Episode 10: American Culture Distorts Everything; It’s All Illusion

Episode 10: Lesson 2: American Culture Distorts Everything

Welcome to Episode 10 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. And today we’ll examine together Part I, Lesson 2 of The Course’s Workbook for Students.

As you can see from the previous nine episodes, I’m reading The Course with the following assumptions in mind:

  1. The Course does in fact represent the authentic voice of Jesus the Christ channeled in the 1970s through Helen Schucman, an atheistic clinical psychologist who worked for 20 years at Columbia University.
  2. That source along with The Course’s history, structure, and language indicate that its Jesus is specifically addressing North Americans and others living unconsciously in the belly of the imperial beast, the United States of America. The U.S. is today’s equivalent of the Roman Empire that executed the historical Jesus as an insurrectionist.
  3. Ignoring that specific audience, Americans typically interpret The Course in the spirit of the second century Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Like Aurelius, as seekers and would-be mystics, Course in Miracles students typically fail to see the contradiction between their recognition of the unity of all creation on the one hand and for example, the wars they support, fund, and fight on the other.
  4. The Course’s emphasis on illusion (or in its language that time, space, bodies, and history, and the rest of the external world do not really “exist”) recalls the insights of Plato’s “Parable of the Cave.” There, captives of Athenian culture are deceived into thinking that their ethnically circumscribed experiences represent reality. According to the parable (and The Course in Miracles), such conviction is entirely illusory. The fact is that within the cave we misperceive our bodies, the place where we live, our relationships with nature, other people, and our histories both personal and collective. None of these exist as our culture describes them. Instead, they are misshaped by the fact that we see them within a white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchy.  
  5. The point of the course is to free students from those misperceptions allowing them for the first time to recognize the unity of all creation and to live accordingly.

With all of that in mind, Lesson 2 of A Course in Miracles asks us to apply to our everyday world the following insight: “I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

As I suggested in Episode 6, it helps, for clarity’s sake, to preface, for instance, Lesson 2’s central statement with the following phrase, “As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

Let me say it again: “As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

And what is it that I see in my context? I see a normalized, deceptive world of illusory shadows.

  • The world I see is white. There is not a person of color in sight.
  • It is white supremacist. The lawn signs for next month’s election advertise candidates that are overwhelmingly white. In other words, the community I see from my window is run by white people for white people who typically value white countries of origin (typically European), along with white food, dress, language, economic organization, religion, art, history, education, and family structure (all the elements of culture) above those belonging to people of color.
  • What I see in the contents of my room and from my window are items and structures that have been sold and bought according to capitalist market laws. Those laws say that absolutely everything (including life itself) can be owned, sold, and bought. There is even such a thing as “intellectual property.” My context takes this for granted, without question.
  • There are also unquestioned national borders that keep people “out” and “in.”
  • I see in the labels of the very clothes I wear testimony of imperialism, where non-white inhabitants of former colonies (in Latin America, Africa, and Asia) furnish products “for us” at slave wages. (Few question the rightness of this arrangement.) 
  • I see in my very body as a man a human being who is sitting in his office while his wife is preparing supper for him, even though she’d rather be writing like me. I am a beneficiary of male privilege.    

Lesson 2 of ACIM’s Workbook for Students suggests that all of what I’ve just noted represents meaning that is entirely relative and arbitrary – entirely questionable and subject to change. None of it has to be.  It all comes from and is accepted by me because I reside in my culture’s particular cave.

“As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

“As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

Today, as many times as you can, repeat that sentence almost like a mantram. I’ll do the same. It’s what we’re asked to do in Lesson 2.

In the meantime, thank you for listening. Till tomorrow, this is Mike Rivage-Seul wishing you a good day and God’s blessing.

If you want to review the first eight episodes in this series, please go to my podcast site at acim for activists .com (acimforactivists.com)

Election Results: Why So Many Christians Support Donald Trump – and Conventional Morality

Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wis. 6:12-16; Ps. 63: 2-3; I Thes. 4:13-18; Mt. 25:1-13.

Last Thursday, Juan Gonzalez of “Democracy Now” provided the best post-election analysis of voting trends that I’ve heard. It sharply departed from the conventional wisdom that, he said, routinely wonders about the “under performance” of black and brown voters in the just-completed general election.

Instead, Gonzalez pointed out that African American, Latinx, Chicanx, and even Native American voters stepped up in an unprecedented way with more of them voting than ever – and most of them, of course, casting their ballots for the Biden-Harris ticket.

True, he said, there was a 2% increase in the number of them voting for Donald Trump. But he pointed out, it’s not percentages that win elections, but actual votes cast. Gonzalez asked, “Would you rather have 70% of 12 million votes, or would you rather have 68% of 20 million votes?”

The real surprise, Gonzalez noted, was in the increase of white suburbanites – and especially white suburban women – who voted for Donald Trump. If anything, that was the real “under-performance” calling for further analysis.

Why is it that Republicans are increasingly becoming America’s “White Party” with white women exhibiting decreasing difference in their voting preferences from white men who actually shifted a bit away from Trump?  And why do so many Christians continue to support someone like DJT?

Gonzalez answer? There is a surprisingly significant number of Americans – white, black, Latinx, gay, straight, atheist and Christian – who are quite comfortable with Donald Trump’s imperialist message of “America First” global dominance. Whether they’re aware of it or not, they (at least subconsciously) don’t want the sun to set on the declining U.S. empire. So, they respond positively to imperialism’s conventional wisdom of maintaining “full spectrum dominance” over the rest of the world. It’s an American thing divorced from any “identity politics.”

Today’s Readings

I bring all of that up because today’s readings call attention to the difference between the conventional wisdom that Gonzalez decried and the radical wisdom of Jesus the Christ who had no time for empire or for making Rome or even Israel great again.  

To show what I mean, here are my “translations” of the day’s selections related to Jesus’ profound wisdom – with a surprise twist in today’s Gospel parable of “The Wise and Foolish Virgins.”

There, the anonymous and conservatively Jewish evangelist called “Matthew” turns the unconventionally wise Jesus into a teacher of the world’s conventional wisdom of taking care of #1. In effect, he transforms Jesus from what we might call a “progressive” (or what I would call an anti-imperialist “radical”) into something like a contemporary Republican. No wonder today’s Christians feel comfortable supporting Donald Trump!

Please read to original texts here to see if I’m exaggerating. The first three readings reflect Jesus’ approach to wisdom. The last one seems to contradict it.

Wisdom 6: 12-16

Goddess-like Wisdom is easily encountered by those who seek her out. In fact, she lovingly looks for us even before we start our search for her. She is nearer to us than our jugular veins. Honoring her is actually the height of informed intelligence. You might say that human beings are naturally wise. 

Psalms 63: 3-8

Whether we know it or not, wisdom is our shared quest. It’s more valuable than life itself. Without wisdom our lives are parched, meaningless and deprived. Wisdom’s nourishment brings us gladness and everlasting joy.

I Thessalonians 4: 13-18

But what about those who die before achieving the full enlightenment offered by wisdom’s goddess? Have their lives been wasted? “No,” says St. Paul.  Mysteriously, even they will be enlightened by the same cosmologically irresistible powers that were manifested in the person, life and teachings of the master of wisdom, Jesus the Christ. This is no idle fantasy, though the hopeless claim it is.  

Matthew 25: 1-13

Even the evangelist called Matthew found Jesus’ unconventional wisdom about sharing to be a bit much. So, in his version of Jesus’ parable about the wise and the foolish bridesmaids,” he turned Jesus into a teacher of a conventional wisdom that the world could more easily endorse. “Take care of yourself  first,” he has Jesus teach in his story. “Your selfishness will be rewarded,” Jesus seems to say. ‘Foolish people – especially thoughtless women – will be shut out of God’s kingdom, just as they deserve.”

Jesus Republicanized

Let me say a bit more about the parable that tries to domesticate Jesus. It’s about those who embody the characteristics of wisdom described in the first reading – the wise virgins. It is also about those who lack such qualities – the foolish bridesmaids. The wise ones brought enough oil to keep their lamps alight while they waited to escort an unexpectedly delayed bridegroom to his ritual rendezvous with his intended. The foolish ones made no such provision.   

Obviously, this is a women-oriented story. And that’s quite fitting for exploring the topic of wisdom traditionally identified as feminine – almost as a goddess.  The story is full of wisdom symbols: not only wise and foolish virgins, but wedding feasts and bridegrooms, sleeping and waking, lamps, oil and light, closed and locked doors. All of these are archetypes. Their richness suggests an enlightened storyteller; it suggests someone like Jesus.

And yet there are also elements in today’s gospel that suggest a voice that does not belong to the prophet from Nazareth. For one thing, this is perhaps the only instance in the gospels where women are presented in a negative light. Here I’m thinking of the foolish bridesmaids. Throughout the Gospels, women appear consistently in a positive light. It seems Jesus took care not to reinforce the prejudice against them that so endemic to his deeply patriarchal culture – and to our own.

For another, this parable doesn’t contain any of the reversals or “unconventional wisdom” that we’ve come to associate with Jesus’ teachings and method of story-telling.  Parables, you’ll recall, are stories which present a problem meant to engage their audiences. They do so by addressing a real-life concern (often expressed in a question presented by one of Jesus’ opponents). Typically, Jesus’ answer turns the tables on the questioner surprising him with some version of Jesus’ great dictum: “The first will be last and the last first.” Think of the “Good Samaritan” or the “Prodigal Son.” We don’t find any of those kind of surprises in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.

On the contrary, instead of unconventional wisdom and surprising reversals, we find that this story concludes with a highly conventional moral. It’s embodied in the strange refusal of the wise virgins to share their oil with the foolish ones.  Again, the lesson seems to be “Be prepared and take care of #1. Let the improvident take care of themselves and reap the consequences of their ‘foolishness’.”

Of course, that runs counter to a theme that earliest Gospel traditions firmly centralize, namely that of sharing even in the face of scarcity. As you recall, that motif appeared in the feeding of the 5000 in Mk. 6:30-44 and in the feeding of the 4000 in 8:1-10.  Both instances embodied a “miracle enough” made possible because Jesus inspired people to overcome selfishness and share the little they had. The surprise was that in sharing scarce resources (five loaves and two fishes) there was more than enough for all.

The bottom line here is that Matthew seems to have domesticated Jesus – as I said, making him very Republican-like.

Conclusion

Last week in OpEdNews, RJ Piers wrote an extremely insightful article called “Letting Go of Christianity During the Trump Era.” There the author recalled years of commitment to a Christian faith that required faithful observance of conventional morality centered around avoidance of drinking, drugs and premarital sex.

In the light of his abstinence, the author found it more than disappointing to see Christians rallying around a character like Donald Trump with his three marriages, assaults on unsuspecting women, and separations of children and babies from their mothers and fathers. For Piers (as for so many of us), Christian faith was all about conventional morality. And to see Christians deserting that morality to endorse someone like Trump was enough to suggest his own abandonment of Christian faith itself.

Personally, I found the argument intriguing.

However, even a casual reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus was not about such conventional expectations. His focus wasn’t drinking, drugs, or premarital sex. On the contrary, he transgressed community moral standards at every turn. He repeatedly broke the sacred Sabbath law, forgave a woman caught in flagrante with an anonymous man, was accused of being a drunkard and friend of prostitutes, intermingled with despised foreigners, heretics, and n’er do wells. He finished his own life completely disgraced on death row, a victim of torture and of a form of capital punishment specifically reserved for enemies of Roman imperialism.

Remembering all of that is important not only for helping us see how churches have followed Matthew’s lead in domesticating Jesus.  It also helps us see Jesus for who he was despite that process of normalization that began less than two generations after his assassination.

Matthew’s parable of the ten bridesmaids is a case in point. Ironically, its domestication of the radical Jesus juxtaposed with the rest of today’s readings calls us to return to the master’s unconventional wisdom. That wisdom rejects obsession with conventional morality.

Again ironically, Matthew’s attempts at taming Jesus remind us of the master’s more important focus. As shown by his crucifixion, it must have been on politically radical rebellion against the kind of imperialism that Juan Gonzalez correctly suggests has seduced so many of our fellow citizens despite their claims to be followers of Jesus the Christ.

Pentecost Sunday Homily: Don’t Support the Hong Kong Protesters

Readings for Pentecost Sunday: ACTS 2: 1-11; PSALMS 104: 1, 24, 29-34; I CORINTHIANS 12: 3-7, 12-13; JOHN 20: 19-23

Today is Pentecost Sunday – the originally Jewish harvest festival that comes 50 days after Passover. The day’s readings remind us that from the beginning Jesus’ Jewish followers were working-class internationalists. Despite their lack of what the world calls “sophistication,” they recognized a unified divine order where barriers of language, nationality, and differentiating wealth were erased.

Before I get to that, let me connect that central fact with perhaps the prominent international and class-based concern in our contemporary context. I’m referring to the demonstrations in Hong Kong and an emerging new cold war between the United States and China. Our Pentecostal readings suggest we should be standing with the Chinese government and not with our own.

China and Hong Kong

Last week I shared a summary of an important debate about China between Matt Stoller and Kishore Madhubani. The debate’s question was: Is China merely a competitor of the United States or is it an adversary or even an enemy? Doesn’t China’s suppression of free speech and free press, of religion and of democracy make it an enemy?

My article held that, all things considered, China is a more genuine defender of human rights than the United States. I won’t repeat my argument here, but it turned on the distinction between bourgeois human rights (private property, contract observance, free speech, free press, and freedom of religion) and socialist rights to work, food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education.

Since the publication of my column, its relevance was highlighted by renewed demonstrations in Hong Kong. There despite a COVID-19 lockdown with its social distancing requirements, demonstrators came out in force last Sunday. They were protesting against new legislation in the territory that would allow officers of the law to arrest protestors for speaking out against the local government or authorities in Beijing.

Whom to Support?

So, the question became how should progressives respond? Even granted the distinctions between bourgeois and working-class rights, shouldn’t leftists seeking consistency and coherence, be on the side of the Hong Kong protestors? After all, they’re described as “pro-democracy.”

Despite such description, my answer would be a resounding “No.”

The main reason for my saying that is related to the class concerns reflected in the above distinctions between bourgeois and working-class rights. The fact is, all demonstrations are not the same. Some are organized against oppressive systems such as capitalism and its prioritization of wealth accumulation and contract obligations on the one hand and its marginalization of workers’ needs to eat, be decently clothed and housed, and to have dignified work and a healthy environment on the other. The Yellow Vest Movement in France and the Water Protectors’ demonstrations against the Keystone XL Pipeline in North Dakota offer examples of protests against capitalist exploitation.

In contrast, other demonstrations are reactionary and directed against specifically working-class reforms. Participants typically support colonialism and imperialism. The thousands in the streets of Hong Kong and Venezuela offer prime examples of such protests.  Hong Kong protestors’ waving of Union Jacks signals their preference of the status quo ante of British colonialism. Their appeals for U.S. intervention (with U.S. flags unfurled) express support for imperialism.

(Of course, especially under the guidance of foreign interventionist forces such as the CIA and its sister National Endowment for Democracy (NED), other lower-class social forces such as unemployed and underpaid workers (Marx’s lumpen proletariat) can also be organized by their betters to direct their anger at the class enemy of their bourgeois organizers — in this case, the Chinese government in Beijing.)  

The bottom line here, however, is that to be consistent, progressives must oppose not only prioritization of wealth accumulation by financiers, but also anything connected with colonialism and imperialism.    

To repeat: not all demonstrations, not all clamoring for “human rights” are created equal.  Class-consciousness provides an indispensable tool for distinguishing the causes and demonstrations that progressives should support from those we should oppose.

Pentecost Readings

With all of that in mind, let’s turn our attention to the readings for this Pentecost Sunday. Let’s read them with the same class consciousness I’ve just referenced. Here are my “translations.” You can examine them here to see if I got them right.

ACTS 2: 1-11: Fifty days after Jesus’ New Manifestation as one with all the poor, executed and other victims of imperialism, his fearful working-class followers suddenly found themselves filled with the same consciousness Jesus had. They internalized the Master’s conviction that poor people like themselves could embody his vanguard consciousness heralding the completely new world order Jesus called God’s “Kingdom.” Suddenly on fire and filled with courage, these poor, illiterate fishermen electrified huge crowds from “every nation under heaven.” Despite language barriers their impoverished and oppressed audience understood that God was on their side.

PSALMS 104: 1, 24, 29-34: Jesus shared his Spirit with the poor in order to renew the face of the earth – this earth (not heaven above) filled with magnificent creatures of all types. They’ve all been put here to make everyone (not just the wealthy) happy and joyful. We who identify with the poor are entirely grateful.

I CORINTHIANS 12: 3-7, 12-13: It is the Holy Spirit of Jesus that makes us recognize that he, not any oppressive Caesar, is in charge here on earth. The Spirit’s gifts have been given for the Common Good not for private gratification or foreign control. In fact, all of us are one – as if we comprised a single body. Nationalities are irrelevant. Slavery of any kind is completely passé.

SEQUENCE: So, may we too receive Jesus’ Spirit this very day. May we recognize it in the poor, in our hearts, in the light of our new understanding, in the gifts we’ve received, and in just rewards for our labor. Yes, we’ve been wounded, desiccated and made to feel guilty. We rejoice to know that poverty and misery are not the will of some God “up there.” The Holy Spirit’s will is abundance for all. Thank you!

JOHN 20: 19-23: Following his execution, in his New (resurrected) Manifestation, the meaning of Jesus’ execution by empire became apparent. Having internalized his Spirit, his friends recognized his wounds as badges of solidarity with the poor, tortured victims of imperial powers. They threw off guilt and embraced world peace instead.

Conclusions

Think of today’s readings as they relate to Hong Kong. . . Though recorded two generations after the fact, the Jerusalem events portrayed were extraordinarily revealing. They had people of the lowest classes (no doubt, under the watchful eye of Rome’s occupying forces) – probably illiterates – claiming to be spokespersons for God. And this, not even two months after the execution of Jesus the Christ, who had been executed as a terrorist by Roman authorities. What courage on their part!

The readings, then, remind us of whose side the biblical All Parent is on. In contemporary terms, it’s not the side of financiers, bankers, imperialists or colonialists. Rather, it’s the side of those the world’s powerful consider their sworn enemies – the poor, illiterate, unemployed, underpaid, tortured and executed victims of colonialism and empire.

However, those latter categories represent the very classes that socialism (even “with Chinese characteristics”) rescued from their landlord oppressors in 1949 and that have been under western siege there ever since. Under socialism, the impoverished in China are the ones who have seen their wages and standard of living massively improve over the last thirty years.

Improvements of this type under communist leadership are totally unacceptable to the United States and the “allies” it has absorbed into what it proudly describes as its empire. That empire always opposes socialism and will stop at nothing to make it fail.

Such realizations lead to the following observations about Hong Kong in particular:

  • As shown by the display of Union Jack and American flags and by signs invoking the intervention of President Trump, the demonstrations in Hong Kong are neo-colonialist, neo-imperialist and neoliberal in their understandings of human rights.
  • They are seeking the bourgeois “democratic rights” that overridingly prioritize private property and the integrity of commercial rights over the socialist rights championed by the Chinese Communist Party—food, shelter, clothing, jobs, health care, and education.
  • The fact that ex-CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, is leading the charge in Hong Kong should give everyone pause. (This, especially in the light of Pompeo’s boast and endorsement of “lying, cheating, and stealing” as CIA standard operating procedure.)
  • In fact, and on principle, any Trump administration defense of human rights should probably drive those with social justice concerns to defend the other side.   
  • Or at the very least, Pompeo’s and the Trump administration’s diverse response to demonstrations in Hong Kong on the one hand and to the (working class) Yellow Vests in France and to indigenous Water Protectors in North Dakota on the other, should raise serious questions.

Closing Note

The bottom line here, however, is that all demonstrations and protests are not created equal. The Pentecost gathering in Jerusalem was a poor people’s international meeting of “every nation on the face of the earth.” It celebrated the Spirit of a poor worker who was a victim of torture and capital punishment by imperial Rome. Its claim was that the Divine World Spirit is on the side of the imperialized, colonized, tortured and executed. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is far more in line with that tradition than is neoliberal capitalism.

Progressive followers and/or admirers of Jesus the Christ should keep that in mind as they watch events in Hong Kong unfold.

Black Panther: A Nearly Revolutionary Film

black-22

I remember 10 years ago taking Berea College students for a January “Short Term” to Cuba. Our month-long assignment was to study the African diaspora in that island nation. One day we were privileged to have Cuban poet, essayist and historian, Roberto Fernandez Retamar grace our classroom. Now 87, he was then about my age.

On that occasion, the great man said something that struck me as powerful, and that relates to the blockbuster movie everyone’s talking about, Black Panther. Retamar stated that black people in the Americas are the strongest, most beautiful most intelligent people in the world.

He explained why.

Before slaves were transported from Africa, he said, they were closely inspected for their strength, beauty, and intelligence. Their arms and legs were assessed for their musculature. Like horses for sale, their teeth were scrutinized. Women were evaluated in terms of their beauty and apparent ability to reproduce. Only the best were selected and shipped abroad. Those who didn’t measure up were left behind.

Then on the Middle Passage, only about half – again, the best of the best themselves survived.

When the slaves arrived at the auction block those evolutionary wonders were once again culled – for strength, beauty, skills and intelligence.

The culled are the ancestors of today’s African Americans, who remain, not surprisingly, the strongest, most beautiful and smartest people on the planet.

That’s what Retamar said. And it thrilled me and our mostly African-American students.

The same thrill is today being experienced nearly universally by millions of African-Americans and others across the world as they view the Disney and Marvel Comics film, Black Panther.

It celebrates the beauty, strength, intelligence and resourcefulness of Africans and African-Americans in a magnificent display of their inherent gifts. The film has been called “a defining moment for black America.”

That’s because Black Panther‘s stellar cast is nearly all African or African-American. And to reference another great man, in the movie’s mythical country of Wakanda, all the women are strong, the men are beautiful, and all the children are above average.

Moreover, the film presents themes that are anti-colonial, pro-liberation, wonderfully African and conscious of the oppression that people of color to this day experience everywhere.

The bare bones of the narrative are reminiscent of Greek tragedy: The benevolent king of a fabulously wealthy African country (Wakanda) has died. His virtuous son, T’Challa, is selected to fill the vacancy. But there’s a rival for the throne. It’s his villainous cousin, who challenges and defeats and apparently kills T’Challa in ritual hand-to-hand combat. The cousin proceeds to head a regime that tramples on tradition, disrespects women, and uses his country’s wealth for evil purposes. But T’Challa returns from his coma to restore order, tradition, and prosperity. He shares his nation’s wealth with the rest of the world.

Again, it’s a classic story whose details celebrate blackness, names white supremacist racism for what it is, and calls for revolution against colonialism in past and present forms. All of that is ground-breaking and entirely admirable.

However, the film pulls its punches severely leaving its potentially revolutionary message muddled and garbled. That’s true to such an extent that Black Panther finally comes across anti-revolutionary propaganda for the status quo and CIA. The attentive will see this as they witness a film that:

* Is entitled “Black Panther” but makes only a nod to the actual Black Panther Party of the 1960s.
* In doing so, deceives the uninformed in its audience about the Party’s nature by portraying its only member in the film as a “Killmonger” (the wicked cousin) instead of a community organizer.
* On the one hand, depicts Killmonger’s program as arming the world’s oppressed against the white colonial status quo that tyrannizes people of color throughout the world.
* But on the other describes him as preparing for that mission by service as a CIA mercenary killing hundreds of those people in Iraq, Afghanistan and other poor countries imperialized by the United States.
* Confronts Killmonger with T’Challa, his good-guy adversary, whose idea of changing the world is charity rather than systemic transformation of what Killmonger correctly perceives (in bell hooks words) as the white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy.
* Has T’Challa ally himself with the CIA to defeat the revolutionaries Killmonger has assembled.
* Peoples the movie with “strong black women” whose strength is mostly evident in their machismo – i.e. in their ability to scowl and kill as heartlessly as their male counterparts.
* Celebrates the film’s heroine for allegiance to country above her most intimate relationship.
* Presents a white CIA agent as heroic.

Moreover, any chance of understanding the film’s references to colonialism, white supremacy, and the villainous reality of the CIA is further obscured by Black Panther’s spectacular visuals – by 134 minutes of comic book chases, space ship dogfights, explosions, karate displays, knifings, spearings, shootings, fantastic escapes, and magical returns from the dead.

One comes away from the film happy to have seen blacks centralized and celebrated in a Hollywood blockbuster, but having gained very little in terms of understanding the nature of oppression, the robbery that is the essence of colonialism, or the true spirit of the Black Panther Party, of Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, or Angela Davis. There is no hint of any Free Breakfast for Children Program, of Black Panther health clinics, or the party’s emphasis on food justice. Instead, one identifies Black Panthers as violent Killmongers with utter disrespect for life, women and tradition.

When Roberto Fernandez Retamar gave us his class, he said something else that relates to Black Panther. Though his skin color is as white as my own, he introduced his remarks with the phrase, “I who am more or less black . . .” With those words he reminded us all that, by every account, life began in Africa. So, all of us are more or less black.

In other words, Black Panther is about us all. It can remind us that White Supremacy is a fiction that oppresses every one of us. So is capitalism’s patriarchal regime with its seemingly inseparable colonialism, neo-colonialism, and endless resource wars.

The struggle for liberation depicted in Black Panther is incumbent on all of us to join.

Too bad that point wasn’t made more clearly.

Is Pope Francis a Positive Force or a Dangerous Illusion?

Francis wolf

A good friend of mine recently shared a link from the Real News Network that deserves a response. It was an interview with Chris Hedges criticizing Pope Francis for not being radical enough in his denunciation of capitalism and imperialism. The award-winning journalist gave the impression that the pope should have denounced both as such and offered alternatives.

I was surprised by Hedges’ remarks. That’s because my personal assessment is that the pope actually has done all three. He has been scathing in his denunciation of capitalism; he has denounced colonial imperialism, and has offered clear alternatives to capitalism-as-we-know-it. The pope did so during his” homecoming” trip through Latin America late last summer, during his subsequent six-day trip to the United States, and especially in his landmark encyclical, Laudato Si’ (LS).

On his Latin American tour, Pope Francis’ was quite direct in his denunciation of capitalism and imperial colonialism.

For instance, addressing the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Francis traced today’s global problems back to their origins in European colonialism beginning in 1492. But he also identified new forms of colonialism exercised through corporations, loan agencies, “free trade” treaties, and imposition of “austerity measures.”

Such actors and policies, he said, subordinate states to outside powers which also exercise control through misguided measures ostensibly aimed at controlling drug trafficking, political corruption, and terrorism. More subtly, external powers colonize, destroy local cultures and foster cultural uniformity through communications monopolies, which the pope described as “ideological colonialism.”

“Let us say NO to forms of colonialism old and new,” he said.

Still in Latin America, the pope went on to criticize capitalism-as-we-know-it as “an invisible thread” connecting problems of world poverty, worker exploitation, landlessness among farmers, homelessness, and destruction of the natural environment. That system imposes the mentality of profit at any price without concern for its impact on displaced peasants and workers or for its destructive effects on “Mother Earth.”

The system, he said “is by now intolerable: farm workers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable … The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable.”

For me, all of that represents not only criticism of imperialism, but of the free market system.

Then during his visit to the United States, Pope Francis offered an extremely harsh denunciation of capitalism itself. There he in effect referred to economic system we know as “filthy,” “rotten,” and “putrid.” He called the Wall Street speculators “hypocrites.” Moreover, the pope directly confronted the members of his audience by calling the system they represented “the greatest purveyor of violence” in the world today. And he implied that  the politicians seated before him were a bunch of gangsters.

Even Chris Hedges may have missed all of that, because the polite, soft-spoken, and gentle pontiff was a gracious enough guest to say none of those things directly. He did so instead by offering Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King and Thomas Merton as embodiments of our country’s greatest values.

It was Dorothy Day who is remembered as saying, “We need to overthrow . . . this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York.”

It was King who called the United States itself, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

And it was Thomas Merton, the apostle of non-violence, who classified U.S. politicians and military leaders among the world’s gangsters when he said, “The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle . . .”

Moreover, Pope Francis did not leave his audience merely reeling from such heavy blows un-complemented by clear systemic alternatives to the filthy rotten arrangement he addressed. Instead, the pontiff called for a deep restructuring of capitalism-as-we-know-it. This would involve turning the present system’s preferential option for the rich precisely on its head, replacing it with his favorite guideline, the “preferential option for the poor.” Even more particularly, restructuring would require a central international legislative body endowed with power to override national economic practices judged to be environmentally unsound.

Both recommendations are found clearly stated in Laudato Si’ which the pope cited in his congressional address (LS 53, 173-175). Surprisingly, both have already been implemented world-wide.

To begin with, the New Deal, the Great Society and (even more so) Europe’s introduction of the welfare state already represent arrangements which forefronted the needs of the working classes and poor. The reform measures were at the very least strong gestures towards economies mixed in favor of the poor rather than of the Wall Street rich. Such reforms demonstrated that another economic order is indeed possible.

As for the world body with power to enforce environmental legislation, the World Trade Organization (WTO) already has it, though perversely in its present form. According to the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (and of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership), multinational corporations (MNCs) now have the power to sue before the WTO and invalidate U.S. environmental protection standards if those laws can be shown to diminish a corporation’s expected profits.

What the pope is proposing is an international body that turns the WTOs mandate upside-down.  The body the pope proposes would have binding power to protect the environment from the depredations of MNCs – i.e. is to eliminate their profits if they result from environmental destruction.

So I respectfully suggest that Chris Hedges is mistaken when he says Pope Francis has pulled his punches. The pontiff has been quite specific in offering alternatives to the system he has so sharply critized. As an honored guest, he gently delivered knock-out blows clearly observable to attentive listeners.

It remains for prophets like Hedges and others to highlight and reinforce them and in this way to advance us towards the Other World Pope Francis would convince skeptics is possible.

 

Thug Pope?

Cia Argentina

Last Friday I published a blog calling for the resignation of the newly elected Pope. Of course, I had no expectation that the pope would resign. We can even hope that as Francis I, Jorge Bergoglio will undergo or has undergone a conversion since the days when his silence gave consent to the brutal military regime of Jorge Videla during Argentina’s infamous “Dirty War.”

Nonetheless Bergoglio’s election forces us to face up to the role of religion under imperialism. The ascendancy of Francis I trains focus on the way both the fundamentalist Catholic Church and its Protestant counterparts habitually lie comfortably in bed with the forces of politico-economic exploitation, war, kidnapping, torture, and murder. As bed fellows they share the guilt of their thug partners.

Put otherwise, religious fundamentalism can easily be seen as the most conservative force in the world. Exhibit #1 is Roman Catholicism. The vast majority of its leaders have always lain supine not merely for Constantine, but for a whole host of dictators who followed including Hitler and with Mussolini. On the whole, Protestant fundamentalists have been no better. To reiterate: fundamentalist religionists are the problem, not just their embodiment in an unrepentant Francis I. If their partners are thugs, where does that leave them?

You see, the pope’s defenders are wrong when they say that archbishop Bergoglio was merely another Argentinian cowed by the military and lacking in the heroic courage of a few bishops and many liberation theology priests during Argentina’s “Dirty War” (1976-’83). At the hierarchical level, I’m thinking of heroes whose faith moved them to defy the military governments the U.S. established throughout Latin America from the early 1960s till the fall of the Soviet Union.

I’m thinking of Brazil’s Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, Dom Helder Camara, or Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga — or of El Salvador’s Oscar Romero, or of Mexico’s Samuel Ruiz. All of them recognized that their status provided them with a literal “bully pulpit” for denouncing the oppression of their impoverished flocks which did not enjoy the relative invulnerability their own ecclesiastical status provided for themselves.

Put simply, Bergoglio didn’t have the courage of those men.

Granted, you can’t fault someone for not being a hero. However lacking heroism was not Bergoglio’s problem as his apologists imply. Even if he was merely silent, he lacked the moral responsibility absolutely required for the Christ-like fulfillment of his office. After all, muted and/or compliant churchmen represent an essential ideological cog in the system of oppression. Since the time of Constantine, they have been used to persuade ordinary Christians that God endorses the policies of their oppressors however brutal.

The hell of it is that many priests and preachers, especially at lower levels, are completely unaware of their role in the system. They think of themselves as good pastors, patriotic citizens, supporters of a brave military, and opponents of Godless Communism. This may have been the case even with archbishop Bergoglio. He may simply have been an unconscious, naive pawn. Nonetheless, he was part of the gang, and so are all religious leaders who end up underwriting oppression.

Like Bergoglio, they should know better because Jesus had to deal with the alliance between religion and colonialism too. The priests, scribes, and Sadducees of his day were an essential part of the Roman system of exploitation. In fact, it’s common to refer to the Temple’s “con-dominium” with Rome. The priests and scribes on the one hand along with the emperor and Pilate on the other, all ruled together. To attack one was to attack the other. And Jesus attacked them both.

Opposing imperialism goes beyond simply firing one’s chauffer or taking the bus to work. It goes beyond saying we’re on the side of the poor. (Even Rick Santorum says that!) Instead popes and bishops have to understand critique and oppose the structures that cause and sustain oppression – economic and political systems along with laws, customs, and institutions like those of church, government, and the military. All of those structures transcend the short reigns of popes, presidents and generals. Those occupants of office come and go, but the systems and laws they serve and enforce remain.

The sainted archbishop of Recife in Brazil, Dom Helder Camara understood that. He once said, “When I feed the poor, they called me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

Let’s hope that Pope Francis will not only ask that latter question – the why of poverty and hunger. Let’s hope he will answer it strongly and unmistakably. The poor have no food because keeping them hungry is in the interests of the economic and political system that runs the world – international capitalism.

At the moment, hasty hagiographers are saying that Francis I’s concern for the poor makes him a saint. My prayer is that they will soon be calling him a communist. The alternative appellation is “thug.”