about to happen. Even a quick glance showed me that the ones who had repeated Mary’s words all belonged to our parish’s Peace and Social Justice Committee. Its members were using the “mic-check” technique perfected by the Occupy Movement. This will be good, I thought. It’s like they want to occupy the church.

“With all due respect, Father Philip,” Mary continued.

Behind her 20 voices repeated, “With all due respect, Father Philip.”

“We cannot go on with business as usual (We cannot go on with business as usual)

Or ignore the mistreatment of women (Or ignore the mistreatment of women)

By the Catholic Church (By the Catholic Church)

As shown by the Vatican’s recent attack (As shown by the Vatican’s recent attack)

On American nuns (On American nuns).

I stand here to announce (I stand here to announce)

In the name of (In the name of)

Our parish Peace and Social Justice Committee (Our parish Peace and Social Justice Committee)

That we are suspending (That we are suspending)

Our membership in and support of this Church (Our membership in and support of this Church)

Until this problem is resolved (Until this problem is resolved).

Until apologies are issued (Until apologies are issued).

And reforms are made (And reforms are made).

In the meantime (In the meantime)

We will meet each Sunday (We will meet each Sunday)

In designated parishioners’ homes (In designated parishioners’ homes)

To celebrate the Eucharist there (To celebrate the Eucharist there).

We invite any of our fellow parishioners (We invite any of our fellow parishioners)

Who feel called to join us (Who feel called to join us)

To do so (To do so).

Please inform the bishop of our decision (Please inform the bishop of our decision).

We are leaving now (We are leaving now).”

With that, Ken unfolded a 3’ by 3’ newsprint sign that read “Justice for American Nuns!” He held it above his head and walked solemnly to the front of the church. There were more camera flashings. Soon Ken was joined by the 20 others lining themselves up across the front of the sanctuary. Fr. Philip looked embarrassed and confused.

Someone shouted from the congregation, “This is crazy! Sit down and shut up!”

“Hear, hear!” someone else added. There were murmurings all around.

Still, a few others from the pews joined Ken and the 20. The signs the demonstrators held made the pastor invisible.

One poster asked “Who Needs Reprimanding: Pedophiles or Our Sisters?

Another fairly shouted, “We’re gone till the Pope Apologizes: REPENT, Herr Ratzinger!”

More camera flashes.

Presently the 20 Peace and Social Justice Committee members and those who had joined them were processing – up the right side of the church, down the middle aisle and up the left side. They taped their posters to the narthex windows and walls. Soon they were gone.

Finally I awoke and thought “Hmm. . . Why not?”

International Labor Day Posting: Thank God for the Jobs Crisis!

Mike Tower recently wrote an article Op-ed News about the devastating effect of technology on the job market. We’re in deep sh*t, he wrote, since the large scale introduction of what used to be called “cybernetics.” Technology has eliminated jobs across the board on an alarming scale – from secretarial positions to auto workers. The resulting crisis is compounded by our culture’s deep denial of the basic problem. Even worse, our civic “leaders” at every level refuse even to name technology as playing anything but a positive role in the corporate global economy. What should we be urging them to do? Mike asked.

My first response is simply an expression of gratitude to the author. It’s about time that someone resurrects this problem which clearly is central to the current “jobs crisis” everyone professes to be so concerned about.  I say “resurrects” because I’m old enough to remember the ‘60s and ‘70s when so many pundits described the coming glories of the “cybernetic age.” Then computers would at last liberate us, they promised, from the drudgery of 9-5 jobs. Back then the worry was, “What would we do with all that leisure time?

However, as Mike Tower correctly implies, “all that leisure time” has proven frustratingly elusive. In its stead, most of us are working harder than ever as our employing firms “downsize.” Alternatively, we’re pounding the pavement looking for non-existent jobs to replace those that have been “outsourced” to Asia somewhere.

My second response to the Tower article is that the situation described there is both worse than the author portrays – and more hopeful.  It’s worse because as Jeremy Rifkin pointed out years ago in The End of Work, the destruction of jobs by technology long preceded the advent of computers. Think of the mechanization and industrialization of farming which, infinitely exacerbated by free trade agreements, have displaced small farmers worldwide.

  Additionally, so many of the “jobs” available to the more recently surplused labor force are not simply low-paying to a humiliating degree. In the end, they are nothing more than busy work – not only completely unnecessary, but positively destructive. Readers will know what I mean: weapons manufacture, the military itself, the advertising industry, “call centers,” insurance companies, fast food, and (above all!) Wall Street jobs connected with financial speculation. None of these occupations are truly productive. And naming them as I have represents only the tip of the iceberg.

Still other jobs can easily be eliminated by technology. Think of what happened to Encyclopedia Britannica that didn’t see Wikipedia coming. Think of the music industry recently involuntarily “downsized” by file sharing. And what about newspapers, currently in crisis because of the advent websites like Op-ed News and Information Clearing House? Similarly “distance learning” is having its own impact on higher education as bricks and mortar campuses find themselves sun-setting whether or not their trustees can yet see that train wreck on its way.

Even the oil industry is sun setting. Imagine what that means for an entire economy and lifestyle absolutely dependent on oil.  Here I’m not just referring to “Peak Oil Consumption” or to “Peak Oil” itself.  Again according to Rifkin (this time in The Empathic Civilization) the new technology will soon turn every building into a energy power plant. Surplus energy will be stored in hydrogen cells. And the energy produced will be shared person-to-person across a “smart grid”. The model here is file-sharing and the way it transfers information today. Think of the jobs that will be eliminated as a result – including those required by the energy wars that will be rendered superfluous.

This is not a pipe dream. The European Union has already committed to the model Rifkin describes. We are kept from discussing it only because our “drill, baby, drill” politicians have their heads so firmly stuck in the tar sands. Consequently, the U.S. economy is being left in the dust.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t productive work crying out to be done. The U.S. infrastructure is crumbling at an alarming rate. And then there’s that field of alternative energies I just mentioned. Green technologies in general and public transportation are obvious needs. The number of potential jobs connected with them is substantial. But there are not nearly enough green jobs to replace the ones that have been eliminated by technology and those that should be discarded because they are environmentally destructive and morally unsustainable.

So what should be done about all of this? Here is the hopeful part. Rifkin showed the way years ago. So did Juliette Shor (The Overworked American).  J.W. Smith (Economic Democracy: the Political Struggle of the Twenty-First Century) was even more articulate about the path ahead: SHARE THE WORK. None of us has to work that hard unless we want to. Thanks to the new technology, we could work four-hour days or three-day weeks, or for only six months a year, or every other year and still make a living wage.  We could retire at 40. And this is possible world-wide.

And how to pay for all of this? For starters, cut back the military budget 60%. That alone would make available more than a billion dollars every day just in the U.S. Tax the rich and the corporations – those who make up the “1%” that has ripped off the U.S. working class on an unprecedented scale over the last 30 years and more. (Remember the 91% top-level tax bracket that was in place here following World War II. We could reinstate that!) Share the wealth. Boldly restructure the economy. Embrace the new technology’s promise along with the life of leisure that it offers.

Recently, I’ve been working in Costa Rica. While there, I spent time at Manuel Antonio beach and watched ordinary people lying in the sun, wind surfing, swimming , picnicking with their families, flying kites, reading, playing futbol and beach volleyball. Life in general could be like that I thought – more time for rest and relaxation, for eating, playing, spending time with family and friends, for making love, for meditation and prayer.

It is all now within our grasp. We just have to recognize that and get the subject on the political agenda.

Chomsky on U.S. War vs. Liberation Theology

My first public post on this blog site (the video immediately below) begins my series on Liberation Theology (LT) — certainly a “thing that matters” in our post-modern world. In fact, I consider LT the most important theological development  of the last 1500 years. More than that, I see it as the most significant intellectual and activist movement in the last 150 years (or roughly since the publication of The Communist Manifesto). After all, it was a type of liberation theology that fueled the Civil Rights Movement. And today, an Islamic form of LT energizes the Arab Spring. Moreover, we have in the White House the first President to have been formed spiritually in a liberation theology congregation (that  of Jeremiah Wright). The video below presents the comments of Noam Chomsky on the U.S. campaign against LT during the 1980s, when U.S. leadership panicked at the form it took in Central America.  Years ago The New Yorker Magazine called Chomsky perhaps the leading intellectual of our era. Here he speaks specifically of the U.S. interventions in Central America during the 1980s as a war against LT. Elsewhere Chomsky termed those conflicts “the first religious war of the 21st century.” Please click on the YouTube film clip below. Then post your comments and questions in the space provided. Also include any suggestions for making this blog site better. My series on Liberation Theology will start next Friday (May 4th). In the meantime, there will be posts on other topics.

“Forensic Jesus”

This is what forensic archeologists say the Jesus of history probably looked like. He was a working man who stood about 5’1″ and weighed about 110 pounds. His skin was dark; his hands were calloused. His message was not about himself, but about the Kingdom of God — what the world would be like if God rather than Caesar were king. This web site is dedicated to exploring the relevance of that Jesus to our post-modern times.