Reimagining Religion — with the Help of Dietrich Bonhoeffer & Dan McGinn

Here in Connecticut, where we’ve been living these last three years, the non-denominational church that Peggy and I are aspiring to join is sponsoring a six-month “mindfulness dialog” on “Reimagining Religion.” About a dozen people are participating under the leadership of Danny Martin, a former Catholic priest and Thomas Berry scholar.

So far, I’ve found the whole experience both inspiring and a bit troubling.  As I’ll explain below, the inspiration comes from a very thoughtful mindfulness dialog process itself. The trouble comes from the tendency of the process to overlook the proverbial elephant in the room in terms of contemporary political realities. Those realities have an imperial United States of America assuming exactly the international dominance to which Adolph Hitler aspired almost a century ago. In the prophetic spirit of the Judeo-Christian tradition, such development cannot be ignored or given second place by those wrestling with religion’s significance.

The Mindfulness Approach

To begin with, our approach to reimagining religion has three phases, connecting, exploring, and discovering:

  • Connecting involves our trying to pinpoint the human experiences that give rise to the religious impulse.
  • Exploring has us discussing that experience in the light of relevant texts such as poetry, essays or sacred scripture drawn from various traditions.
  • Discovering means answering the question, “What then must we do?”

In the connecting phase, we’re combing through our lives in terms of experiences of mystery, beauty, love, and oneness with nature. These, we’re finding, put many in the presence of the “mysterium tremendum” that evokes awe, reverence, adoration – and religious responses involving story and ritual.

The exploring stage has most turning to poetry and non-Christian texts in search of meaningful story. Participants seem to share the conviction that we need a “new story” to replace the one most of us have rejected. The latter was based on belief in an old white man in the sky. He evicted our first parents from their original paradise. He then sent his divine son to redeem sinful humankind so we might gain heaven and avoid hell. We need a better story; we all seem to agree.

As for discovery. . . Our whole experience has us thinking more deeply about changes in our lives based on loving family members and neighbors precisely as ourselves (because in some real sense they truly are us) and on reverence for nature.

That Troubling Elephant

My reservations about our approach so far concern our apparent reluctance to address what strikes me as the main God-related experience facing humankind today (at least in terms of the Judeo-Christian tradition).

That experience involves the worldwide oppression of the former colonies and their resulting experience of poverty, hunger, environmental destruction and war. That entire syndrome directly involves people like us, since our country, the United States of America, is principally responsible for the oppression just referenced. In the words of Martin Luther King, we are the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

To ignore such realities is analogous to German Christians in the 1930s overlooking the rise of fascism with its imperial ambitions and immediate persecution of communists, socialists, Jews, people of color, Roma, homosexuals, the disabled and immigrants. I can imagine the irrelevance of German Christians in 1933 gathering in a church basement to discuss reimagining religion. How would we judge them in that context if they focused primarily on their interior and interpersonal lives while Germany was ablaze and about to set the world itself on fire?  

Of course, not all German Christians did that. In fact, in the face of fascism’s rise and Hitler’s establishment of his Third Reich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Confessing Church took on a project very like our own. As a result, just before his execution by the Nazis (for participating in a plot to assassinate der Fuhrer) Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison, advocated imagining “Christianity without religion.” That is, he wanted to reappropriate the faith of Moses and Jesus without the traditional trappings, rituals and language that narcoticized and blinded believers to the socio-political reality staring them square in the face.

The New Old Story

To my mind and in our analogous context, “connecting” should mean coming to grips with America’s role in creating the world that our system of political economy, neo-colonial ambitions, environmental devastation and militarism has set on fire. That in itself requires deep and serious study and discussion. It’s time to revisit official and competing stories of American history.

Then, “exploring” means linking the resulting new understandings with the authentic biblical narrative as revealed by modern scripture scholarship. Its relevance to the global circumstances I’m describing here is exceedingly clear. That’s because modern scholarship shows that the essence of the Judeo-Christian tradition does not centralize increasingly inapt Genesis mythologies. Instead, it tells a story of oppression and liberation that runs as follows:

  • Israel’s God first revealed himself by liberating slaves from Egypt.
  • He gave them a covenant to form a just community where widows, orphans, slaves and foreigners would be especially welcome.
  • Israel’s leaders often broke the covenant.
  • They were confronted by prophets who called them to task.
  • Repeatedly, Israel itself was victimized by surrounding empires – Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
  • In such circumstances, they were promised a new future by prophets who denounced mistreatment of the poor and announced a new future of deliverance from imperialism.
  • Jesus appeared in the tradition of the prophets.
  • He proclaimed a future kingdom where a new covenant would be in force.
  • His teachings on God’s Kingdom described a world where God would be king instead of Caesar.
  • He thus raised the hopes of the poor and the ire of the Jewish and Roman authorities.
  • So, they executed him.
  • His followers became convinced that he was somehow raised from the dead.
  • They formed a Kingdom community of faith, sharing all things in common.
  • Questions of the afterlife were left in God’s hands.

In the light of this narrative, answering the question “What then must we do?” takes on highly political and threateningly controversial features that few outside the former colonies are willing to address. That’s because most even there who drew the obvious political conclusions about opposing empire have been assassinated by the current imperial power that is absolutely intolerant of anti-imperial faith.

A Reimagined Creed

In the light of truths like the foregoing, in Jesus against Christianity, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer calls for reimagining fundamental Christian professions of faith such as the Apostles Creed. In concentrating on Jesus’ birth and resurrection, he says, they fail to honor the thrust of Jesus’ life towards resistance to domination systems, and identification with the poor and outcast. 

But what forms would a reimagined creed take?  Below are printed two responses to that question – the familiar Apostles Creed on the one hand and a reimagined form on the other. Personally, I find that the latter contributes mightily to our task of reimagining religion.

 The Apostles'Creed

 I believe in God, the Father almighty,
 Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus
 Christ, His only Son, Our Lord, who was
 conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the
 Virgin Mary, suffer under Pontius Pilate,
 was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended
 into hell; the third day he arose again from
 the dead.  He ascended into heaven, sits at the
 right hand of God, the Father almighty; from
 thence he will come to judge the living and the
 dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy
 Catholic church, the communion of saints, the
 forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the
 body, and in life everlasting.  Amen.

 A Reimagined Creed

 We believe in humankind
 and in a world in which
 it is good to live for all people
 in love, justice, brotherhood and peace.
 We must continually act out these beliefs.
 We are inspired to do so, because we believe
 in Jesus of Nazareth
 and we wish to orient our lives to him.
 In so doing, we believe that we
 are drawn into the mysterious relationship
 with the One, whom he called his father.
 Because of our belief in Jesus
 we make no claims to exclusivity.
 We shall work together with others
 for a better world.
 We believe in the community of the faithful,
 and in our task to be the salt of the earth
 and the light of the world.
 But all of this in humility
 Carrying our cross every day.
 And we believe in the resurrection
 whatever it may mean. Amen. 

Conclusion

Whenever I think of it, I’m drawn to the conclusion that my entire adult life has been devoted to reimagining religion. I was encouraged in that endeavor by my study and teaching of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and works. Whether we’re aware of it or not, Bonhoeffer’s represents the kind of prophetic faith our CT church group is trying to reimagine.

At the same time, I bear in mind the words and example of an outspoken mentor of mine during my graduate studies in Rome so many years ago. His name was Dan McGinn. Dan was about 15 years older than me. By his example, he taught me how to celebrate the Eucharist spontaneously and without written text.      

In any case, Dan always said that if he were ever made bishop (There was absolutely no chance of that!) his episcopal motto under his coat of arms would read “No more bullshit.”

I’m tempted to recommend adopting Dan’s motto for ourselves as our church group tries to reimagine religion. While not exactly B.S., our traditional forms of belief (even the Apostles’ Creed) have been rejected as such by much of our world. Hence the relevance of our task.

What I’m suggesting here is that reappropriating the biblical story cited above and reformulating our creed accordingly would go a long way towards the culturally imperative assignment of making our faith relevant to the undeniable resurgence of fascism in our contemporary context.

From the Beatification of Pontius Pilate to the Sanctification of Donald Trump: Two Peas in a Pod

Readings for Palm Sunday: LK 19:28-40; IS 50: 4-7, PS 22: 8-9, 12-20, 23=24, PHIL 2:6-11, LK 22: 14-23:58.

It’s puzzling to see white Evangelicals rallying around Donald Trump. He’s the one who owns casinos and strip clubs, who has been married three times and brags about sexually assaulting women. 

How is it possible for white evangelicals to support such a person whose policies favor the rich and punish the poor, who despises immigrants, advocates torture, and whose appetite for profit seems insatiable.

After all, Jesus was a poor laborer who criticized the rich in the harshest of terms. He and his family knew what it was like to be unwelcome immigrants (in Egypt). He himself was a victim of torture, not its administrator. Far from a champion of empire, he was executed as a terrorist and enemy of Rome.  His followers were not about accumulating wealth but shared what they had according to ability and need.

When you think of it, all of this seems antithetical to not only to Trumpism, but to the declared positions of virtually the entire Republican Party. They’re all imperialists. All of them are friends of the one percent. They all want to increase military spending — apparently without question or limit.

How did all of that happen?

Today’s Palm Sunday readings provide some clues. Luke’s Passion Narratives reveal a first century Christian community already depoliticizing Jesus in order to please Roman imperialists. The stories turn Jesus against his own people as though they were foreign enemies of God.

Think about the context of today’s Palm Sunday readings.

Note that Jesus and his audiences were first and foremost anti-imperialist Jews whose lives were shaped more than anything else by the Roman occupation of their homeland. As such, they weren’t waiting for a Roman-Greco “messiah” who, like the Sun God Mithra, would die and lead them to heaven. They were awaiting a Davidic messiah who would liberate them from the Romans.

So, on this Palm Sunday, what do you think was on the minds of the crowds who Luke tells us lined the streets of Jerusalem to acclaim Jesus the Nazarene? Were they shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” (Save us! Save us!) because they thought Jesus was about to die and by his sacrificial death open the gates of heaven closed since Adam’s sin by a petulant God? Of course not. They were shouting for Jesus to save them from the Romans.

The palm branches in their hands were (since the time of the Maccabees) the symbols of resistance to empire. Those acclaiming Jesus looked to him to play a key role in the Great Rebellion everyone knew about to take place against the hated Roman occupiers.

And what do you suppose was on Jesus’ mind? He was probably intending to take part in the rebellion just mentioned. It had been plotted by the Jews’ Zealot insurgency. Jesus words at the “Last Supper” show his anticipation that the events planned for Jerusalem might cause God’s Kingdom to dawn that very weekend.

Clearly Jesus had his differences with the Zealots. They were nationalists; he was inter-nationalist who was open to gentiles. The Zealots were violent; Jesus was not.

And yet the Zealots and Jesus came together on their abhorrence of Roman presence in the Holy Land. They found common ground on the issues of debt forgiveness, non-payment of taxes to the occupiers, and of land reform. Within Jesus’ inner circle there was at least one Zealot (Simon). Indications might also implicate Peter, Judas, James, and John. And Jesus’ friends were armed when he was arrested. Whoever cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant was used to wielding a sword – perhaps as a “sicarius” (the violent wing of the Zealots who specialized in knifing Jews collaborating with the Romans).

But we’re getting ahead of our story. . . Following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus soon found himself and his disciples inside the temple participating in what we’d call a “direct action” protest. They were demonstrating against the collaborative role the temple and its priesthood were fulfilling on behalf of the Romans.

As collaborators, the temple priests were serving a foreign god (the Roman emperor) within the temple precincts. For Jesus that delegitimized the entire system. So, as John Dominic Crossan puts it, Jesus’ direct action was not so much a “cleansing” of the temple as the symbolic destruction of an institution that had completely lost its way. It was this demonstration that represented the immediate cause of Jesus’ arrest and execution described so poignantly in today’s long gospel reading.

Following the temple demonstration, Jesus and his disciples became “wanted” men (Lk. 19:47). At first Jesus’ popularity affords him protection from the authorities (19:47-48). The people constantly surround him eager to hear Jesus’ words denouncing their treasonous “leaders” (20:9-19), about the issue of Roman taxation (20:20-25), the destruction of the temple (21:1-6), the coming war (21:20-24) and the imminence of God’s Kingdom (21:29-33).

Eventually however, Jesus has to go underground. On Passover eve he sends out Peter and John to arrange for a safehouse to celebrate the feast I mentioned earlier. The two disciples are to locate the “upper room.” They do so by exchanging a set of secret signs and passwords with a local comrade.

Then comes Jesus’ arrest. Judas has betrayed Jesus to collect the reward on Jesus’ head – 30 pieces of silver. The arrest is followed by a series of “trials” before the Jewish Council (the Sanhedrin), before Pilate and Herod. Eventually, Jesus is brought back to Pilate. There he’s tortured, condemned and executed between two other insurgents.

Note that Luke presents Pilate in way completely at odds with what we know of the procurator as described for example by the Jewish historian Josephus. After the presentation of clear-cut evidence that the Nazarene rabbi was “stirring up the people,” and despite Jesus’ own admission to crimes against the state (claiming to be a rival king), Pilate insists three times that the carpenter is innocent of capital crime.

Such tolerance of rebellion contradicts Crossan’s insistence that Pilate had standing orders to execute anyone associated with lower class rebellion during the extremely volatile Passover festivities. In other words, there would have been no drawn-out trial.

What’s going on here? Two things.

First of all, like everyone else, Luke knew that Jesus had been crucified by the Romans. That was an inconvenient truth for Luke’s audience which around the year 85 CE (when Luke wrote) was desperately trying to reconcile with the Roman Empire which lumped the emerging Christian community with the Jews whom the Romans despised.

Luke’s account represents an attempt to create distance between Christians and Jews. So, he makes up an account that exonerates Pilate (and the Romans) from guilt for Jesus’ execution. Simultaneously, he lays the burden of blame for Jesus’ execution at the doorstep of Jewish authorities.

In this way, Luke made overtures of friendship towards Rome. He wasn’t worried about the Jews, since by the year 70 the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem and its temple along with more than a million of its inhabitants. After 70 Jewish Christians no longer represented the important factor they once were. Their leadership had been decapitated with the destruction of Jerusalem.

Relatedly, Jesus’ crucifixion would have meant that Rome perceived him as a rebel against the Empire. Luke is anxious to make the case that such perception was false. Rome had nothing to fear from Christians.

I’m suggesting that such assurance was unfaithful to the Jesus of history. It domesticated the rebel who shines through even in Luke’s account when it is viewed contextually.

And so, what?

Well, if you wonder why Christians can support Donald Trump . . . if you wonder why they so easily succumb to empires (Roman, Nazi, U.S.) you’ve got your answer. It all starts here – in the gospels themselves – with the great cover-up of the insurgent Jesus.

And if you wonder where the West’s and Hitler’s comfort with xenophobia in general and anti-Semitism in particular come from, you have that answer as well.

The point here is that only by recovering the obscured rebel Jesus can Christians avoid the mistake they made 87 years ago in Germany. Then instead of singing “Hosanna” to Jesus, they shouted “Heil Hitler!” to another imperialist torturer, xenophobe, and hypocrite.

The readings for Palm Sunday present us with a cautionary tale about these sad realities and the trend among white evangelicals that impossibly transforms Donald Trump into a Christian hero. The imperialists Pontius Pilate, Adolf Hitler, and Mr. Trump all belong in the same anti-Christ category.

Trump Has Not Out-lefted the Left: It's What Fascists Do

So now the word in the mainstream media (MSM) is that Donald Trump has successfully co-opted the so-called “American left.” After all, they tell us, he’s implemented Universal Basic Income (UBI); he’s promised to set up government hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients; he’s proposed delayed foreclosures and evictions and has strengthened unemployment measures for laid-off workers. Unwittingly, we’re told, he has become a “socialist.” And worst of all (for his opponents) under that new identification, his approval ratings have risen.

Does this mean he’ll be reelected next fall even though his handling of the coronavirus crisis has been abysmal? Remember: he mocked it at first. The testing kits he promised still haven’t materialized. And, as usual, his pathological duplicity makes it impossible for anyone to know what’s really going on in the man’s little head. Do his promises mean anything, or will they be rescinded tomorrow?

Nonetheless, there’s a grain of truth in his latest manifestation as socialism’s champion.

Additionally, if we understand fascism as “capitalism in crisis”, Trump’s co-optations can be unmasked as mirroring faithfully those of his forebears in that system. And finally, there’s hope to be found in the president’s rising numbers.

Trump’s Socialism

To begin with, it must be acknowledged that all of the above (UBI, government-sponsored healthcare, policies preventing homelessness, and unemployment insurance) are indeed key planks in any socialist platform.

At the same time, it is also true to say that the president has very little choice in the matter. History has shown that in circumstances like these, heads of state interested in self-preservation and regardless of their ideological propensities, best serve their interests by intervening in the marketplace on behalf of their official constituents.

Put otherwise, the crisis at hand has once again exposed the fact that capitalism’s regular-as-clockwork systemic dysfunctions can only be remedied by socialist programs. (There are no exceptions to that rule.) That’s because government-coordinated socialism is far more efficient in addressing pressing crises than the necessarily disjointed, atomized and uncoordinated capitalist responses. This has been demonstrated most recently by China’s quick success in dealing with COVID-19.

In reality, however, Trump’s proposals are far from genuinely socialist. To begin with, ALL of them are emphatically temporary. His version of UBI are intended to last a month or two; his government hospitals are narrowly targeted at coronavirus patients (all others are still on their own and at the mercy of giant health insurance and pharmaceutical conglomerates); the evictions and foreclosures will resume when the current crisis has passed. Republicans will also reprise their attacks on unemployment insurance (and Social Security) when and if we return to “normal.”

By way of contrast, socialism’s remedies are permanent; they represent once-and-for-all transformations of the reigning economic system. Socialism is about Medicare for All, affordable housing, rent-control, job guarantees and adequate wages.

Moreover, socialism is an international movement of working-class people. Its philosophers — those who favor the working classes instead of their exploiters — are the ones our educational system of indoctrination has taught us to hate. We’ve been taught to despise Karl Marx, but to love Milton Friedman. Despite our ironic distaste for them, our class’ philosophers have always addressed themselves to “the workers of the world.”

Today’s socialists recognize what the coronavirus crisis has laid bare, viz. that even apart from present circumstances, we’re all in this together. Socialists also see clearly that our common enemy is the greed and self-centeredness that globalized capitalism itself has forced on our employers. Without heartless devotion to the “bottom line,” virtually none of those we work for would ever survive under free enterprise competition that rewards and necessitates starvation wages for so many and environmental devastation for us all. The system has made our employers our mortal but largely unrecognized enemies.

Trump’s Fascism

As opposed to socialism’s internationalism, Trump is a nationalist. Recall his inaugural proclamation, “From now on it’s only going to be America First, America First.” Nothing could be further from the ideals of citizens of the world. That is, insofar as circumstances have forced socialism upon him, Herr Trump is a National Socialist.

And that’s exactly what the fascists who came to power in the 1930s were. They were National Socialists in contrast to the international socialists and communists they hated so fiercely. In fact, Trump’s nationalism and his attempts at co-opting socialist policies to mollify a rebellious populace represents his tearing a page right out of Mein Kampf.

Think about it. As already mentioned, fascism is best defined as “capitalism in crisis.” Or as Benito Mussolini described it more exactly, fascism is corporate capitalism united with state power. In ultimate form, it enforces its order through a police state armed against its traditional enemies, viz. communists, socialists, labor organizers, Jews, non-whites, the disabled, immigrants, gypsies, etc. All those scapegoats receive blame for the inescapable inefficiencies and dysfunctions of the newly christened old system. All of them found places in fascism’s death camps.

Why then the name-change in the 1930s? Why the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party?” It’s because the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the depression that followed had completely discredited capitalism. No one wanted to be associated with it any more than (until recently) people wanted to be associated with socialism and Marxism after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Following the Crash everyone, left and right, claimed to be some kind of socialist.

It’s similar today, even though the name itself is not yet so much in fashion. Still, socialist policies are much in favor among the American people. A solid majority wants Medicare for All. The Fight for $15.00 minimum wage is extremely popular among wage workers. In this age of climate chaos, environmental protection laws receive widespread approval. The same is true for free college education and forgiveness of student loans. And Social Security remains the most popular program ever instituted by the federal government.

More particularly, at this time of corona crisis, people need money to pay their bills. They want those monthly checks. Under the threat of COVID-19, they don’t want to worry about deductibles and co-pays. They need rent relief.

Hope behind Trump’s Ratings

All of that is hopeful. Any rise in Trump’s approval ratings because of the policies just reviewed reveal that Americans favor what the Republican Party is ideologically incapacitated to provide. Republicans will never permanentize the programs we all want.

And if they do, that’s o.k. too. Whether a red administration or a blue one meets genuinely human needs is beside the point.

More likely, however, the temporary programs currently receiving approval simply describe for true socialists (whether they embrace the name or not) the policy trajectories they must follow, propose, fight for and finally implement. Now’s the time to insist on a Green New Deal.

U.S. Concentration Camps Are Already Worse than Hitler’s

Recently Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) stirred controversy by characterizing U.S. immigration detention facilities as concentration camps. Critics said her comparison was over the top

It was an insult, some said, to families of Holocaust survivors. After all, none of the U.S. detention facilities is an extermination camp like Auschwitz or Buchenwald.

In response, AOC doubled down on her charge. Along with others, she was joined by historians, and even by the editors of The National Catholic Reporter in affirming her accusation. Concentration camps, they all said, are not synonymous with extermination camps. In essence, the former are locations where prisoners are held without charge. In that sense, the U.S. indeed maintains concentration camps, but nothing like German practice. The intention in making that distinction was evidently to distance U.S. camps from the horrors and death of Hitler’s infamous hell-holes.

The argument here takes issue with that distinction. It maintains instead that our burgeoning camps are every bit as brutal as Hitler’s. In fact, the number of deaths connected with the U.S. system dwarf the iconic number of six million incinerated, gassed, shot, or otherwise executed.

To begin with, we must first of all realize that U.S. concentration camps are not a new phenomenon begun with the presidency of Donald Trump. No, they have been with us at least since the end of the Second Inter-Capitalist War in 1945.

In fact, the argument can be credibly made that our country was explicitly founded on extermination, genocide and concentration camps. Using rationale supplied by John Locke, our Founding Fathers wiped out 90% of North America’s indigenous peoples, eventually confining survivors and their descendants in concentration camps (called “reservations”). They employed the same logic to enslave workers kidnapped from Africa imprisoning them in labor camps (called “plantations”).

For Locke, who inspired Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the crucial and ironic pronouncement behind such operations was that “All men are created equal.” But note well that in his formulation, the statement had no liberating relevance for Native Americans, African slaves, women or propertyless whites. Instead, its expressed intention was to establish the right of imperialists like him and his cohorts to steal land and resources from the continent’s indigenous inhabitants and to exterminate resisters.

Locke’s point (as explained in my book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking) was that just because the “Indians” were here first, they had no special claim on the lands they called home. That is, since (in Locke’s estimation) huge tracts were not being farmed as they would be in England, they were there for the taking by the Indians’ equals from Great Britain.

Locke said that a refusal by the Indians to recognize such equality amounted to a declaration of war against the British. So, the natives could be slaughtered with abandon – a task our country’s great Indian Fighters took on with enthusiasm and relish creating a holocaust that killed millions.

Adolph Hitler himself took inspiration from the examples just cited. He liked the concept of concentration and work camps. He was expressly impressed by the efficiency of U.S. extermination of our continent’s First Peoples. It inspired him and evidently the minds behind contemporary concentration camps.

With all this in mind, it is no exaggeration to say that the camps are reincarnating today before our very eyes. Our government has set them up world-wide. They are so ubiquitous and normalized that they remain practically invisible. But consider their contemporary equivalents in:

  • The U.S. prison-industrial complex itself for blacks, browns and poor whites transforming “Americans” into the most imprisoned population on the planet
  • Guantanamo Bay for holding “terrorists” who after years of internment and torture have yet to be charged with crime and which Fuhrer Trump promises to fill to the brim
  • Black Sites (sic!) concealed throughout the world where kidnapped Muslims and others disappear without a trace and are tortured without mercy
  • Fort Bliss (sic!), a concentration camp for immigrant children
  • Baby Prisons for infants as young as four months
  • Detention centers for refugees from U.S. wars of aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere
  • Family prisons for immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America as they await trials which can be postponed indefinitely  
  • The Gaza Strip, the world’s largest open-air prison for Muslim Palestinians, “the Jews’ Jews” – unconditionally endorsed by U.S. politicians of all stripes

In such hell-holes the criminals (often the guards) commit murders, rapes and inflict torture with impunity. Nonetheless, after Hitler, it is no longer permissible for such polite company to crudely incinerate victims in ovens or to poison them in gas chambers. (That would be too “inhumane” and reminiscent of the unspeakable.) So, today’s executioners murder and incinerate Muslims (today’s “Jews”), and others on site. (It saves the trouble and expense of packing them into box cars.)

In other words, the executioners travel to the victims’ countries of origin in the Middle East and Africa and do the dirty work there – often from 10,000 feet in the air, where the screams of incinerated Muslim children cannot be heard. They cremate their victims more humanely in the  targets’ own homes with napalm and white phosphorous. Alternatively, “pilots” seated comfortably in their air-conditioned “theaters” send automated Gestapo (killer drones) to decapitate those suspected of evil thoughts. In the process, the system’s butchers have massacred millions far exceeding anything imagined by that little man with the toothbrush mustache:

  • Already by 1978, John Stockwell, the highly decorated ex-CIA Station Chief in Angola, estimated that his agency’s “Secret Wars” had killed more than six million in its dirty wars against the world’s poor. In Stockwell’s own words, every one of those wars was illegal and “bloody and gory and beyond comprehension almost.”
  • Add to that
    • The hundreds of thousands slaughtered during the 1980s in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras
    • More than a million victims in the completely illegal war in Iraq
    • Untold fatalities in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia,
    • The 10,000 already killed in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East – with the numbers increasing each day from cholera and intentionally-inflicted starvation

Again, the numbers are staggering – far beyond anything accomplished in Hitler’s death camps.

Meanwhile, at home, “Americans” are dissuaded from protest by a militarized skin-head police force of body-builders and thugs. “Dressed to kill” in their black or camouflaged flack suits, and anonymous under their helmets and behind polarized face-shields, they stand ready with batons, tasers, and AK47s – as well as employing surplus military tanks, and Humvees – to punish anyone who dares opposition.

So, congratulations to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. She’s right again – this time about concentration camps. However, she and others are wrong to downplay the comparative horror of the U.S. system. It is every bit as horrendous as Hitler’s. To see the misery all one has to do is connect the dots. They’re there and though scattered are just waiting to be linked (exactly as they were in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power).

In fact, their presence is becoming more evident each day as is the emergence of Hitler-like fascism. We have only to open our eyes to see both phenomena, even though the camps, holocausts, and the system itself have been effectively renamed and camouflaged.

Thanks to AOC and others, the veils are beginning to fall; the issue is now before us. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s message: It’s high time for the rest of us to take note before it’s too late!   

(Sunday Homily) Dylann Roof Will Surely Go to Heaven

Dylan Roof

Readings for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: WIS 1:13-15; 2: 23-24; PS 30: 2, 4-6, 11-13; 2COR 8: 7, 9, 11-13-15; 2 TM 1: 10; MK 5: 21-43.

Today’s readings are about death. They contain claims that are absolutely astounding, challenging, and almost too good to be true – especially in the light of last week’s massacre of nine black church goers during a Bible Study class at the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.

There the twenty-one year old perpetrator, Dylann Roof, slaughtered the people with whom he had been discussing the Bible just moments before. He had to kill them, he told a survivor, because “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

Immediately, the entire country responded with horror. Many vilified the shooter as they found out about his racist Facebook postings, his easy access to firearms, and his flaunting of the Confederate Battle Flag. They argued about whether he should be executed as a terrorist or as a hate crime killer.

South Carolina, Alabama and other states flying the Confederate Battle Flag talked about removing it from their State Houses. Some discussed honoring the victims by passing omnibus legislation to address South Carolina’s racist structures involving health care, voting rights, housing and education.

President Obama got more personal. He said racism is in our DNA – an inheritance from our past that is difficult to erase.

Surviving families went deeper still. They forgave Dylann Roof choking as they did so through their tears of mourning.

Others asked, “What have we become as a nation?”

All of these reactions are familiar. We witnessed similar phenomena after Sandy Hook and Columbine.

It’s what human beings do in the face of brutality, violence and massacre. We blame; we soul-search. And sometimes forgive. Sometimes we even recognize complicity in the crime and resolve to change.

Those last reactions – forgiveness, soul-searching, and conversion – are justified by today’s readings. As I say, they address the astounding Judeo-Christian belief about death. Few of us can truly accept them. Once again: they seem too good to be true.

The first reading from the Jewish Testament’s Book of Wisdom startles us immediately by proclaiming: “God did not make death.” Instead he fashioned all things to have being. Specifically, human beings were formed imperishable by God. Death is experienced only by those who believe in the devil.

What? God did not make death? We are imperishable? Belief in death comes from the devil? Hold on; there’s more.

Today’s Alleluia verse becomes more specific still. It tells us to cheer up because “Christ has destroyed death” entirely. It has no reality at all.

Then in today’s Gospel, Jesus illustrates that truth. He equates death with mere sleep. There is nothing to cry about he tells those mourning the “tragic,” “premature” death of a 12 year old girl. She is merely sleeping. And then he grabs her by the hand and shows he’s right.

Do we really believe such statements? Is that Jesus story a child’s tale? Do we really believe that God did not make death? Do we believe that Christ has destroyed it?  Is death no more than sleep? Is death a mere illusion – moving from one room to another?

Those who are Christians routinely claim say yes. We even go further. Our belief says that “death” is not the end. Instead it is the greatest, happiest moment in life. For with it, life does not end. It goes on in ways so magnificent, so full of peace and wisdom and joy as to make it difficult to describe and impossible to comprehend.

That’s the faith we claim. Again, it seems too good to be true.

But if that’s what we believe, our faith has practical consequences regarding Dylann Roof and others like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Richard Speck, and even Adolf Hitler. The conclusions are these (as inspired by Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God):

  • All those killers did no harm or damage to the ones whose deaths they caused. The souls of those they killed were released from earthly bondage, like butterflies emerging from a cocoon.
  • Their deaths are thought to be “untimely” only by those who believe that anything in God’s universe can happen when it is not supposed to. Given who God is, nothing can possibly be untimely.
  • The people left behind mourn the dead only because they do not know the joy into which those souls entered.
  • The killers themselves remain loved by God and will go to heaven, whatever that means. (There is no other place for them to go. Dante’s inferno was his creation, not God’s. To repeat the metaphor: death itself is the “devil’s” creation.)
  • Their actions were mistakes, those of unevolved human beings. The proper faith-inspired response to them is not punishment, but God’s response: forgiveness, healing, correction, re-education, and eventual reintegration back into the fullness of life.
  • None of them acted alone. Germany produced Adolf Hitler; millions thought he was right. South Carolina and the United States created Dylan Roof; many sympathize with his racism. We all bear responsibility for his actions. In a sense, we are all Dylann Roof. Killing innocents is killing innocents whether it’s in Charleston, Baghdad, Ferguson, or Guantanamo.
  • In God’s perfect universe, the function of Dylann Roof, Dzhokhar Tsamaev, Richard Speck, and even Adolf Hitler is to force us to face who we are and what we want to become. We claim we live in the land of the free, home of the brave, in a democracy where all are equal. Some even hold that we are a Christian nation. Few of us admit subscribing to racism. But then a Dylan Roof forces us to look in the mirror and reassess. Suddenly Confederate Battle Flags come down and politicians are discussing omnibus legislation.

From a faith perspective, Dylann Roof has become our teacher.  His lesson is the reverse of what Jesus, the Buddha, Krishna and Pope Francis have taught. The latter all reveal to us the splendid human beings every one  of us (even Dylann Roof) can become. The former shows us where we are headed if we refuse to change course.