Nonviolent Jesus

"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Authorities of Darkness

As a long-time anti-war activist, I no longer believe that the traditional means of resistance, such as mass protests, demonstrations, or even creative resistance such as practiced by the Yes Men (, entertaining as it might be, can make a significant impact on the powers that rule this world. Instead, I have come to understand that "... our part is not to fight against powers of flesh and blood, but against spirit-beings, mighty in the stream of time, against spirit-beings, powerful in the moulding of earth's substance, against the cosmic powers, whose darkness rules the present time, against beings who, in the spiritual worlds, are themselves the powers of evil." Ephesians 6:12 (New Testament: A Rendering by Jon Madsen. Edinburgh, Scotland: Floris Books, 1994).

The roots of the evil behind the Iraq War, the war against the Syrian people, and the ecological devastation of the earth lie not in "capitalism" or the "clash of civilizations" or other certified tropes in the vast network of superficial depth, but in the war currently raging in heaven. The purpose of this blog is to use spiritual scientific instruments to probe the nature of this war. We seek remedies in the healing of the spirit rather than in protest movements that merely reflect our inner devastation.

Rudolf Steiner identified the entry point of a sound diagnosis as follows, "To start with, it must become clear to us that everything that happens externally on the physical plane is dependent on the underlying spiritual forces and powers … I have often pointed out here that there are, in a certain way, lines of connection, via the most varied intermediate links, between the external world and the secret brotherhoods, and onwards from the secret brotherhoods to the spiritual world" (Rudolf Steiner. "The Karma of Untruthfulness", Volume 1, Lecture 1, Dec. 4, 1916).

The secret brotherhood is what I will refer to in this blog as the "authorities of darkness" following Paul's characterization of the spiritual domination system. As Heinz Pfeifer described them, "Who are, then, the 'Brothers of the Shadows'? Once could perhaps imagine them as something akin to high priests of the powers of darkness, as people with occult capacities who stand in connection with anti-Christian super-earthly powers, retarded and retarding beings. These beings are Angels that are called 'evil' by us human beings, and work counter to the rightful course of the evolution of mankind. In the wider cosmic context they, too, have their justification and their working as so-called forces of opposition acquires a deeper meaning. Nevertheless, we human beings are faced again and again with the decision, in whose spirit we think, feel, and act." (Heinz Pfeifer. The Brotherhood of the Shadows. Basel: Lochmann-Verlag, 2011, p. 24).

At this point, readers may accuse me of reverting to a pre-Enlightenment concept of evil. But I would counter by saying that the universe I have recently discovered is no slag heap of matter whose rare epiphenomena are conscious beings. The cosmos envisioned by spiritual science is constituted throughout by personal beings arrayed in a harmonious hierarchy, as described by Dionysius the Areopagite, "In my opinion a hierarchy is a sacred order, a state of understanding and an activity approximating as closely as possible to the divine. And it is uplifted to the imitation of God in proportion to the enlightenments divinely given to it. The beauty of God - so simple, so good, so much the source of perfection - is completely uncontaminated by dissimilarity. It reaches out to grant every being, according to merit, a share of light and then through a divine sacrament, in harmony and in peace, it bestows on each of those being perfected its own form." (Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. New York: Paulist Press, 1987. p. 154). Such is the cosmic order whose subversion by the authorities of darkness we will explore through the historical symptomatology of Rudolf Steiner. Along the way, we will rediscover the true roots of social justice and effective means of spiritual resistance to those whose darkness rules this present time.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Awakening to Evil

Those of you who have followed by my blog since the early 2000's need to be aware of a fundamental change in perspective that I have undergone since the time of the Iraq War. As a long-time anti-war activist, I delved deeply in the social and political forces that animated that war. Gradually, around the year 2011, it dawned on me that the forces at work in that war were more than social and political. 

This has led to research into the spiritual beings that could be called the "authorities of darkness", those forces which Paul referred to as follows:

"For our part is not to fight against powers of flesh and blood, but

against the spirit-beings,
mighty in the stream of time,
against spirit-beings,
powerful in the moulding of earth's
against the cosmic powers
whose darkness rules the present time,
against begins who, in the spiritual
are themselves the powers of evil."

Ephesians 6:12 (New Testament: A Rendering by Jon Madsen)

My research has led to the identification of these spiritual forces with certain brotherhoods, human associations that have interests far wider than the domination of the Middle East. I realize that many will find such a turn difficult to follow. Those of us who have achieved the higher degrees in the academic realm instinctively avoid association with what what previous ages called "spiritual evil."

Distaste for such concepts is both reasonable and politically cogent: By identifying a material evil such as the Iraq War with "spiritual darkness in high places", we risk replacing material factors that can be effectively fought through non-violent resistance with a mythology that could destroy our political effectiveness.

I fully recognize this fact, but nevertheless I am compelled by my own spiritual growth to recognize that what we are fighting in the U.S. imperialist wars is much deeper than nationalist capitalism. Further, I have come to believe that the conventional "left" may be as much subject to the rule of anti-human forces as the neo-cons.

Of course, the orientation of this blog has always been explicitly Christian, but clearly inspired by liberation theology. This theology has always tended toward identifying the spiritual evil with specifically material forces which could be resisted by the poor through political action, the only hope for the wretched of the earth.

But now such action seems irretrievably corrupted and not merely ineffective, but counterproductive. It is counterproductive because it reinforces an ideology that is the true enemy of universal brother- and sisterhood - materialism. The brotherhoods I speak of are the fountainhead of a philosophy that presents itself as the source of liberation from the religious mythologies which justified the power of the ruling classes for thousands of years. But these liberators have not delivered us into genuine liberty, but into a world rapidly abandoning all pretense at democracy.  

What is unfolding is the replacement of democracy to structures focused on policing and management as enabled by massive surveillance systems. The constant stream of new terrorist outrages have shifted the philosophy of governance from democracy to  the management of disorder brought about by terror. The word "security" as currently applied refers not to its traditional meaning of a restoration of public order, but to a permanent technology of government. The exceptional measures demanded by terrorist attacks have become permanent policy throughout the world.

Traditional leftist struggle is no longer realistic because its social and political underpinnings have been removed. The words of Giorgio Agamben ring quite true to me, "The growing extension to citizens of technologies which were conceived for criminals inevitably has consequences for the political identity of the citizen. For the first time in the history of humanity, identity is no longer a function of the social personality and its recognition by others, but rather a function of biological data, which cannot bear any relation to it, like the arabesques of the fingerprints or the disposition of the genes in the double helix of DNA. The most neutral and private thing becomes the decisive factor of social identity, which loses therefore its public character.

If my identity is now determined by biological facts that in no way depend on my will and over which I have no control, then the construction of something like a political and ethical identity becomes problematic. What relationship can I establish with my fingerprints or my genetic code? The new identity is an identity without the person, as it were, in which the space of politics and ethics loses its sense and must be thought again from the ground up. While the classical Greek citizen was defined through the opposition between the private and the public, the oikos, which is the place of reproductive life, and the polis, place of political action, the modern citizen seems rather to move in a zone of indifference between the private and the public, or, to quote Hobbes’ terms, the physical and the political body." (From the State of Control to a Praxis of Destituent Power).

In such a world, the purpose of the state is no longer to create order which allows the the human to flourish, but to manage disorder brought about by synthetic terrorism, "The state in which we live now is no more a disciplinary state. Gilles Deleuze suggested to call it the État de contrôle, or control state, because what it wants is not to order and to impose discipline but rather to manage and to control. Deleuze’s definition is correct, because management and control do not necessarily coincide with order and discipline. No one has told it so clearly as the Italian police officer, who, after the Genoa riots in July 2001 declared that the government did not want for the police to maintain order but for it to manage disorder." (Ibid.).

Something much different from the political struggles of the past is now emerging - the reduction of the human to its material constituents and the declaration that the human being is flawed hardware and software in dire need of an upgrade. Materialism in its modern form of scientism is now exposed as the basis for a spiritual control system of unparalleled penetration into the human heart and mind. The true forces of human liberation must now be sought the zone of spiritual freedom that can only be created by those delivered from materialist hegemon.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Obama's Brilliant Speech: A Right-Wing Triumph

Obama's Tucson speech achieved its purpose superbly, as has his Presidency so far. That purpose is to render the effects of the current corporate takeover of democracy acceptable to the American public. What made the speech so effective is that it appealed to our innate desire for reconciliation at such a time. But, like his entire "reach-across-the-aisle" strategy, it hides a more important agenda.

His first object was to minimize the right-wing role in providing the ideologically-based target for the gunman. The point was to absolve the right of any guilt for the effects of their violent rhetoric and anti-government conspiracy theories - clearly reflected in Loughner's internet postings. Just as he implicitly absolved Bush and Cheney for their crimes of torture and lying a nation into war, in this case, he absolved Beck, Palin and their frothing legions of the effects of their irresponsible rhetoric.

As the poster kivals pointed out " is absolutely essential for co-opting populist movements arising out of the growing anger and frustration of the little people" that such rhetoric continue. The right-wing hate campaign has been found to be a very effective way to divert anger from its real targets - the Wall Street bankers who looted the Treasury - to their preferred targets - those such as Gifford who might stand in the way of the new "austerity" measures that the corporate elite requires to safeguard their profit margins.

His second goal was to repudiate his liberal supporters, a technique he has nearly perfected. He implicitly denounced the sad, but experienced words of Sheriff Clarence Dupnik: "When the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates, and to try to inflame the public on a daily business, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with." Progressive demands for less violent rhetoric on the right were implicitly equated with the very rhetoric they condemned. Chillingly, he also implicitly nullified Giffords' own fears. Once again, Obama achieved the targets set by his corporate masters.

It was a brilliant success, as attested by its near universal acclaim, from Charles Krauthammer to Peggy Noonan to E.J. Dionne. Such acclaim reveals a key performance indicator in the green for Mr. Obama. After this speech, it seems a pity that the violence must continue, that we must fear ideologically-motivated killings more than ever, but we are happy to pay the price for the delights of oligarchy.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Earth and Its Fullness are the Lord's

Aurelius Augustinus is widely considered the most substantial Christian thinker of the early
Church and many, both Catholic and Protestant, consider him the greatest Christian theologian
of all time. So it is significant that so little attention has been given to his economic philosophy
while his thoughts on war and other political topics have been so exhaustively examined.
As with so much of Augustine’s thought, it is the inner dimension, its effect on the soul, of
the human reality under consideration which draws his most intense scrutiny. Augustine’s
philosophy of property centered on justice, rather than the legal conception of absolute
ownership which is regarded in our time as an immutable institution. Augustine, along with most
other early Christian thinkers, regarded private property as justified only by the fulfillment of its
moral purpose - the sharing of the goods of the earth with all.

For Augustine, the root of morality is found in the love of God. God is to be loved above all other
realities, both earthly and spiritual. For Augustine, only the perfect good can be enjoyed for its
own sake. Therefore, true enjoyment is found only in God. Other realities are to be used as
pathways which bring us closer to God. Earthly realities find their fulfillment only by leading us to
God. All lower values point toward the highest value - our hearts are ever restless until they rest
in him.

Since property is an earthy reality that tends to possess its possessors, tempting them to
enjoy it as if it were an absolute value, how should Christians use it? Morality, not the law of
the Empire, is the true criteria of ownership, “Property is wrongly possessed by evil persons;
while good persons who love it least have the best right to it” and later, “Whence does anyone
possess what he or she has? Is it not from human law? For by divine law, the earth and its
fullness are the Lord’s (cf. Psalm 23:1); the poor and the rich God has made from one mud and
the poor and the rich he sustains on one earth. Nevertheless, by human law, one says, ‘This
estate is mine, this house is mine, this servant is mine.’ This is by human law therefore - by the
law of the Emperors.” (Avila, Charles, Ownership: Early Christian Teaching, Orbis Books: 1983,
p. 111). Property is the gift of God best owned by those who use it as a means to reach him
who gave it. The emperor’s law grants absolute ownership without regard to how the possessor
uses his or her property, but in God’s eyes right use is the criteria of just ownership.

For Augustine, private ownership was an expression of sin when it was not used to fulfill God’s
plan for the just distribution of the world’s resources. This sin was a failure to recognize that all
being participates in God, the source of being. Private property in the Roman (and American)
sense of absolute ownership seeks a fraudulent autonomy from the rest of creation. As William
Cavanaugh put it, “To be left to our own devices, cut off from God, is to be lost in sin, which is
the negation of being.” (Cavanaugh, William T., Being Consumed, Eerdmans: 2008, p. 8). Yet
this autonomy is exactly what Milton Friedman and other neoliberals praise as “freedom” as in
the famous phrase, “Free to Choose.” To be encased in “one’s own choice” is to be the slave of
sin. Such “freedom” is slavery to one’s own will which has not yet been healed by God’s power.

The beginning of healing is the recognition of God’s sovereignty: “...freedom of choice is not
made void but established by grace, since grace heals the will whereby righteousness may
freely be loved.” - Augustine, The Spirit and the Letter. “Humans need a community of virtue in
which to learn to desire rightly.” (Cavanaugh, p. 9).

The Creator has not made human beings a sequence of autonomous units each pursuing its
own atomistic interests utterly divorced from all the others. Such fantasies are the result of sin.
When this sin is healed, we begin to see in each other the faces of single human family, made
from the same mud and sustained by God’s love on one planet. Augustine’s view of property
is a scandal to those who pride themselves on what they own: “Both the person to whom a
wealthy inheritance has fallen, and the one who has happened on impoverished conditions,
have the same fundamental claim to the goods of earth, which neither of them originally
possessed. For both, the most basic rule to consider in ownership is what one really needs. If
one therefore keeps more than what is sufficient, ethically speaking one is really keeping others’
property, because these others, by virtue of their need, have a fundamentally greater right to
those material goods.” (Avila, p. 114) Right ownership is a function of need rather than the laws
of the Empire.

In addition, property flows to those who know how to use it rightly. “Gold and silver therefore
belong to those who know how to use gold and silver. For even among human beings
themselves, each must be said to possess something [only] when he or she uses it well. For
what a person does not treat justly, that person does not possess rightly. If one should call
one’s own what one does not possess rightly, this will not be the voice of a just possessor.”
(Augustine, Sermo L, 1, PL 38:326) True ownership is granted only to the one who uses
property justly - otherwise one is a thief and one’s property can be justly expropriated by those
who will use it rightly. Those who abuse their property and by extension degrade the ecological
integrity of God’s earth, “...have forfeited their participation in God’s true ownership” (Avila, p.

A prime example of such forfeiture can be found in BP’s abuse of its undersea property in
the Gulf of Mexico, Such behavior, though sanctioned by law, involves a direct violation of
Augustine’s principles of right ownership. This violation can only be healed by a sincere effort to
restore the ecological system which has been so critically damaged. Otherwise, if BP’s concern
for profit prevails over the obligation to set right what has been destroyed, world citizens have
the right and obligation to expropriate the property which has been so abused for the sake of
profit. God’s justice demands it.

In Augustine’s view, property must never abuse the common wealth which God has granted
as a gift to all people. Otherwise, “Instead of ownership being used to foster community, it
becomes a means to destroy human solidarity. In the Roman law concept of private property,
then, a means has become an end. It has ceased to be relative and inclusive, and has become
absolute and exclusive” (Avila, p. 118). The scandal which Augustine presents to modern
Americans is that there is a higher law that sanctions private property only when it is a means to

greater human solidarity, not when it is treated as an absolute right walling people off from each
other. The corporate person also cannot do with its property whatever garners the greatest profit
regardless of the human and natural consequences, but must follow God’s law - “because each
of us is a member of the one great human family.” (Avila, p. 118).

The law of the New Jerusalem does not acknowledge “mine” and “not mine”, but
only “ours.” “Those who wish to make room for the Lord must find pleasure not in private, but
in common property...Redouble your charity. For, on account of the things which each one
of us possesses singly, wars exist, hatreds, discords, strifes among human beings, tumults,
dissensions, scandals, sins, injustices, and murders. On what account? On account of these
things which each of us possesses singly. Do we fight over the things we possess in common?
We inhale this air in common with others, we all see the sun in common. Blessed therefore are
those who make room for the Lord, so as not to take pleasure in private property.” (Augustine,
Enarratio in Psalmum CXXXI, 5, PL 37:1718). As we saw in my previous article "The Meaning
of 'Mine' and 'Not Mine' in Early Christianity" the Church fathers were not simply making a
critique of “greed” the way many churches do today. We live in a society so fundamentally anti-
Christian that the subjective attitude of greed is openly celebrated and must be countered by the
remaining bastions of moral sanity. But the Church fathers’ critique was much deeper than that.
They had the courage to openly challenge one of the most powerful institutions of their time, the
law sanctioning absolute ownership, rejecting it as undesirable and dangerous. As Charles Avila
put it, “In [Augustine’s] view, private property is the chief enemy of peace.” (Avila, p. 121).

As one would expect from Augustine, his interest centers on the sinful attitudes which private
property engenders. It does not merely isolate us from our fellow creatures, but bloats our sense
of self, encasing us in prideful fantasies. These fantasies are the result of the tyranny of our own
wills which fail to acknowledge membership in the family God wishes to create among us. “In
Augustine’s thought, we desperately need not to be left to the tyranny of our own wills. The
key to true freedom is not just following whatever desires we happen to have, but cultivating
the right desires. This means that the internal movement of the will is not a sufficient condition
for freedom; we must consider the end toward which the will is moved.” (Cavanaugh, p. 12)
Cultivating a right desire regarding property requires us to view it as a means of building up
solidarity in God’s family, and envision a world in which “mine” and “not mine” are subsumed
into “ours.”

Capitalism is often justified as a way to redirect the unalterable facts of human selfishness
into socially beneficial channels, but the early Christians were not so pessimistic about human
nature. For them, every earthly reality was a path that leads to God because God’s power to
save was real. As with Chrysostom, Augustine did not believe that property was in itself evil. It
was the Roman law of absolute ownership which permitted owners to wall themselves off from
the human family that was evil. In this philosophy of the right use of property, as in so much
else from the early years of Christianity, Augustine uncovered the revolution embedded in the
teachings of Christ.

The Global Abuser

"These are people who believe in entitlement. These are arrogant elites who believe the rest of us don't need to know what they're doing with and to our lives. These are people see truth as a danger." David Michael Green, "What WikiLeaks Really Reveals" Common Dreams, 12/5/10 (

The key word here is not "truth", which they do indeed hate but which is incidental to their main purpose, but "entitlement." The political elites and their ideological attack dogs reserve special savagery for whatever threatens to unravel their self justification. In the words of Derrick Jensen, "It all comes down to perceived entitlement. As Bancroft states, 'Entitlement is the abuser's belief that he has a special status that provides him with exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner. The attitudes that drive abuse can largely be summarized by this one word." The abuser has the right to lie and we must accept his lies and pretend that they are the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Doing this preserves the abusive family dynamic.

Again, Jensen, "Within an abusive family dynamic, everything - and I mean everything - is aimed toward protecting the abuser from the physical and emotional consequences of his actions. All members are enculturated to identify more closely with the family structure and its abusive dynamics than with their own well-being and the well-being of their loved ones and other victims...This 'well-being' is a particular sort, devoid of relationship and accompanying emotions, heavy on the kind of external rewards abusers reap because of their abuse (and of course precisely the kind of external rewards emphasized by a grotesquely materialistic culture), and most especially focused on allowing the perpetrator to avoid confronting his own painful emotions, including the pain he inflicts..." Derrick Jensen, Resistance, p. 564.

What the abuser fears above all is the sight of what he has done without his preferred moral justifications - justifications that allow him to carry out acts such as the murder of a million Iraqis, nightly drone attacks that kill far more women and children that supposed "terrorists", and gutting climate change to doom future generations to thirst and starvation.

DMG is right that they have little to fear from a pacified population, stultified with cheap goods, overwork, and hypnotizing spectacles. Jensen: "People will do anything - go to any absurd length - to hide the abuse from themselves and everyone around them." What Assange has done is expose the global abuser and his family members have rushed to protect his feelings.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Covenant of Justice

“Sojourners is fundamentally mistaken, though, in their reading of our times. At this horrible juncture in history when crimes against humanity are committed daily by our government and in our names, it is not a lack of civility but the absence of outrage on the part of Christians and the Church that ‘is a sign of moral danger’ to our nation.” Brian Terrell, “A Convenant for Outrage”, 11/23/10.

Thomas Aquinas, the man who made reasoned debate a foundational theological principle had this to say about anger, or ‘incivility’ as Wallis defines it,: “Anger may be understood in two ways. On one way, as a simple movement of the will, whereby one inflicts punishment, not through passion, but in virtue of a judgment of the reason: and thus without doubt lack of anger is a sin. This is the sense in which anger is taken in the saying of Chrysostom, for he says: ‘Anger, when it has a cause, is not anger but judgment. For anger, properly speaking, denotes a movement of passion’: and when a man is angry with reason, his anger is no longer from passion: wherefore he is said to judge, not to be angry. On another way anger is taken for a movement of the sensitive appetite, which is with passion resulting from a bodily transmutation. This movement is a necessary sequel, in man, to the movement of his will, since the lower appetite necessarily follows the movement of the higher appetite, unless there be an obstacle. Hence the movement of anger in the sensitive appetite cannot be lacking altogether, unless the movement of the will be altogether lacking or weak. Consequently lack of the passion of anger is also a vice, even as the lack of movement in the will directed to punishment by the judgment of reason.” ST II-II, a. 158 “Whether there is a vice opposed to anger resulting from lack of anger?”

The Christian tradition does not condemn anger as such, but only anger that is not in accordance with the order of reason. When reason and the passion for justice accord in righteous anger, then to lack anger is a serious sin. In the light of the tradition of the saints and doctors of the Church, I would say that not to be outraged “at this horrible juncture” is a mortal sin. We should beg God for forgiveness for our lack of rage and implore him for this gift.

It is not “political polarization” that is the dangerous threat, but the numbing apathy of Christians and others of good will in the face structural sin on a scale unknown in history. Jim Wallis, who has battled against this apathy his entire life, should recognize this and is rightly rebuked for his neglect of the passion for truth. Terrell rightly points out that the political polarization which liberal commentators denounce is a smokescreen for an utter lack of creative tension rising from outrage at real injustice. We should be fanning the flames of this discontent in every way possible rather than embracing the nauseating piety of mere “tolerance.” This will not preserve our humanity, but give comfort to those who would destroy it.

“A covenant not to condemn their crimes in the name of civility, however, does not help these perpetrators or their victims.”

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Meaning of “Mine” and “Not Mine” in the Early Church

“French riot police tear-gassed workers trying to block a fuel depot and broke up a picket at a key refinery serving Paris on Friday, hours before the Senate votes on fiercely-contested pension reforms.” - “French Unions: We Won't Pay For 'Failures of Global Finance'”, Agence France-Presse, 10/22/10.

Why are the French rioting? Many of the governments of Europe now demand that severe austerity measures be imposed on public expenditures in order to deal with mounting deficits. The French government proposes cutting back on pensions to help balance the budget. Over the past fifty years, there has been an expansion of social benefits such as pensions that multiple generations have come to rely on. These benefits are now being rescinded to compensate for the hundreds of billions that were pumped into the banking system to stave off the collapse of major financial institutions whose risky investments had failed. Since these billions were provided by the public through taxes, it would appear that there has been a vast transfer of wealth from the public to the bankers whose malfeasance created the financial crisis. Rather than make up the shortfall in public revenues through increased taxation on the wealthy and corporations, these governments have chosen to cut back on the benefits provided by social programs. While other economic factors affect the current situation, these appear to be the essential facts concerning the “austerity” measures. The widespread perception of these facts by the French public provide the motivation behind the current strike actions and oil depot occupations which have caused fuel shortages throughout the country.

When confronted with similar situations in their own time, how did the great Christian thinkers respond? John Chrysostom, considered one of the greatest Christian pastors by both eastern and western Christianity, lived most of his life in Antioch, one of the most beautiful cities of the Empire. “In the fourth century the greater part of the municipal land there was in the hands of a few rich landowners - the proprietors of the fine villas described by Chrysostom in his works. The well-preserved ruins of these villas show them to have been large and solidly built, with stables and slave quarters on the ground floor and luxurious apartments for the owners and managers above. The wealthy owners represented only about one-tenth of the population. Living in the city, they had succeeded in concentrating in their few hands most of the agricultural lands of the countryside...Exploited by the city landlords, the peasants lived in extreme poverty.” (Charles Avila, Ownership: Early Christian Teachings. Orbis Books, 1983, p. 82-3).

Chrysostom’s response to the condition of the poor was unending outrage which he distilled into sermons that made him immensely popular with the Antiochian majority. But what is most interesting for Christians today is his radical theory of property rights. This understanding of property, shared by seminal Christian thinkers such as Basil, Ambrose and Augustine, became the traditional Christian understanding of property until the rise of capitalism in the sixteenth century. In a sermon he preached on Luke 16, Chrysostom defined robbery in the following terms, “This is robbery: not to share one’s possessions. Perhaps what I am saying astonishes you. Yet be not astonished. For I shall offer you the testimony of the Sacred Scriptures, which says that not only to rob others’ property, but also not to share your own with others, is robbery and greediness and theft...’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house’ (Malachi 3:10 - John reads, ‘for the robbery of the poor is in your houses,‘ for the last clause). Because you have not made the accustomed offerings, the prophet says, therefore have you robbed the things that belong to the poor. This he says by way of showing the rich that they are in possession of the property of the poor, even if it is a patrimony they have received, even if they have gathered their money elsewhere.” (Avila, p. 83-4).

Chrysostom was not speaking rhetorically. His sermons directly challenged the legal definition of ownership in the Roman Empire which enshrined the absolute disposition of property as a sacred right. The rulers of Antioch found his “socialist” ideas so offensive that they deposed him as Bishop of Antioch and sent him packing into exile. The principle implied in his definition of robbery is that God has given all a right to the goods of the earth, rich and poor alike. For one class to usurp the gifts of God for themselves alone while others starve he defined as robbery in the strict sense of the term.

In the following sermon, the spirit that animated the Acts of the Apostles flowers again: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” (Acts 4:32). In this sermon, Chrysostom diagnoses the loss of tranquility which possessions inflict, “But what is the meaning of ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’? For, truly, the more accurately I weigh these words, the more they seem to me to be but words...And not only in silver and gold, but also in bathing places, gardens, buildings, ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’ you will perceive to be but meaningless words. For use is common to all. Those who seem to be owners have only more care of these things than those who are not.” (Avila, p. 85). Later, he proposes that the very concept of private property has no place in the Church. He says, “For ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ - those chilly words which introduce innumerable wars into the world - should be eliminated from that holy Church...The poor would not envy the rich, because there would be no rich. Neither would the poor be despised by the rich, for there would be no poor. All things would be in common.” (Avila, p. 85).

In this passage, he explicitly argues that the holiness of the Church requires that there should be no “mine” or “thine”, but that property should be a matter of social ownership. The vision of Acts 4:32 shows that the kingdom of God knows nothing of “mine” and “not mine”, but only recognizes the concept of “ours.” For Chrysostom, to be a Christian implies a deep understanding of the need for common ownership and the drive to incarnate this principle in daily life. Property was given to the wealthy so that they might grow in virtue by sharing it - that social goal alone justifies any particular ownership system. The early Christians had no illusions about rising tides lifting all boats.

The following passage from another homily might have been intended for the European bankers now enjoying unabated prosperity, “We do all things ignoring the fact that we shall have to give account of everything that goes beyond our use, for we thus misuse the gifts of God. For he has not given us these things that we alone may use them, but that we may alleviate the need of our fellow human beings.” (Avila, p. 92). No doubt erudite economists will explain why the prosperity of all requires the transfer of Europe’s wealth to fewer and fewer hands, but Chrysostom would not have been so tolerant toward wealthy bankers. He addresses those who would defraud the public and justify their theft by donating to charities with these words, “I do not ask you mercifully to render from what you have plundered, but to abstain from fraud...For, unless you desist from your robbery, you are not actually giving alms. Even though you should give ever so much money to the needy, if you do not desist from your fraud and robbery you shall be numbered by God among the murderers.” (Avila, p. 93). Murder was understood quite literally in fourth century Antioch.

Chrysostom did not believe that wealth was evil in itself. Wealth is a cherished gift of God. The economic evil that Chrysostom denounced was not “greed” as we think of it today, but the exclusive ownership by individuals of what was intended for the common good of all. Economic arrangements are just when they are ordered to the right of all to the use of the goods of the earth. Property rights are justified only in so far as they enable this common right of use. The absolute right of private property in Roman law was regarded as among the worst evils of “Babylon” by the fathers of the Church.

In his homily on Acts 4, Chrysostom presents us with a magnificent vision of koinonia. Koinonia means “communion by intimate participation” and in the social sense denotes sharing the wonderful gifts of God together. This vision is an enticing expression of what the kingdom of God meant to the early Christians: “Let us imagine things as happening in this way: All give all that they have into a common fund. No one would have to concern himself about it, neither the rich nor the poor. How much money do you think would be collected? I infer - for it cannot be said with certainty - that if every individual contributed all his money, his lands, his estates, his houses (I will not speak of slaves, for the first Christians had none, probably giving them their freedom), then a million pounds of gold would be obtained, and most likely two or three times that amount...What could we not undertake with our huge treasure! Do you believe it could ever be exhausted? And will not the blessing of God pour down on us a thousand-fold richer? Will we not make a heaven on earth?” (Avila, p.101). Note well that it is not the gold that makes the kingdom, but love for the common good.

“Hundreds of riot squad officers stood by in Lyon to try to prevent a repeat of Thursday's violence that saw security forces fire water cannon and fight running battles with rampaging youths in the east-central city.” - “French Unions: We Won't Pay For 'Failures of Global Finance'”, Agence France-Presse, 10/22/10. Chrysostom’s thundering outrage echoes in the deeds and shouts of the French protesters - “Not to share the gifts God has given for all is robbery!”

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Most of the left/liberal media seems to miss the growing irrelevance of our two-party political circus. We need ask a basic question about our political system: Why does it not seem to matter that candidates for public office don't even to pretend to engage the real issues such as global warming, the worst health care in the developed world, the catastrophe-prone nature of our financial system?

The really crucial decisions in this society are not made by the U.S. government, but by transnational corporations and the national security apparatus. The primary role of the government is to provide the necessary bureaucratic and legal infrastructure to ensure the interests of those who control these entities. Part of the reason that the quality of politicians has plunged so dramatically may be that they have fewer and fewer possibilities of modifying the real situation. As in the later Roman Empire, the legislature devolves more and more into a masque of what once had been genuine power.

In the current empire, the same applies to the president. The unseen irony of so much liberal commentary is that it is inspired by a belief that America as described in the Constitution still exists. How many liberal articles lament the cowardice and timidity of Obama and the Democrats in such florid terms? So many wail, "If only Obama had championed single payer, how different would the political landscape be today!"

Such commentaries misunderstand how power really works. Obama is not "the most powerful leader on the planet" as we hear so often. He plays an important role in a large array of power relationships, but real decisions are the result of continually evolving negotiations within that web of power. Obama's options are the product of these negotiations, not of his own principles, be they strongly held or otherwise. Because of this, politicians have evolved into rhetorical figureheads, role-playing symbols in the political theater directed by the media. They still wield real power, but this power is not the direction of public policy, whose conditions are foreordained, but act as negotiators between competing sections of the ruling class.

Where does the solution lie? In unity lies power. We need to seek out those willing to make the mental effort necessary to truly understand both the real situation and our options for changing it. Then we need to unite across all our differences, which may seem less important in the face of looming catastrophe.