The Most Revealing Take-Away from the Nevada Debate: Our Problems Have Been Solved

Readings for Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18; Psalms: 103: 1-13; 1st Corinthians: 3: 16-23; 1 JN 2:5; Matthew 5: 38-48

Last week’s Democratic debate was the most interesting and revealing yet. And we have Mike Bloomberg to thank for that. His tone-deaf buffoonery was stunning and just happens to be intimately connected with this Sunday’s liturgical readings.

Taken together, the readings and Bloomberg’s performance show us that all the problems addressed in the debate have already been solved – especially that of religiously inspired terrorism despite its not being addressed in last Wednesday’s “show.”

I say all that because today’s selections contrast the foolish wisdom of the world (embodied in billionaires like Bloomberg) with the contradictory visions of Moses and Jesus the Christ who are prophets not just for Christians and Jews, but for Muslims as well. As such, their words call us to recognize our absolute unity with our neighbors, and to reject entirely the Bloombergian separative thinking of the world. What we do to others, the readings tell us, we do to ourselves.

But before we get to that, let’s recall what happened on Wednesday. 

As far as I was concerned, the most instructive moment came not when Mr. Bloomberg declined to release women from their non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). It wasn’t even when he arrogantly joked about the inability of TurboTax to help determine his annual attempts at gargantuan tax evasion.

No, it came in a throw-away line in his exchange with Elizabeth Warren about her proposed “two-cent wealth tax.” Almost as an aside, he said something like, “Well, of course I don’t agree with Senator Warren’s tax proposal.” He then went on to make another of his monumentally vacuous non-points.

I only wish one of the moderators or debaters had followed up: “What exactly is your objection to a two-cent tax? Would it somehow diminish your lifestyle or impoverish you?”

Bernie Sanders came closest to asking that question when he raised the issue of capitalism’s immorality. He observed:

“We have a grotesque and immoral distribution of wealth and income. Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. That’s wrong. That’s immoral. That should not be the case when we got a half a million people sleeping out on the street, where we have kids who cannot afford to go to college, when we have 45 million people dealing with student debt. We have enormous problems facing this country, and we cannot continue seeing a situation where, in the last three years, billionaires in this country saw an $850 billion increase in their wealth — congratulations, Mr. Bloomberg — but the average American last year saw less than a 1 percent increase in his or her income. That’s wrong.”

There, Bernie said it: capitalism is a highly immoral system. No Jewish prophet; not Moses, not even Jesus of Nazareth could have said it better.  We have the money – unlimited resources – to solve the world’s problems. However, those resources remain locked up in the vaults of the world’s 2000 billionaires. Fact is: their living standards would not be lowered by Warren’s 2% tax. Mr. Bloomberg’s lifestyle would even be unaffected if billionaires like him were outlawed altogether and if as a result, he lost 49.1 billion of his 50-billion-dollar bank account.

Yet, those resources (along with similar confiscations from other billionaires) could absolutely eliminate our material problems not merely in the United States, but throughout the entire world. Despite that undeniable fact, the billionaires and their kept allies refuse to entertain even the possibility of such taxation.

Could anything demonstrate more clearly the immorality of the reigning system?

In other words, the super-rich and corporate “persons” along with their servants in the mainstream media, and in the United States Congress prevent us from seeing that the solutions to the world’s problems are already here and staring us in the face. Yes, the world’s major problems have already been solved!

And I’m not just talking about correcting wealth inequality through confiscatory tax rates on the world’s billionaires. I’m also referring to “problems” like immigration, Medicare for all, free college tuition, forgiveness of college loans, the $15.00 an hour minimum wage, the Green New Deal, world peace, and especially (in the light of today’s readings) terrorism. To repeat: all of those problems (and more) have already been solved. It’s just that the prevailing received wisdom prevents us from recognizing it.

Consider the issues just mentioned one-by-one and how they’ve already been effectively addressed:

  • Immigration: The United States, Canada, and Australia prove that nations made up almost entirely of immigrants (most of them poor at the beginning) cannot only survive but thrive. There is nothing to fear from even the poorest of immigrants. Virtually all of us are descended from such outsiders. Why not make it as easy for immigrants to enter our country today as it was when our parents, grandparents or great grandparents came over? It’s already been done.
  • Medicare for all: Publicly funded healthcare has outperformed (and at much lower cost) the U.S. privately funded system in every industrialized country. The same has happened in the U.S. itself in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and as plans provided by the Veterans’ Health Administration, and by those extended to U.S. legislators. Medicare for All merely expands already proven systems. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Free College Tuition: We already have publicly funded elementary and high schools. Why not extend that funding to public colleges and universities? Mr. Bloomberg’s billions could take care of that.
  • College Loan Forgiveness: Michael Hudson has shown that periodic debt forgiveness has been an engine of economic growth since ancient times. It was even enshrined and required in the Hebrew Testament (Leviticus 25: 8-13) as well as centralized in Jesus’ preaching (Luke 4: 19). Moreover, billionaires (like Messrs. Bloomberg and Trump) declare bankruptcy all the time. Why exclude students from such relief?
  • Minimum Wage: A $15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage is already a fact in Seattle, New York, in the Amazon workforce, and elsewhere. It provenly works to raise working class living standards.
  • Green New Deal: In the 1930s FDR’s New Deal fundamentally changed the economic landscape of the United States including (for the first time) a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, social security, and a government jobs program employing millions. The result was the creation of a large, previously non-existent prosperous middle class. Similar even more robust programs were enacted throughout Western Europe even though its infrastructure had been devastated by the Second Inter-Capitalist War. In other words, the Green New Deal is not unprecedented. Its suggested provisions are affordable and have highly successful and popular precedents.
  • World Peace: Think about it. Current crises with Iraq, Korea, Russia, China, Iran, Syria and elsewhere have been manufactured — absolutely pulled out of the air. None of those countries represent mortal threat to the United States. And in any case, the tools for resolving international conflicts already exist under the auspices of the United Nations. Those who routinely ignore those tools and associated laws are not our “enemies,” but ourselves and our “allies.” “We” are the agents who employ force, sanctions, droning, and bombing as a first resort rather than observe international law and UN procedures for avoiding international conflict. Our merely observing international law would represent a giant step towards world peace.

But, of course, the wisdom of the world denies all of the above. It would convince us that reform is without precedent, that those proposing it are radicals, and that their proposals are unrealistic and impossible to implement. They would even have us believe that Bloombergian and Trumpian wealth based on individualism, competition, and separateness are somehow compatible with the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Today’s readings make the opposite point and condemn as heretical such received wisdom. Instead, the readings emphasize the unity of humankind and the need to reject the world’s ideology.

And that’s where the connection with terrorism comes in. The fact is that the world’s leading terrorists are religiously motivated Jews, Christians and Muslims. Yet, all three accept the Bible as inspired. All three recognize Moses and Jesus as hallowed prophets. All three claim to endorse the basic teachings of those prophets as contained in today’s readings. Such convergence represents a basis for eliminating terrorism far more powerful than bombs, drones or boots on the ground.

To see what I mean, please consider today’s readings in my translated form. (And do check them out here to see if I have them right.) They describe the basis for replacing armed conflict with peaceful religious dialog.

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18: Moses called Yahweh’s people to divine holiness outlawing all hatred, grudges and any type of revenge. All such animosity, he warned, ultimately equates with self-hatred.

Psalms: 103: 1-13 This is because God’s very essence is kindness, compassion, generosity, and unbounded forgiveness.

1st Corinthians: 3: 16-23:And that essence is ours too. Hence, destroying another person represents an attack not only on God but on our Selves. Such profound wisdom is 180 degrees opposed to the world’s foolhardy “savoir faire.” Therefore, accepting Jesus means rejecting received wisdom.

1 JN 2:5:  In other words, following Jesus’ teaching (and btw the Buddha’s, Mohammed’s, Krishna’s, Lao Tzu’s, and that of history’s great humanists) is the only way of pleasing God

Matthew 5: 38-48: More specifically, the world teaches eye for eye revenge, retaliation two for one, suing at the drop of a hat, suspicion of borrowers and beggars, and hatred of enemies. However, (along with Moses) Jesus counsels exactly the opposite: gentleness, generosity, having no enemies at all, loving even those who cause us pain, recognition that all are neighbors loved equally by the One whose sun and rain benefit everyone without distinction. Yes, our neighbor (including “enemies”) is our very Self!

Can you see how the wisdom expressed in those readings provide a basis for dialog rather than for armed conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims? Can you see how rejecting the “wisdom of the world” reveals that the world’s most pressing problems have already been solved? None of them is new, unprecedented, or insoluble.

It’s time for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to unite in a shared project that opens everyone’s eyes to those facts. It’s time to expropriate the Bloombergs, Trumps and their corporate allies who deny solutions that are absolutely staring everyone in the face.  

(Sunday Homily) Usury More Clearly Contradicts God’s Law than Abortion!

Usury

Readings for 30th Sunday in ordinary time: EX 22: 20-26; PS 18: 2-4, 47, 51, I THES 1:5C-10; MT 22: 36-40. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102614.cfm

Today’s readings raise the question of usury – a word we don’t often hear today, though its reality is part of the air we breathe.

Wikipedia defines usury as: “. . . the practice of making unethical or immoral monetary loans intended to unfairly enrich the lender. A loan may be considered usurious because of excessive or abusive interest rates or other factors, but according to some dictionaries, simply charging any interest at all can be considered usury.”

In the light of that definition, consider the following:

• Last Sunday’s New York Times editorial addressed President Obama’s proposal that interest rates on loans to veterans be capped at 36 percent. The editorial began by saying that “poor and working-class people across the country are being driven into poverty and default by deceptively packaged, usuriously priced loans.” The NYT editorial board argued that the 36 percent interest cap should be extended to all U.S. citizens. Thirty-six percent!

• The same editors reported a case where “. . . (A) South Carolina lender gave a service member a $1,615 title loan on a 13-year-old car and charged $15,613 in interest — an annual rate of 400 percent — without violating federal law.”

• Despite such surprises, Wednesday’s NYT edition ran another story headed “States Ease Interest Rate Laws that Protected Poor Borrowers.” It reported that lenders such as Citigroup, One Main, Springleaf, and the American Financial Services Association claim a need to increase interest rates on their poorest customers in order to keep their rates in line with their own increased business expenses for rent, electricity, and gasoline.

• Meanwhile the prime interest rate for bankers and corporate high rollers is 3.25 percent.

• Last June U.S. Senate Republicans shot down Elizabeth Warren’s Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act. The bill would have allowed people with federal and private debt to refinance their loans at 3.86 percent. That would have given relief to more than 25 million borrowers owing $1.2 trillion in student loans. The GOP objected partly because the Refinancing Act would have created a new tax on millionaires to offset the lower interest rates.

The practices just described raise the question: how much interest can be charged before the rate becomes usurious? Today’s liturgy of the word suggests an answer.

Begin with a consideration of today’s gospel.

There Jesus is asked a question consistently addressed to rabbis and to wise persons in all traditions. “Which is the greatest of God’s commandments?”

The question is reminiscent of the familiar cartoon where the bedraggled seeker climbs up that mountain, confronts the guru sitting in front of his cave and asks him, “What’s the purpose of life?” That’s really the gist of the question presented to Jesus. What is life’s purpose?

Jesus’ response is not humorous as we’re always led to expect from those cartoons. His answer is not even surprising. Instead, it’s the standard one usually given by rabbis and wise people: “Look within,” he advises. “Find Ultimate Reality and devote yourself entirely to it. And then love that Reality’s every manifestation beginning with the people closest to you and finishing with the trees, soil, rocks, and cockroaches.”

That’s the meaning of Jesus’ response in today’s gospel. It mirrored perfectly the answer, for instance, of Rabbi Hillel, one of Jesus’ near contemporaries. Both of them said, “Love God with all your heart, mind, and spirit – and your neighbor as yourself. That’s the greatest commandment,” they agreed. “That’s the purpose of life. That summarizes all the content of humanity’s Holy Books. All the rest is commentary.”

We get a snippet of that commentary in today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus, which supplies practical content to the general answer about life’s purpose invariably given by the wise. (And it’s here that the business of interest enters the picture.) Today’s 16 line excerpt from Exodus focuses on two issues: (1) treatment of the most vulnerable in the community, and (2) prohibition of taking interest on loans. The two matters are intimately connected in a world where the poorest among us suffer from crushing debt as earlier described.

The reading says that loving God and neighbor means taking care of society’s most vulnerable – beginning with immigrants and including single mothers and street children. Reality decrees that mistreatment of people like that will bring karmic consequences and death by an invading enemy.

The reading goes on. When dealing with immigrants, remember you were once in their position. So treat them the way you would have liked your great-grandmother to have been treated when she arrived at Ellis Island from the Old Sod.

The second part of the Exodus reading addresses the most common instrument oppressors employ for mistreating society’s vulnerable. You guess it: it’s usury and debt.

You might have been surprised to read that God’s Covenantal Law as recorded in the Bible prohibits the taking of interest at all. The Law indicates that God considers usury (or any interest) sinful! It’s a form of “extortion,” Exodus says – meaning, as the dictionary explains, the “criminal offense of obtaining money, property, or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion.” The definition goes on to say that extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime.

For more than a millennium, moral theologians within the Church that developed following Jesus’ death agreed with our dictionary. Under pain of sin (as they put it), no interest could be charged on loans.

But then modern economists discovered the wonders of compound interest. That changed everything. Suddenly, charging interest became not only moral, but virtuous – including for Christians! Even the Vatican owns a bank whose underlying foundation is interest!

So times have indeed changed. Currently, moralists explain that the modern science of economics now understands what was not grasped in the ancient world of Exodus. So, morality had to change to keep up with the times and the advances of science. It’s a new world. (Hmm . . . . Does that same reasoning apply to matters such as homosexuality in relation to the insights of the modern science of psychology? And what about abortion and what modern medicine has disclosed about the beginnings of specifically personal life? After all, the Bible has this clear and strong teaching about prohibiting interest and says nothing at all about abortion.)

The suggestion here is that if we kept The Commandments as explained by Jesus and all the world’s great spiritual teachers:

• We’d prioritize concern for the welfare of immigrant children on our border, single moms in run-down neighborhoods, and street children everywhere. Their welfare, Jesus says, is identical with our own.

• We’d realize that the ability of immigrants, widows, and orphans to meet their transportation, rent and electricity bills is in God’s eyes more important than similar abilities on the part of Citigroup, One Main, Springleaf, or the American Financial Services Association.

• We probably wouldn’t support interest of any amount. (Certainly an interest rate of 36 percent would be out of the question, not to mention 400 percent.)

• At the very least, we’d demand that student loans would be refinanced at the prime rate.

• We probably wouldn’t support “capitalism” as we know it.

• We’d make usury as important a “Christian issue” as some make abortion.

• We’d hear about that from the pulpit, at least occasionally.

• We’d vote accordingly.

After all, an unmistakable critique of usury is actually found in the Bible. That’s not the case with abortion.

Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” and the Catholic Vote

catholicvote

For the last 30 years the religious right (both Protestant and Catholic) has been telling us that Christian values should influence the way we vote. What will they say now that Pope Francis has called 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to move beyond obsessions with sex – abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage?

How will they respond to his demands in his recent Pastoral Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) to centralize instead issues of poverty and the huge income gaps between the haves and have-nots? How will they answer the pope’s call to recognize the futility of directing billions towards a doomed “War on Terrorism” rather than correcting the structural injustices that cause such violence in the first place? What about his suggestion that those billions would be better invested in meeting human rights to food, health and education? (Yes, they are human rights according to the pope!)

All of that puts the Republicans and their fellow-travelers on the spot. After all, they have been the voting booth beneficiaries of obsession with sexual issues. They are the champion privatization, deregulated markets, and huge tax breaks for the rich. They oppose universal health care, investing money in public education, increasing the minimum wage, supporting labor unions, Food Stamp programs, and even Social Security financed by workers’ own savings. Republicans are the “tough on terrorism” bunch who (unlike the pope) attribute such violence to “hatred of our freedom,” rather than to blowback for the injustices of global capitalism.

According to the pope, such right-wing attitudes represent the very causes not only of world hunger and poverty, but of violence and terrorism. Only by interfering in the out-workings of the free market – by regulation (such as Glass-Steagal or the Tobin Tax), redirecting defense spending towards social programs (such as Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps), by increasing the minimum wage, and taxing the rich, – can such problems be solved.

In other words, it’s not possible this time to say “Oh, yes, we all know that good Catholics are expected to give generously to their favorite charities.” That’s not sufficient, Pope Francis asserts. No, the pope has faulted not lack of charitable giving, but the free enterprise system itself for causing the problems of global poverty and hunger as well as those of terrorism and war.

For years at election time, both the political and religious right has inundated us with directions about voting based on what the pope has identified as sexual obsessions.

It will be most interesting to observe any change in tone or direction in the upcoming general election.

Will we now be directed towards voting Democratic – for Hillary? Or will our Christian “leaders” be even more heedful of Pope Francis’ direction and urge voting instead for consumer protectionist Elizabeth Warren, for Socialist Bernie Sanders – or the Green Party candidate?

In red state Kentucky, we anxiously await direction from Mr. McConnell and Lexington’s Bishop Gainer.

In Praise of Persistent Women like Medea Benjamin, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Goodman (Sunday Homily)

Widow-and-Unjust-Judge

Readings for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: EX 17: 8-13; PS 121: 1-8; 2 TM 3:14-4:2; LK 18: 1-8; http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102013.cfm

Medea Benjamin is a peace activist and founder of Code Pink. In May of this year, she interrupted a speech by President Obama about the closing of Guantanamo Bay. Four times during his speech, she reminded the president that as chief executive he had the power to close the prison as he had promised during his campaign of 2008. The president was forced to acknowledge Benjamin’s point, but held that the issue was more complicated than she made it out to be. Clearly her outspokenness called for great courage and exposed to an international audience President Obama’s failure to keep his word. It pressured the president to change policy.
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Elizabeth Warren is the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts. Elected to the Senate in 2012, she is the first female senator from Massachusetts. Ms. Warren is a tireless consumer advocate and the first female Senator from Massachusetts. During her campaign, she called attention to the hypocrisy of “self-made men” claiming they owed nothing to government or community to explain their success. She said,

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.….Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God Bless! Keep a Big Hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
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Amy Goodman is a television journalist and host of “Democracy Now: the War and Peace Report” – a daily news hour on the Pacifica Radio and Television network. In the face of mainstream media’s refusal to cover significant grassroots events and issues, Ms. Goodman’s program has been called “probably the most significant progressive news institution that has come around in some time” (by professor and media critic Robert McChesney.) In addition to OpEdNews, “Democracy Now” is an invaluable daily source of information for the well-informed. It is an example of what can be accomplished for peace and social justice in the face of overwhelming odds.
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Keep in mind the examples of Medea Benjamin, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Goodman as we attempt to understand today’s liturgy of the word. Our readings raise the issue of prayer, and what it means (in Jesus’ words) to “pray always without ceasing.”

Actually, the readings compare what might be termed “men’s way of praying” with women’s. At least in today’s readings, men pray that God might intervene to slaughter their enemies. In contrast, the woman in today’s gospel confronts the power structure of her day as her way of praying. That is, she persistently works to bring her world into harmony with God’s justice.

Take that first reading from Exodus. . . . Did it make you raise your eyebrows? It should have. It’s about God facilitating mass slaughter. It tells the story of Moses praying during a battle against the King of Amalek. It’s a classic etiology evidently meant to explain a chair-like rock formation near a site remembered as an early Hebrew battleground.

“What means this formation?” would have been the question inspiring this explanatory folk tale. “Well,” came the answer, “Long ago when our enemy Amelek attacked our people, Moses told Joshua to raise an elite corps of fighters. During the course of the ensuing battle, Moses watched from this very place where we are standing accompanied by his brother Aaron and another friend called Hur.

Moses raised his hands in prayer during the day-long battle. And as long as he did so, Joshua’s troops got the better of Amalek’s. But Moses would get tired from time to time; so he’d lower his hands. When he did so, Amalek’s troops got the better of Joshua’s.

“To solve the problem, Aaron and Hur sat Moses down on this stone you see before us. They held up his arms during the entire battle. That strategy saved the day. Joshua won his battle “mowing down Amelek and his people.”

So here we have a God who responds to ad hoc prayers and reverses history so that one group of his children might “mow down” another group of people he supposedly loves. Hmmm. . . .

In today’s gospel, Jesus has another approach to prayer. For him, prayer is not an ad hoc affair – about changing God’s mind. Rather, praying always represents the adoption of an attitude that consistently seeks justice for the oppressed. Praying always means living from a place that won’t let go of justice concerns like those that drive Medea Benjamin, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Goodman.

To illustrate that point for his own time, Jesus tells a comic parable about a persistent woman. (Remember, he’s speaking to people who have no power in a legal system, which, like ours favors the wealthy and powerful.)

“Imagine a judge,” Jesus said. “He’s like most of the judges we know. He doesn’t give a damn about the God of the poor, and he doesn’t care what people like us think of him.” (Already Jesus’ audience is smiling seeing a funny story coming.)

“But then along comes this widow-woman. Like all of us, she’s poor, and as usual, the judge pays no attention to her.” (Jesus’ audience recognizes the syndrome; they nod to each other.)

“But this woman’s a nagger,” Jesus says. (Now his audience is snickering and chuckling.)

“She just won’t let go. And she’s strong and aggressive besides. She comes back day after day insisting that she get justice against her adversary. And as the days go by, she gets more and more insistent – and threatening. So much so that the judge starts getting worried about his own safety.

(Laughter from the crowd . . .)

“’While it is true,’ he says to himself, ‘that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’”

In other words, this macho judge is afraid of this poor widow; he’s afraid she’ll come and beat him up!

Can you imagine Jesus saying that without smiling broadly – and without the crowd roaring in laughter?

Anyway, here’s Jesus point: “If an unjust judge responds to the prayer of the poor like that, how do you suppose the All-Parent will respond when we ask for justice? The All-Parent will respond swiftly, Jesus says, because that’s who God is – the one who (as Martin Luther King put it) has established an arc of history that bends towards justice.

Prayer, then, is about reminding ourselves of that fact, trusting and having faith that in the long run justice and truth will prevail. Taking that position in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, takes great faith that’s harder and harder to find.

So Jesus ends his parable with the rhetorical question, “When the Son of Man returns, do you think he’ll find that kind of faith anywhere?”

What I’m suggesting here is that today we’re more likely to find that kind of faith, that kind of prayer, that kind of persistence in women rather than men. The example of social activist Medea Benjamin encourages us to find our voices in defense of the voiceless in U.S. prison camps throughout the world. Politician, Elizabeth Warren, calls us to pray always by calling into question received truths like those surrounding “self-made men.” Amy Goodman and her “War and Peace Report” inspire us to renounce ideas of God that call us to “mow our enemies down.”

Thank God for persistent women! We men have an awful lot to learn from them.

Beggars, Takers and Faith Healing

Today’s Readings: Jer. 31:7-9; Ps. 126: 1-6; Heb. 5:1-6; Mk. 10: 46-52

(http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102812.cfm)

A few weeks ago a “secret” video was released involving presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The video showed Mr. Romney speaking with deep-pocketed campaign supporters and, in effect, addressing the issue of blind beggars – one of whom is centralized in this morning’s gospel reading.

According to Mr. Romney, 47% of Americans “never take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  The Republican candidate’s running mate, Paul Ryan, called such people “takers.” He estimated that 30% of Americans fall into that category. In language associated with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a hero of Mr. Ryan (whom our diocesan paper Crossroads describes as a “devout Catholic”) just under half of us are “moochers” and “unproductive eaters.”

I’m sure many of those who tried to silence the blind Bartimaeus in this Sunday’s gospel selection thought of him in those terms. After all, he was a beggar – and a pushy one at that. When they tried to silence him he just shouted out louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”

In fact, Bartimaeus shouted so insistently that Jesus heard above the din of the crowd, and asked that the beggar be brought to him.

And what did Jesus say? Did he say, “What’s wrong with you, Bart? Why don’t you get a job? Don’t you care about yourself? Take some responsibility, man. I’m tired of seeing takers like you just sitting around all day producing nothing and eating at the expense of others! Someone, call the police and get this guy off the street. And as for the rest of you, follow my example of ‘tough love’.”

Of course Jesus didn’t say such things. As compassion itself and as a prophet, Jesus instead followed in the footsteps of Jeremiah whose words were proclaimed in this morning’s first reading. There Jeremiah was a spokesperson for a God announcing good news specifically to women, their children, the exiled, blind, and lame. As today’s readings from the Book of Psalms recalls, that God makes those people’s dreams come true, and turns their tears to laughter, not to guilt and shame.

So Jesus’ real words to Bartimaeus were “What do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus answers, “My teacher let me see again.”

The Great Faith Healer responds, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

It was a simple as that. Then we’re told the beggar immediately regained his sight and followed Jesus “on the way.”

Note that Jesus’ prophetic example was enough to change the attitude of the crowd. One minute they were “sternly” ordering Bartimaeus to be quiet. But as soon as Jesus said “Call him here,” they changed their tune. Their words became encouraging and enthusiastic. They said to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up; he is calling you.”

Someone has said, “If you want to become invisible, become poor.”  That means that where the poor – where blind beggars like Bartimaeus – are concerned most of us are blind. We just don’t see them. Above all, we don’t see our own condition as beggars. I mean all of us are in many ways “takers.” No matter how we may protest our self-sufficiency, we did not “build it” without help from others. And that’s true even of the “donors” Mitt Romney was begging from.

Elizabeth Warren who is running for a Massachusetts Senate seat against Scott Brown put it best. She said,

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory . . . Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Prophetic words like that can cure our blindness and establish solidarity with those the self-made see as takers, moochers and useless eaters.

The reason we are here this morning is to have our liturgical encounter with the faith-healer, Jesus of Nazareth. He can cure our blindness to the ones who in our tradition are closest to God’s heart – the exiles, beggars, blind, lame and the mothers who hold up half the sky that blesses us all.

Let our prayer this morning be that of Bartimaeus, “My teacher, let me see again.” I am blind and a beggar. Let me see with your eyes, Jesus. Let my faith in you make me well. I want to follow you “on the way” you have trod.

The Highly Dispensable Nation (And Whom to Vote for in Two Weeks)

I watched the third debate the night before last, and at first came away thoroughly discouraged. What’s the use? I thought. These guys are both the same. I almost cancelled my plans to host a “Ten Days to Win” phone call party at my home next Saturday. But while it’s true that the third debate revealed remarkable similarity between the candidates on foreign policy, their differences on domestic policy kept me from cancelling. Even more so did consideration of the candidates’ diverse bases of support, and the hope that Obama’s base offers (in contrast to the man himself).  Let me explain.

To begin with, the third debate displayed two candidates converging around at least 10 highly destructive myths:

  1. The U.S. is the one indispensable nation in the world.
  2. U.S. foreign policy is aimed at fostering “a peaceful planet.”
  3. Those same policies favor democracy, free elections, international law, and human rights – especially those of women.
  4. Terrorism, whose causes remain mysterious, must be stopped at all costs.
  5. To that end, drone strikes anywhere in the world are good and necessary.
  6. Iran is a major threat to us, so sanctions against it are reasonable and moral.
  7. Nuclear capability is a crime.
  8. Dollars spent on the military are a valid measure of commitment to national security.
  9. Israel’s policies must be supported as if they were our own.
  10. Climate change is irrelevant to foreign policy.

Of course none of those ten myths is true. What is true is that:

  1. In terms of “a peaceful planet,” democracy, free elections, international law, human rights (especially those of women) the world would be better off if the current incarnation of the U.S. dropped off the planet. (Please think about that. I am serious here.)
  2. Terrorism’s causes are not at all mysterious and almost all are connected with U.S. foreign policy. In fact, as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman pointed out long ago, the U.S. is the most prominent purveyor of “wholesale terrorism” – state terrorism – in the world. What it has declared war against are expressions of “retail terrorism” which are small potatoes (even 9/11) by comparison – basically “blowback” to U.S. state terrorism.
  3. Extrajudicial killings even by remote control contravene the “international law” both presidential candidates so solemnly invoked. (By the way, according to Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, the Benghazi debacle was in direct response to the June 4th 2012 drone killing of the insurgent theologian, Abu Ayahya al Libi. At 49, he was a hero of the Libyan Revolution and one of the most senior members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Revenge was sworn at his death and postponed till the anniversary of 9/11. This has received no mention I’m aware of in the mainstream press – certainly none in the presidential debates.)
  4. As Joe Biden pointed out, Iran poses no threat at all to the United States. On the contrary, for the past three years and more Iran has been the one threatened on a daily basis by Israel which has itself covertly developed deliverable nuclear weapons. So if any nation has reason to launch a preemptive attack, it would be Iran against Israel. But no such threat has been made.
  5. What does “nuclear capability” mean anyway?
  6. Absolute security is a goal impossible to attain. Its pursuit via already astronomical military spending benefits no one but the military-industrial complex.
  7. Israel has been an international outlaw at least since November 22, 1967, when the U.N. unanimously adopted Resolution 242 forbidding the occupation of Palestinian territories annexed in the Six Day War. Israel’s assault on Gaza, its secret development of nuclear weapons, and its crimes on the high seas interdicting ships bringing aid to Palestinians interned in Gaza have only compounded Israel’s fundamental crime of illegal occupation. Hence U.S. support of the outlaw nation of Israel not only contradicts U.S. national interests but amounts to aiding and abetting criminal activity.
  8. Given its importance to the future of the planet, climate change should have been the focus not only of this “foreign policy” debate, but of the entire presidential campaign. It was mentioned not once in any of the debates.

How should awareness of these myths and their evident contradictions influence us in the general elections just two weeks off? Here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. There is no doubt that the presidential candidates have adopted almost identical approaches to foreign policy.
  2. However they differ on domestic policy in non-trivial ways:

a)      Romney wants to retain tax breaks for the 1% while Obama does not.

b)      Romney intends to further deregulate the market undoing the mild reforms introduced after the crash of 2008. Obama will resist such measures.

c)       Following the lead of Paul Ryan’s “economic plan,” Romney will drastically cut domestic programs for the country’s most vulnerable. He will attempt to privatize Social Security, make Medicare a voucher program, and do something similar with Medicaid. Meanwhile, Obama’s austerity measures will be less drastic though also basically unfair – because austerity for the 99% is unnecessary in the face of the nation’s unprecedented concentration of wealth.

d)      Romney will appoint more neo-conservatives to the Supreme Court when the opportunity arrives.

e)      On social policy, life with Romney will be harder on women, gays, the poor and labor unions.

To repeat, while such differences are not as wide as some of us might desire, they are not at all unimportant. However one really important difference remains for me and is determinative for my voting.

That difference is the one between Romney’s base of support and that of Obama. Romney’s base is made up of Tea Party folks. They are basically white, religious literalists, evolution and climate science deniers; they are corporate-friendly, male-dominated, less educated, and angry about the ascendency of minorities. Obama’s base is more diverse. Blacks and Hispanics overwhelmingly support him. So do union members, liberal Christians, gays, atheists, and those with university educations. Women tend to be more Democratic than men.

In an evolving world, history is on the side of the Obama’s base rather than the Romney’s. Simple population trends kicking in as I write, are running swift and fast against the Republican base. As someone has said, they’re running out of angry white guys. So even the passage of four more years without GOP control of the White House (not to mention the Congress) will buy Obama’s base and their interests more time. That means the political conversation is likely to shift in a more liberal direction even over the next quadrennial.

Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy is on the horizon.

That’s why I’m going through with that party next Saturday. That’s why I’m voting for Obama (while firmly holding my nose). I’m buying time.