Face It: America’s God Is Violence

Readings for Trinity Sunday: Exodus 34: 4B-6, 8-9; Daniel 3: 52-56; 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13; John 3: 16-18

You’ll never convince me that theology is unimportant or irrelevant to politics.

Early last week, President Trump had Lafayette Park cleared of protestors for a Bible-waving photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Evidently, his specifically theological point was to assure everyone that God is somehow on his side and that of the DC police in their fight with the peaceful protestors he called “thugs” and “terrorists.” The president implied that God supports his and the cops ham-handed attempts to quell the general uprising sparked throughout the country (and the world) by the brutal murder of George Floyd, yet another unarmed black man executed by the police state Mr. Trump now heads.

The presidential photo-op underscored not only the tone-deaf cynicism of the current occupant of the White House. It highlighted as well, the identity of the three-personed God he and his white “Christian” supporters actually worship. It’s not the God of Jesus.

I bring that up, because today is Trinity Sunday – a day that calls attention to the mysterious Christian belief that almost no one can coherently explain. It’s the faith that there are three persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today in these remarks, I’m setting aside any concern with obscure, esoteric explanations of that rich mystery so often trivialized into some sort of mathematical problem. (It has been well explained most recently by Richard Rohr in his The Divine Dance. Highly recommended.)

My point instead is to redirect its understanding in a more immediate way intimately connected with what’s happening now in our city streets. It is to explore the mysteries of the real Trinity that we Americans actually worship. It’s a divinity Americans call on to solve any problem you might imagine.  I’m talking about the deity called Violence. Yes, as what Dr. King called “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” our nation worships Violence Itself.

Our reverence for this quasi-divine being is revealed in our vicious cultures of police and military so evident in our cities these days. It’s revealed in our worship of guns, in our “defense” budgets, in our films, and in the wars our nation more than any other on the planet initiates and sustains throughout the world.    

Like the traditional Trinity, our God of Violence also has three manifestations. There is Violence the Father, Violence the Son, and Violence the Evil Spirit. Let me try to explain.

Trinitarian Violence

Violence the Father: This is the invisible power that shapes all of our lives. Sociologists refer to his domain in terms of “structural violence.”  He is the creator of every society’s status quo – the form of mayhem that begets most of its other manifestations. This violent divinity is the one in whom we Americans live and move and have our being; he’s like the air we breathe; we don’t even notice his presence. Yet our simple participation in the world-as-we-know-it transforms us into his votaries.

Worldwide, this is the God who allows 15,000 children to die each day of absolutely preventable poverty and hunger. Most commonly, they are victimized by ailments as simple as diarrhea caused by contaminated water. But all those children die at our system’s hand just as surely and predictably as if executioners put guns to their heads and pulled the trigger 15,000 times every 24 hours. The God of the status quo endorses every shot.

Violence the Father also underwrites ghettoes, decrepit schools, food deserts, and structural unemployment. He makes sure drinking water is contaminated by lead, that borders are closed to refugees and asylum seekers, and that the air in poor communities is unbreathable.

For the police, he’s the patron of “qualified immunity.” That’s the legal doctrine that encourages law enforcement crime. In practice, it guarantees that police will never be convicted of any crime unless their attorneys prove unable to turn up a single cop anywhere in the world who wouldn’t have acted similarly in a similar situation. What a joke!

Americans love Violence the Father. We’re convinced his order is the best human beings can achieve. After all, we live in “the greatest country in the world.” [We say that with a straight face, even though (if we opened our eyes) we would see clearly that other better countries are all over the map. However, our fundamentalist religious brainwashing masquerading as “patriotism” just won’t let us go there.]

Violence the Son: This is the second person of the unholy trinity worshipped throughout America. Violence the Son is the offspring of the Father – his only (i.e. inevitably) begotten son. He embodies the self-defensive, but ultimately auto-destructive response of perhaps 5% of the protestors in our streets during these days of rage and rebellion. They are the marginalized, despised and brutalized who have abandoned hope of systemic reform by going through the channels. They’ve given up on Dr. King’s and on Jesus’ non-violent resistance.  

If the truth be told, many of them are heroic by standards widespread in our country, where precious few subscribe to non-violence. Often, these devotees consider themselves spiritual descendants of the U.S. Founding Fathers. Remember how those sometime heroes bravely defended the right to take up arms against any government or police force that denies rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In their Declaration of Independence, the founders wrote “. . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government. . .”

Yet, the attitude of these followers of Violence the Son, though apparently heroic, is self-destructive. That’s because it inevitably incurs a response from the militarized state that is overwhelming and absolutely destructive. It’s that response of police brutality that has horrified us all over the past ten days. It’s the third-level violence — that of the Unholy Spirit.  

Violence the Evil Spirit:

This is the spirit of fear, racism, vengeance, and false patriotism that inspires police and military over-response to the small number of protestors who worship Violence the Son. And, as I just said, the response in question is devastating. Worldwide, this Spirit routinely leads the United States to mercilessly slaughter any who dare raise a fist against first-level structural crimes inspired by Violence the Father. Think of the hundreds of thousands butchered throughout Central America during the 1980s, when the U.S. crushed peasant response to U.S. neocolonialism, regime change, torture and assassination in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras.

But closer to home, think of last week’s spectacles of police cars running over those exercising their Second Amendment rights.  We all saw those committed to “protect and serve” instead slashing tires, tear gassing, pepper spraying, and tasering peaceful protestors. We saw them crack open the head of a 75-year-old man in Buffalo. As agents provocateurs, they smashed windows, set fire to police cars, and left piles of bricks strategically placed for use by activists inclined to throw them.

It’s at the altar of this evil spirit that the NYPD worships along with other infamous blue-clad gangsters throughout the country.  By their actions, they’ve revealed the truth of Frank Serpico’s telling description of New York City police. Ten percent of them, he said, are honest. Ten percent are absolutely corrupt. And the other 80% wish they weren’t. In other words, 90% of our nation’s police forces are proving themselves to be brutally crooked especially towards people of color. And virtually all of them are committed to protecting each other’s backs no matter what. And that means that virtually all of them are liars and criminals.

And why not? They all worship our trinity’s third person – the Spirit of Violence itself.

Conclusion

Yes, what I’m saying is that almost all of us end up offering incense not to Christianity’s Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead, the God most of us worship is Violence pure and simple. In fact, most in our country would laugh in your face if you suggested adopting and implementing Jesus’ words about love and forgiveness of enemies. No, we prefer to hate and kill them – in the name of God. For most of us, anger and violence are stronger and more realistic than any ethic endorsed by the one honored in that church Mr. Trump used as a prop. As a people, Americans love Violence.

Today’s Trinity Sunday observance and the teachings of Jesus in general call us away from all that. They ask us to repudiate our idolatry of Violence – Father, Son and Evil Spirit – and to join peaceful protestors all over the world – in the Holy Spirit of Jesus himself. That Spirit remains 180 degrees opposed to our country’s allegiance to the status quo and its violent police state Trinity.

Candidate Marianne Williamson Reduces All Of Our Problems to One (Trinity Sunday Homily)

On this Trinity Sunday, Marianne Williamson’s basic approach to our national problems reminds me of traditional trinitarian doctrine. I mean, when I was a kid in catechism class, the mystery of the Holy Trinity seemed like one of those word-problems I found so difficult in arithmetic. I wondered, how can there be three divine persons in one God? Was it 3+ 1= 1? Or was it 3 ÷ 1 = 1? I was confused.

Williamson’s basic approach to politics presents a similar quandary. Her basic math problem is: How can we solve our myriad national problems? There seem to be so many. However, like what I heard in catechism class, her solution remains theological. But it goes like this 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1 = One.

What she means is that we really have only a single problem. It’s extremely personal, but at the same time very political and highly theological. It’s our relationship with God (though we might with good reason reject that particular word as culturally debased). Williamson observes that (whatever name we might prefer) until we get our God-problem straightened out, all those other difficulties will continue to plague us and threaten our very survival.

That simple but profound spiritual insight is what distinguishes Williamson from other Democratic candidates for president. It’s that ecumenical, all-inclusive spirituality that separates her from Republican Christianists. Specifically, it calls us to profoundly correct our perception of reality from that of the “world” based on fear and greed to a divine perception based on love and compassion.

Think, for instance, about our endless political troubles. Internationally, they’re based on the conviction that we are surrounded by enemies radically different from us. They are so threatening that we must spend billions each day — yes, nearly $2 billion every 24 hours — to protect ourselves against the likes of Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Yemen(!), ISIS, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and against immigrants and refugees from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico.

Domestically, politicians want us to think that we’re threatened not only by all those foreigners, immigrants and refugees, but by what the Clintons once termed “super-predators” who tend to be black or brown, by LGBTQQIA individuals, and by poor people in general. That’s why we end up imprisoning a greater percentage of our population than any other country — and that doesn’t even include the immigrants and refugees in our border concentration camps and baby jails, or those in the black sites (sic!) we maintain across the globe.

No wonder we anesthetize ourselves to forget it all. So, we consume drugs like guns, alcohol, pot, amphetamines, other pharmaceuticals, tobacco, our iPhones, pornography, spectator sports, snacking, comfort food, and TV binges. That’s quite a list, don’t you think? Each item creates its own problem in the personal and familial spheres. It’s a never-ending cycle of threat-fear-denial and escape. And it’s all-encompassing.

However, according to Williamson, all of that — the guns, wars, fear of “the other,” and narcotization of all sorts — are simply means of side-stepping our only real problem: God.

And that’s what’s centralized in today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The day’s readings call us to face the nature of God straight-on. And it has nothing to do with catechism math. Neither, according to today’s biblical selections, is God what we’ve been taught. God is not a judge, punisher, and torturer. Instead, the passages selected for this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity invite us to appreciate divine goodness and love for all of humankind, and to use those insights to reduce our countless problems to merely one.

Consider today’s readings. (Please read them for yourself here.) They describe for us the three-fold nature of the One we find so problematic. As depicted in the graphic above, she is Mother (Wisdom), Father (Creator), and Child (as revealed in Jesus the Christ). Here’s my “translation” of this Trinity Sunday’s readings specifically about the nature of God:

PRV 8:22-31

God as Wisdom Itself 
Is embodied in all the world.
As feminine and Mother
She is like a skilled craftswoman
Who set the very foundations of the earth
And shores of the seas
All in a spirit of playfulness
Finding special delight in the human race.

PS 8: 4-9

Which is amazingly loved 
By the Creator-Father
For whom
All human beings are like angels
Glorious and honorable
Caretakers and rulers of
Wild and domesticated animals
Birds and sea creatures
And whose traditions across the earth 
Have always recognized
And loved 
The Reality of God. 

ROM 5: 1-4

It is that universally-shared faith 
That gives human existence
Worth and value
Making possible 
Peace among nations
Giving us hope
But putting us at odds with “the world”
Which punishes us for our faith
(contradicting, as it does 
The world’s fear-full “wisdom”).
But the world’s opposition
Only strengthens
Our sensitivity to
The Holy Spirit of Jesus.

JN 16: 11-15

Who offers
A guiding vision of the future
Expressed in teachings
About humankind’s fundamental 
Unity with God
And each other.

Do you see how owning and interiorizing that single trinitarian vision of Mother, Father, and Child holds potential for dissolving our countless problems? The earth belongs to all of us who constitute a single family. Each angelic member is loved by God who as our Female-Male Parent has filled all with the very Spirit of Jesus. His fundamental teaching is to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as our self. That means we need to recognize that those whom we fear as enemies and foreigners are our very Self. Or, as Marianne Williamson puts it, “There is really only one of us here.”

According to Williamson, interiorizing that insight and expressing it in our personal, familial, social, spiritual and political lives would absolutely eliminate every single problem I listed earlier.

So how do we get from here to such problem-free existence? That’s where Williamson descends from the sublime to the nitty-gritty. Unlike some others who’ve qualified for the first presidential debate, she’s signed Cenk Uygur’s TYT Progressive Pledge. (You can sign it here.) Watch how she responds to Uygur’s questions:

Yes, I know, that sounds very similar to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. However, Marianne’s distinguishing edge is her insistence on calling for the change in spiritual consciousness that is necessary to effect redirection of U.S. policies. In that sense, she’s far more progressive than anyone else in the field.

Opponents and the media, of course, will smile and condescendingly pat her on the head and say, “Oh, that’s very sweet, Marianne, but quite naive. Your approach will never work in the dog-eat-dog world we live in.”

However, along with Jesus and countless others whom we profess to admire, Williamson reminds us that it is precisely the “world’s” patronizing approach that is not working. That “realism” has brought us to the brink of atomic, biological, climatic, demographic, and economic annihilation (and as Crossan says, that’s only up to “e” in the alphabet!).

What remains unimplemented on a broad scale is the explicitly spiritual approach of Jesus, Gandhi, of Quakers in the Abolitionist and Women’s Suffragist Movements, of the Baptist preacher Martin Luther King, of Catholic priests like the Berrigan brothers, and of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers .

Along with today’s readings, all those spiritually inspired and deeply politicized figures agree with Marianne Williamson: We have only one problem; it’s about family; it’s about correcting our relationship with our Mother and Father in the Holy Trinity of which all humans are an integral part. Williamson is right: we have only one problem; there is really only one of us here. We are infinitely closer than brothers and sisters. Her presidency will move us towards a practical realization of that vision.

Einstein Would Grasp this Response to Terrorism: Why Don’t Christians? (Homily for Trinity Sunday)

 

Einstein

All of us were horrified last week by the London attacks. And before that it was Manchester. And then there were the recent bombings in Kabul and the killings in Iran. The problem of terrorism seems to worsen each week, doesn’t it?

And every time terror strikes, our leaders say the same thing. They assure us that they’ll finally solve the problem – but always in the same way: more bombings. So right now we’re dropping bombs on weddings, funerals, and civilian neighborhoods in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and who knows where else?

The problem is: the bombings seem not to be working at all. And you know what Einstein said about doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. It’s the very definition of insanity

But there is another way. You might call it Trinitarian.

Of course, what I’m talking about is diplomacy and dialog based on shared humanity. It involves listening to the other and making accommodations. It entails compromise, and working from the premise that there’s more that unites us with al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorists than what divides us. That’s true, because we’re all human beings.

People of faith – both Christians and Muslims – should see that. Their faith perspective even tells them that we’re all children of God.

In fact, that’s the message of today’s liturgy of the word on this Trinity Sunday with its emphasis on unity in plurality.

The Trinitarian doctrine tells us that what unifies all of reality – including God – is the divine nature we all share. It makes the many – all of reality – one. In the mystical words of today’s gospel, that shared divine nature (the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us) makes us all God’s only Son – his only daughter. That is: we though many are, in reality, one. Paul’s favorite image for that unity was the human body. It has many parts, but it’s a single entity. In a sense, there is really only one of us here.

Jesus explained what that means in practice:

  • We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (i.e. because they are us!)
  • That includes loving the least among us, because they are Jesus himself
  • For the same reason, we are to love even our enemies.

The problem is that those of us who pretend to follow Jesus confine such faith claims to the personal realm.  But that’s not what Jesus did at all. He made no distinction between the personal and political. No good Jew could!

However, you might object: how can anyone dialog with insane people like al-Qaeda and the other terrorists? (Btw: do you think the “terrorists” might be asking the same question about us?)

The answer is, of course, that Washington’s been conversing with these people for years. Remember, the U.S. created al-Qaeda in the 1980s when they were the Mujahedeen. Our leaders had no trouble talking with them then. It was at that point that Washington formed them to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan.

And the United States did more than dialog with them, it actually armed and funded them. It even identified their cause with the cause of Allah. In 1979, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, gave the Mujahedeen $3 billion. He told them “Your cause is right, and God is on your side. Your fight will prevail.” He pointed to Afghanistan, “That land over there is yours. You’ll go back to it one day.”

The point is these people can once again be dialog partners. But to do so, their identity as children of God – as our brothers and sisters – must be recognized. They share a common humanity with all of us. They have legitimate grievances – not the least of which is that U.S. aggression has killed more than a million of them over the last 16 years – in countries that never attacked the United States.

What would it mean to recognize al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS as organizations composed of human beings like us?  Each of them has ideas, hopes, and dreams. They are people like us with families like ours – with grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren. What if we saw them as such? What if we recognized them as desperate people under attack, with homes they cherish every bit as much as we cherish our own? They are patriotic and as confused and angry as we might be if we were suddenly and inexplicably attacked by inscrutable people located more than 7000 miles away.

So what if, instead of continuing with their current insane unvarying response to terrorism, our mad bombers in D.C.:

  • Reduced the U.S. military budget by 50% as a gesture of good will
  • Affirmed their intention to invest the billions now used in war to rebuild the countries that have been under attack for decades – their schools, hospitals, homes and mosques.
  • In order to remove a major cause of Mid=Eastern conflict, announced their intention to immediately prioritize conversion of our economies to 100% renewable energy sources by 2025
  • Demanded that Israel obey U.N. Resolution 242 and withdraw from the occupied territories belonging to the Palestinians – thus removing, by all accounts, a major cause of Islamic terrorism
  • Summoned an international Peace conference to resolve outstanding differences between ISIS and Western alliances
  • Were required by law to finance any future wars by a special war tax to be voted on by plebiscite?

Measures like those would not only restore a token of sanity to combatting terrorism; they’d save lives and money. And they’d restore the good will the United States once enjoyed in the world.

They are the measures would-be followers of Jesus should be advancing instead of quietly going along with business as usual. Otherwise, what good is our faith? How is it Trinitarian? How does it affirm in any meaningful way, life’s fundamental unity in the face of its apparent plurality?