"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.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Massacre of the World's Poor

"You're like fish that only see the bait, never the line," we would mock in return. For we believed – and quite a few of us still do - that people should not be measured by material possessions but by their ability to transform the lives of others - the poor and underprivileged; that the economy needed to be regulated and reorganised in the interests of the many, not the few, and that socialism without democracy could never work." - Tariq Ali, "Storming Heaven"

"Food riots have broken out across the globe destabilizing large parts of the developing world. China is experiencing double-digit inflation. Indonesia, Vietnam and India have imposed controls over rice exports. Wheat, corn and soy beans are at record highs and threatening to go higher still. Commodities are up across the board. The World Food Program is warning of widespread famine if the West doesn't provide emergency humanitarian relief. The situation is dire. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez summed it up like this, "It is a massacre of the world's poor. The problem is not the production of food. It is the economic, social and political model of the world. The capitalist model is in crisis." - Mike Whitney, "Food Riots and Speculators", April 26, 2008

"The philosophy of oppression, perfected and refined through civilizations as a true culture injustice, does not achieve its greatest triumph when its propagandists knowingly inculcate it; rather the triumph is achieved when this philosophy has become so deeply rooted in the spirits of the oppressors themselves nad their ideologues that they are not even aware of their guilt." - Jose Miranda, "Marx and the Bible"

The voice of Christian tradition transcends the childish evasions of the modern megachurch, "God willed that this earth should be the common possession of all and he offered its fruits to all. But avarice distributed the rights of possession." - St. Ambrose.

What are the obligations of justice? "You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his." - St. Ambrose.

God did not intend that property be an absolute right transcending all other rights and duties and the Christian faith has always protested this travesty of justice. Property rights are always relative to our obligations to the common good. Once we accept this teaching, we experience a strange and wondrous transformation. In the last few centuries, many have sought to break the bonds of religion in order to live what they consider fully human lives. Our acceptance of Biblical truth frees us from the tyranny of property and the sin that wedges itself between buying and selling in the words of Jesus ben Sirach (Ecclesiaticus 27: 1 - 2). Thus we are freed from submission to the inhuman laws of materialistic economics, the global neoliberalism which always privileges blind economic growth over the needs of humanity.

The original sin of modern economics is the commodification of man's life and labor. Its fundamental injustice is to make a human being's life equivalent to a certain quantity of commodities. The fact that this seems utterly natural testifies to the most effective propaganda mechanism which the world has ever seen.

Now at last the Earth itself is in revolt, sick from a severe case of global capitalism, which sees no injustice when millions have to starve so the property rights of three or four commodity traders won't be violated. Global warming is the divine response which shouts, "If only you would listen! You would not listen to my son, so now the deluge."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Man’s Original Virtue

Oscar Wilde wrote: "Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue."

"On May 1, all 29 ports on the U.S. West Coast are to be shut down by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in protest against the U.S. war on Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a historic event of international significance: labor action against imperialist war by a major American union. The strategically placed port workers in the ILWU can bring commerce with Asia to a grinding halt, and they’re about to demonstrate it. The maritime employers are already screaming, and you can bet it’s got the attention of the warmongers in Washington. All labor should take up the challenge this poses: For workers strikes against the war! Hit ’em where they feel it." - IndyMedia, Bay Area

As Christians, we must constantly work toward the growth of compassion, to end the myth of redemptive violence that holds America in its idolatrous grip. But we need to move beyond moral exhortation and materially support the works of solidarity wherever those works represent true challenges to the principalities and powers of this world.

"Modern society is in a definite state of decomposition. The old world, the world of slavery, of feudalism, of the proletariat, the pagan world, attacked at its base 1800 years ago by the great explosion of the doctrine of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity that Christ brought to earth, the world of misery, of struggle, of exploitation of man by man, has been shaken to its very foundations: It is cracking in every part of its worm-eaten timbers." - Victor Considerant

Words such as these ring as true today as when they were written in 1848. We must be part of that shaking of the foundations of the pagan world, which has seen such resurgence lately in the heartless (and gutless) empire building to which the ruling class has chosen to divert our resources. Christ has ended relationships of exploitation between human beings, has called us for thousands of years to break the oppressor's chains, first in ourselves, but then in those who distort and degrade our God-given capacity for work by turning it into the instrument of profit.

"Industrial action by one of the most powerful and militant American unions against a U.S. imperialist war – this is not just a couple of labor bureaucrats mouthing empty phrases at an antiwar rally, dock workers are using their muscle. Although it is a 'symbolic' action – stopping work for the day shift, on May Day, the international workers day – the symbolism is not lost on the ruling class. It is a warning of big trouble on the home front of their imperialist war, a vivid demonstration that American workers have the power to shut down the war machine – and that the most militant sectors are ready to use it." - IndyMedia, Bay Area, 4/26/2008.

Churches must be alive to the call issued by the longshoreman "to bring an end to this bloody war once and for all." The endless silence of Church and Pope while millions are being slaughtered for U.S. oil interests gives implicit spiritual blessing to the whole enterprise. The dockworkers' strike is a stirring of the American conscience which we must fan with our prayers and our action.

The virtue we preach is solidarity. We declare the common ownership of the things of God, "Do not say, 'I am using what belongs to me.' You are using what belongs to others. All the wealth of the world belongs to you and to the others in common, as the the sun, air, earth, and all the rest." - St. Thomas Aquinas.

So let us use the things of God to proclaim the coming of his kingdom. "To the light of science we must add the warmth of love. Today, as in the time of Christ, it is always a question of freeing the slaves, and of replacing an old society of misery, deceit and oppression with a society of brotherhood. You will not do that with a party of violence, hate, envy and anger. We need a new explosion of gospel feeling in order to save the old world. If you are not religious, you may someday have the force of the hurricane to uproot and overturn, but you will never have that of nature, which prepares the seeds, and the sun to make them grow. Let us place ourselves sincerely under the inspiration of the Gospel." - Victor Considerant.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Fate of the Just

Everyone who recognizes the central place of sedakah (justice) in being a follower of Jesus Christ sooner or later has to face the limits of moral exhortation. The pope will give many moral exhortations here in America, and these speeches will exude his well-deserved reputation for bringing a richness and creativity to traditional practices and beliefs for which he is justly renowned. But the chance that this will change anything fundamental in the catastrophic injustices into which the ruling elite has plunged this world is practically nil. Long ago a bargain was struck between the rulers of this world and the Church and each carved off their sphere of operation. The Church promised to confine herself to "spiritual" matters, to matters of "personal belief", while the material powers of this world were freed to pursue the affairs of Caesar in the ways that best suited Caesar.

But the Bible proclaims a different relationship between God and the world, "It is God's gift to humankind that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil." - Ecclesiastes 3:13

In other words, God cares for his children in their worldly reality - He is not confined to a "heaven" which never dirties its hands with the physical needs of his people.

But the Antichrist operates by different principles: "The only surprising thing about the global food crisis to Jim Goodman is the notion that anyone finds it surprising. 'So,' says the Wisconsin dairy farmer, 'they finally figured out, after all these years of pushing globalization and genetically modified [GM] seeds, that instead of feeding the world we’ve created a food system that leaves more people hungry. If they’d listened to farmers instead of corporations, they would’ve known this was going to happen.'" - John Nichols, "The World Food Crisis"

The way of truth makes hearts, not profits, grow rich. St. Basil proclaims, "When some one strips a man of his clothes we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not - should not he be given the same name? The bread in your hoard belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute. All you might help and do not - to all these you are doing wrong."

"The current global food system, which was designed by US-based agribusiness conglomerates like Cargill, Monsanto and ADM and forced into place by the US government and its allies at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, has planted the seeds of disaster by pressuring farmers here and abroad to produce cash crops for export and alternative fuels rather than grow healthy food for local consumption and regional stability." - John Nichols, "The World Food Crisis"

"'Not enough world for need and greed.' An old saying of Peter Maurin newly verified, as indeed the world proves not big enough, not rich enough, to bear the burden of bodily hunger and cupidity of spirit.

We had always thought there was enough, water enough, air and land enough, minerals enough, food enough, America enough, world enough.

Or at least those in possession thought so; for the others the question really did not signify anything. The earth was ours; for them, was not heaven enough?" - Daniel Berrigan, "Uncommon Prayer"

Such is the heaven we offer the hungry. Our profits depend on our ability to manage hunger, to tune it to the proper intensity for maximum profits without incurring the risk of food riots. It now appears that hunger management system known as global capitalism has allowed success to blind itself, to succumb to its own cynical myth and reach for its ultimate conclusion - to believe in the growth of greed.

But none of this changes Christ, who spoke through Peter Maurin when he said, "The coat that hangs in the closet belongs to the poor." Break open your hands, your minds, and your hearts, America, for the game is up and greed has lost itself in the blindness of its own intoxication. Purge the poison you have injected into the poor and be healed of your riches.

Listen to those who held Christ closest, "Riches impoverish and kill the soul; they make a man cruel toward himself; they make him finite and dispossess him of the dignity of the infinite, for his desire, which should be united with [the] infinite Good, has been set on a finite thing and lovingly united with that." - St. Catherine of Siena.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

How to Separate Religion from Real Life

"For generations the church has been polarized between those who see the main task being the saving of souls for heaven and the nurturing of those souls through the valley of this dark world, on the one hand, and on the other hand those who see the task of improving the lot of human beings and the world, rescuing the poor from their misery. The longer I've gone on as a New Testament scholar and wrestled with what the early Christians were originally talking about, the more it's borne in on me that distinction is one that we modern Westerners bring to the text rather than finding it in the text. Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and Resurrection transformed the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You, in turn, can be part of the transforming work. That draws together what we traditionally call evangelism, bringing people to the point where they come to know God and Christ for themselves, with working for God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That has always been at the heart of the Lord's Prayer, and how we've managed for years to say the Lord's Prayer without realizing that Jesus really meant it is very curious. Our Western culture since the 18th century has made a virtue of separating our religion from real life, or faith from politics. When I lecture about this, people will pop up and say, 'Surely Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world.' And the answer is no, what Jesus said in John 18 is, 'My kingdom is not from this world.' That's ek tou kosmoutoutou. It is quite clear in the text that Jesus' kingdom doesn't start with this world. It isn't a worldly kingdom, but it is for this world. It is from somewhere else, but it is for this world." - N.T. Wright

"I hate, I despise your religious festivals; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" ( Amos 5:21-24)

God here demonstrates his disdain for religion which celebrates its own prosperity while forgetting those he loves - the poor and oppressed. Justice is at the core of Christianity, or else what is worshiped is not Christ.

While there are many good-hearted evangelicals who see this truth, the systematic separation of religion from social life disables the vision of those who would break "...out of the boxes that church tradition tries to impose upon the evangelical church." If only it were just a matter of more enthusiasm for social justice, of breaking out of the boxes imposed by tradition. Unfortunately, those boxes were created for a reason, a reason that has to do with separating the power of the spirit from the creation on which God wants us to work. His will is ever to undamm the righteousness like a never-failing stream that longs to flow over this fair world. The separation of church from social life came about largely because it benefited those who did not relish moral oversight of their profit-making activities. A religion that dare not step outside the realm of "personal belief" is a religion which is safe for those who thrive on the misery of billions. Such a religion provides the consumerist benefit of "spiritual serenity", while allowing the worship of commodities to flourish unhindered.

To attempt to escape this world, to flee to an imaginary "heaven" is to run away from the gospel. It is in fact an anti-biblical act of despair, directly contrary to what the crucifixion of Christ signifies. This type of religion is exemplified by a sermon given recently by an Episcopalian pastor on Good Shepard Sunday, while war protesters lurked in the congregation, "She said that the 'voice of Jesus calls us from the Cross', and 'we need to shut out the noise of life to hear the voice of Jesus.' In this way, she said, we will find 'a life where we can feel safe and secure.'"

Note the emphasis on security. Our shepard shields us from the noise of life. Where is this meadow where one can feel safe and secure? It is in the valley of the mutual funds, country houses, Windham Hill CDs, and frequent flier miles. Only these can afford the "silence" in which we can be comforted.

Such comfort is disturbed when the noise and heat of battle intrude into the dark walnut nooks of the Tudor chapel. From a recent protest in which demonstrators entered a church and unfurled an anti-war banner:

"Church announcements followed immediately, so we remained standing and moved to the aisle along the right wall and held high our banner, which read:

4,033+ U.S. Soldiers Killed – Thousands Wounded
One Million Iraqis Killed – Millions Displaced
Much of Iraq and Its Culture Have Been Destroyed
The U.S. Has Spent Two Trillion – 4 Billion from Westchester

Within less than a minute, Reverend Britt came down from the platform at the front of the church and walked to the first row pews to address us. 'Take the banner down,' she said. 'You are welcome to join us, but you are not free to protest.' - "War Protest Unwelcome in an Episcopalian Refuge", afterdowningstreet.org

You are welcome to join us, to join in the safety, the comfort, the well-polished mahogany peace which threatens nothing and no one, but actual moral practice has no place here. Though you are free to soak up all the "comfort" that we provide, you are not free to question the foundation of that "comfort", the hidden blood curdling on the floor of this chapel.

But the comfort of Christ is of another breed:

"How does peace come about? Through a system of political treaties? Through the investment of international capital in different countries? Through the big banks, through money? Or through universal peaceful rearmament in order to guarantee peace? Through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety. There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won where the way leads to the cross. Which of us can say he or she knows what it might mean for the world if one nation should meet the aggressor, not with weapons in hand, but praying, defenseless and for that every reason protected by a 'bulwark never failing.'" - Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For most churches, it seems that Christianity has become a sleep aid, a way of soothing the conscience so as to make rest more easily available, a form of self-hypnosis. Whatever disturbs the illusion of peace is to be shunned - thus the speed with which Reverend Britt descended on anti-war protesters. Excess morality makes sleep more difficult. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "There is no peace along the way of safety." We do not become more peaceful by contemplating peaceful scenes: meadows, and rivers and clouds. We become peaceful by daring justice, by analyzing the real causes of poverty and misery and daring solutions. This is the worship that God asks of us.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Politics of Food

"The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are whole." - Ani de Franco.

The battle to gain control of world oil is directly connected to the battle for food.

"We now practice farming as an extractive industry supported by other extractive industries: mining topsoil and fossil water, growing only a handful of predetermined "high value" crops and discarding/exterminating all other cultivars, and seeking "best price" in markets regardless of distance and appropriateness (if it makes more money to grow palm trees for biofuel to ship to wealthy customers overseas, then by all means destroy peasant smallholdings that produced food for local people, or forest that maintained water circulation and climate stability, in order to establish massive monocrop palm oil plantations)." - Stan Goff, "The Politics of Food is Politics"

Work is one of creation's original joys. It's degradation into the capitalist work day, in which man's labor is distorted from one his deepest fulfillments into a tool of profit for a tiny ruling elite lies at the root of today's moral degradation. Modern agriculture is that portion of the system of global capitalism in which this degradation is most open and visible. Instead of a system that has as its primary goal feeding the earth's inhabitants with nourishing sustenance, the purpose of this system is to use food as an instrument of domination.

"We buy food at the supermarket; so we don't generally experience -- directly -- the association between fuel and food. The connection, however, is every bit as central in the current food production regime as the link between aircraft engines and their fuel. Industrial monocropping for global distribution is 'neither tooled nor organized for oil at $120-a-barrel.' It is not just the far-flung food transport network (much of it refrigerated and fuel-hungry) that creates the intimate dependency on oil; it is the whole scheme called industrial (or corporate, or 'modern') agriculture." - Stan Goff, "The Politics of Food is Politics"

Hunger is the ultimate weapon, a coercive force much more effective than bombs and guns. One of the unquestionable, almost unthinkable, assumptions underlying the discourse about the "food shortage" is that it's divinely ordained that human beings be controlled through abject dependence on money to obtain food.

"With the rise of industrial capitalism (itself built on intensive colonial extraction) these premises became definitive for all human activities in the dominant imperial culture -- including those where such premises would be more than merely dysfunctional, they would (eventually, if adhered to rigorously) be fatal for their practitioners. We now practice farming as an extractive industry supported by other extractive industries: mining topsoil and fossil water, growing only a handful of predetermined "high value" crops and discarding/exterminating all other cultivars, and seeking "best price" in markets regardless of distance and appropriateness (if it makes more money to grow palm trees for biofuel to ship to wealthy customers overseas, then by all means destroy peasant smallholdings that produced food for local people, or forest that maintained water circulation and climate stability, in order to establish massive monocrop palm oil plantations)." - Stan Goff, "The Politics of Food is Politics"

The hunger control mechanism of global agriculture has been knocked loose. Food riots throughout the world portend a new phase in which the pressure of sheer need must lead either to increased coercion through state terror or the beginning of ecological reform. The technocrats can't disguise hunger, though they can cordon off the hungry as "surplus humanity", an externality to be efficiently expended. "The capitalist/extractive/technomanagerial system can only prescribe more of the same medicine that is killing us... or new medicines to treat the symptoms of the last medicine. This is not a metaphorical treadmill, but a downward spiral... and there is a bottom." - Stan Goff, "The Politics of Food is Politics"

And on that bottom, hope resides. We can resist global hunger control through growing our own food and breaking our dependency on the money economy. To those who reply that this resistance appears quixotic and doomed, I reply in the words of Daniel Berrigan, "Human rights, honor, work, a human future, were as often as not denied them; they were the losers, defeated, brought down. Their refusal of violence was their undoing, the outcome was as simple it was brutal. The machine of the world crushed them. Or so it seemed.

That it only seemed so, that another outcome took place, is the theme of the psalm.
Which is to say: the just were (are) the seed of a new creation; the building blocks, indeed the builders, of the New Jerusalem." - Daniel Berrigan, Uncommon Prayer

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Meet as a Prophet Should

"[Dorothy Day] would urge us to receive our sacraments and say our prayers. She would insist on our serving the poor and risking arrest. 'Love is a great and holy force,' she said, 'and must be used as a spiritual weapon.'" - Fr. John Dear

As Pope Benedict XVI embraces the man whose decisions are responsible for the murder and torture of millions of Iraqis, we can only silently point to those who suffered these decisions and then took action at great personal risk to themselves and ask ourselves, who are the saints of this age? "When I returned to LA my heart was full. I realized that I’d been in the presence of true greatness; filled with the light of brilliant stars, our Winter Soldier Veterans, whose truths illuminated me from a distant sky and everyone said, 'They’re so beautiful. They’re so bright.'" - April Fitzsimmons, "Winter Soldier"

Is there any chance the Pope will speak to Bush as he did last year when he said the following: "This page of the Gospel is rightly considered the 'magna carta' of Christian nonviolence; it does not consist in surrendering to evil -- as claims a
false interpretation of 'turn the other cheek' (Luke 6:29) -- but in responding to evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21), and thus breaking the chain of injustice. It is thus understood that nonviolence, for Christians, is not mere tactical behavior but a person's way of being, the attitude of one who is convinced of God's love and power, who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the 'Christian revolution,' a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power. The revolution of love, a love that does not base itself definitively in human resources, but in the gift of God, that is obtained only and unreservedly in his merciful goodness. Herein lies the novelty of the Gospel, which changes the world without making noise. Herein lies the heroism of the 'little ones,' who believe in the love of God and spread it even at the cost of life." - Pope Benedict XVI, Feb. 18, 2007

I believe that Iraqis would welcome such a "Christian revolution." Please consider going to Jonah House website at http://www.jonahhouse.org/Kobasa_Benedict.htm
and signing the letter that contains the following:

"In your own words, 'today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war".' Yet, during your upcoming visit to the United States, you are planning to meet with President George W. Bush, whose empty justifications for the violence in Iraq lead to increasing numbers of dead, injured and displaced people. Iraqi civilians still endure the 'continual slaughter' which you described in your 2007 Easter Sunday address.

Shortly before the U.S. invaded Iraq, you rightly declared that 'there were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war.' You've also called attention to the terrible new technologies which cause indiscriminate destruction. Five years later, how much more reason you have to call for an immediate end to this war, and to refuse to meet with the President of the United States until that is accomplished.

If you kneel in grief and outrage before the cross of the tortured Christ, can you offer your blessing to a head of government who excuses the most terrible abuses of human minds and bodies as 'legal'?

If meet with him you must, then meet as a prophet should – issuing a warning and an invitation to repentance. Courtesy cannot be used as an evasion of our biblical faith. Ezekiel was repeatedly reminded of his responsibility to admonish those doing evil if he desired to escape sharing in the responsibility for their sins. Shouldn't any of us who recognize the horror of what is happening in Iraq be condemned if we are silent?

You are scheduled to be in Washington, D.C. on the anniversary of your birth. We feel sure that you will be thinking of the countless children of Iraq who never reached their fifth birthday. In 2005 alone, 122,000 Iraqi children under age five died. There are many, both within the Church and outside of it, who long for your voice to speak for those innocent dead and - face to face with those whose policies denied all respect for their lives - demand that the killing stop." - Jonah House

The Christian conscience is seared by the separation of faith from life. There can be no reconciliation without a commitment to justice. Can you imagine the pope calling Catholics to fight for justice like this: "Imagine something called Justice Revivals in the powerful tradition of revivals past, but focusing on the great moral issues of our time. Imagine linking the tradition of Billy Graham with the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. Imagine a new generation of young people catching fire and offering their gifts, talents, and lives in a new spiritual movement for social justice. Imagine such revivals taking place in cities’ great convention centers, but resulting in thousands of small groups for ongoing discipleship, training, and action in every neighborhood of those cities. Imagine disillusioned believers coming back to faith after many years of alienation, while other seekers discover the power of faith for the first time. Imagine social movements rising out of spiritual revival and actually changing the wind of both our culture and our politics. Imagine a fulfillment in our time of the words of the prophet Amos: 'Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.' Just imagine." - Jim Wallis

Can you imagine Pope Benedict XVI failing to do so? Or yourself failing to take the place of your Christian brother who has failed in his duty to fight for social justice? Do you feel the call?

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Festivals of Consumer Capitalism

The empire rarely governs through sheer brutality, though that always remains in the background as a terrorist threat. It is our own egotism and vanity that affords its most potent victories. Each of us wants to see ourselves as a member of the powerful elite, far above the struggles of ordinary folk, those with less insight and motivation than ourselves. We enslave ourselves when we accept the fantasy of dominance or superiority over others.

But the power we deploy against empire is the wisdom of Christ. Humility is the virtue that let's us see ourselves with ground truth clarity. To be free of the myths so diligently promoted by the empire, we must renounce the myth of ourselves and accept the reality of Christ.

Christ is our model for resistance to empire. The empire centered in the United States is far more encompassing than the Roman empire that Jesus faced, for the one to which we are enslaved regulates social life from its interior using the most sophisticated means of technological indoctrination. Indeed, the megachurch phenomenon can be considered the end point of the commodification of religion, the transformation of all major forms of Christianity into consumable products whose marketing message, though never fulfilled, is spiritual tranquility. These forms of spirituality are the result of the all-encompassing nature of the current empire, which is totalitarian in a sense that Hitler assayed, but never achieved.

The entire concept of "religion" oriented exclusively to individual belief, but excluding everything of material importance to daily life is an invention of empire that allows the power of Jesus to be marginalized. In fact, this concept of religion has been specifically designed to eviscerate spiritual scrutiny of the workings of empire, to neutralize and pacify the outrage which Christianity must otherwise inspire. The idea of a spiritual realm, a "heaven", that exists independently of the material relations of power, that is unaffected by the fact that your brother is starving and your sister raped, is an ideological construct that provides direct support to those relations. A religion that has no relationship to power, but merely provides psychological solace has been a requirement of successful empires throughout history. Christ is truly a "stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles", that which cannot be assimilated to the smooth functioning of empire and so must be excluded or crucified. He cannot be reduced to a "religious" figure.

He never fits in. Therefore he must be continually respun, his edges rubbed off, to prop up the mythologies that support the interests of the ruling elite. The Jesus of current fundamentalism is simply one figure among many that populate the imperial gallery that stretches back 2000 years.

The imperial cult of our time practices the festivals of consumer capitalism, which is the predominant religion of the North. But first let me define what I mean by the term "religion". The common definition is a system of symbols that acts as a source of values and deep-seated motivations. The dominant force in this arena today is the capitalist market, which acts as the most powerful creator of value and values. Genuine religion has been truncated into "private belief", a sphere in which one can accept any consoling concept one likes as long as it has absolutely no influence on the material world. But the religion of empire radiates from the centers of global power, "Working mainly through images and associations, advertising invests commodities with power to relieve anxieties, gratify fantasies, carry meanings, express feeling, and confer moral and spiritual value. By emphasizing the non-material properties of commodities and associating them with the psychological and emotional needs and desires of consumers, modern marketing has mystified consumption in a far more fundamental way than Santa Claus ever did. Perhaps the most obvious way in which the religious function of advertising can be discerned, it skillfully plants a sense of inadequacy, insecurity, sin, guilt, or shame, for which it then presents the remedy (redemption, salvation, relief, absolution) in the acquisition of certain products. In consumer capitalism one gains salvation by the acquisition of products." - Richard Horsley, "Religion and Empire"

The fact that this "salvation" makes one emptier than before is precisely the desired effect - the emptier one is, the more susceptible to the insecurity and shame that sharpens the next sales pitch.

The imperial religion requires the symbols provided by genuine religion, but only to twist them into legitimation for consumerist festivals. "Only through consumer-capitalist Christmas, however, is it possible for advertising to effectively generate and articulate the 'conceptions of a general order of existence.' In order to do this, it must identify commodities as gifts that ostensibly express the purchasers' love and appreciation of friends and family, the virtual transubstantiation of commodities into spirituality salvific and morally redeeming objects to be acquired for purposes that transcend the utilitarian and mundane." - Richard Horsley, "Religion and Empire"

Here Horsley has ably delineated the mechanism behind much of the current imperial religion. It invariably operates by invoking moral values to justify the murder and exploitation required to maintain its power. In this way, it appears to be a force for "morality", though one whose speciousness is revealed by the fact that its actual action never fulfills any moral values but operates under a canopy of symbols that refer to other moral action, most of which took place in the distant past or in another mythological realm. Christmas and other consumerist holidays operate in this way, "The Christmas festival celebrates consumption, but it also nurtures the 'moods and motivations' that keep desire for commodities strong throughout the year." - Richard Horsley, "Religion and Empire"

The primary purpose of these festivals is to build fervent belief in the capitalist principles of empire, "Similarly, in capitalist Christmas, regardless of whether participants believe in any of the symbols, ceremonies, or values involved, they express their loyalty to the capitalist system and its values in many facets of the festival." - Richard Horsley, "Religion and Empire"

The "Christian" covering is there to provide a moral patina to the celebration of empire. Once we admit to ourselves that we have become practical pagans, that our religious festivals celebrate nothing but the values of the consumerism, that the relations of family and friends hide an ugly spiritual reality, then this honesty, or humility, allows us to lay a foundation for a new life in Jesus Christ. Or in the words of Daniel Berrigan, "The ultimate deception, of course, occurs in one's own soul, persuaded of the justice of manifest injustice. That achieved, little remains to be done except to institutionalize the lie, introduce it into the structures of public life. Personal crime then flowers in social oppression." - Daniel Berrigan, "Uncommon Prayer"


"How great is your goodness, Lord,
poured out on the one who loves you
Face to face with inquity
the trusting heart shall prevail."
- Psalm 31, in Daniel Berrigan's rendering in Uncommon Prayer

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Hell We Hammer On the Face of Fair Creation

Sheep owned by a Palestinian shot by settlers

"Top Bush aides, including Vice President Cheney, micromanaged the torture of terrorist suspects from the White House basement, according to an ABC News report aired last night...

As Froomkin’s article quotes ABC News, 'At one meeting in the summer of 2003 -- attended by Vice President Cheney, among others -- Tenet made an elaborate presentation for approval to combine several different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time, according to a highly placed administration source.'

You can bet your bottom dollar that Bush was also somehow involved in this. Remember that there have been reports that Bush personally asked to watch the infamous videotapes of one or two of the torture sessions. After all, this was a guy who got a thrill out of executing more people than any governor in modern times when he was the top guy in Texas. There’s a sadistic vein in George W. Bush that runs a mile wide and a mile deep." - Mark Karlin, Buzzflash

The empire yields power only to those who take pleasure in the torture of their fellow human beings because only such understand the nature of the empire's domination. Only those whose humanity has been surgically removed, who actively wish to see those they dominate in pain can enforce the will of Babylon.

"And love will find a way to liberate humanity from this empire, for for both history and the prophets tell us that the God of Love will not tolerate much longer what Americans envision forever-the endurance of a prosperity built on the lives of the world's poor." - James W. Douglass

Then let the trees of the forest sing
before the coming of the Lord,
who comes to judge the nations,
to set the earth aright,
restoring the world to order.
- Psalm 96

Innocence, A Straight Eye, and a Promised Future

"Those who neither make after others' goods nor bestow their own are to be admonished to take it well to heart that the earth they come from is common to all and brings forth nurture for all alike. Idly then do men hold themselves innocent when they monopolize for themselves the common gift of God. In not giving what they have received they work their neighbors' death; every day they destroy all the starving poor whose means to relief they store at home. When we furnish the destitute with any necessity we render them what is theirs, not bestow on them what is ours; we pay the debt of justice rather than perform the works of mercy...Of Dives in the Gospel we do not read that he snatched the goods of others but that he used his own unfruitfully; and avenging hell received him at death not because he did anything unlawful but because he gave himself up utterly and inordinately to the enjoyment of what was lawful." - St. Gregory the Great

Such is the great tradition of the Christian faith - that we owe to God our very being and the gifts of the Earth that are common to all. To hoard and exploit the gifts of God while the poor starve by the tens of thousands every day is idolatry and blasphemy in the most Biblically literal sense. Nor did the prophets truncate this sin into one of personal immorality, or in the words of Daniel Berrigan, "In the classical prophets, the attack is mounted not against the personal conduct of the incumbent authority, except insofar as its hypocrisy sets the stage for public injustice. But to the prophet, injustice is the point. The poor are his passion. Set down, defrauded, shunted about, denied a voice in their destiny, reduced to chattels, to money-making integers, the poor are the occasion, not only of anti-human conduct on the part of the their masters, but of atheism, of a non-credo, a denial of God." - Daniel Berrigan, Uncommon Prayer.

Non sunt divitiae nec verae nec vestrae (Riches are neither real nor are they yours) - St. Augustine.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but here is the reply to the gospel of prosperity that gloats like a blind frog over the miseries American prosperity brings to the world's billions: "But what must you own to be happy? When you become happy, you say, you will become better than you are now, wretched as you are. But it is not possible for what is worse than you to make you better; you are a man, and everything you long for to make you happy is inferior to you. Gold and silver and any material thing you long to obtain, possess and enjoy are inferior to you. You are better and are worth more, and as you wish to be happy, you want to be better than you are because you are unhappy. True, it is better to be happy than wretched. But to be better than you are, you seek what is worse than you. Everything on earth is worse than you... So take my loyal advice: we all know you want to be better and we want it too; seek what is better than you, which is the only thing than can make you better." - St. Augustine, Exposition of the Psalms.

To round the point a bit more forcefully: "Riches impoverish and kill the soul; they make a man cruel toward himself; they make him finite and dispossess him of the dignity of the infinite, for his desire, which should be united with the infinite Good, has been set on a finite thing and lovingly united with that." - St. Catherine of Siena.

So much should serve the indisputable point that traditional Christianity regards unlimited thirst for gain as a moral disgrace and degradation.

The alternative, which must be the foundation of any economics which claims the name of Christian, is laid out in the Acts of the Apostles, "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common...There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need." Act 4:32, 34, 35.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Instruments of Domination

"... the radical gift of Good Friday is Christ's revelation of the power and the truth of nonviolence. There is no easy way to create a world where men and women can live together, it will be accomplished by persons who have the courage to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than inflict suffering upon others." - Jonah House

The cross of Christ was the instrument of imperial domination. Today, it is the weapons of mass destruction accumulated by the United States, or more generally the system of global capital, that has become the instrument of domination on which the vast majority hangs pinned and struggling.

"Top Bush aides, including Vice President Cheney, micromanaged the torture of terrorist suspects from the White House basement, according to an ABC News report aired last night.

Discussions were so detailed, ABC's sources said, that some interrogation sessions were virtually choreographed by a White House advisory group. In addition to Cheney, the group included then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-secretary of state Colin Powell, then-CIA director George Tenet and then-attorney general John Ashcroft.

At least one member of the club had some qualms. ABC reports that Ashcroft "was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

"According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: 'Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly." - Dan Froomkin, Washington Post

Just as Hitler gloated over his enemies wiggling to death on meat hooks, so Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Ashcroft acted out our collective revenge fantasies from their White House basement. Yet somehow conscience continues to be stirred. Even those who personally execute state terror are still capable of feeling qualms, though the practical result of these misgivings is only to create legal distance from what they know are crimes.

Where is the Christian conscience at the moment of this exposure? Its mouth is taped by the dichotomy drawn between spirit and the life of this world. What we call "religion" in the U.S. is restricted to that small fraction of our being referred to as the "personal" sphere. The reason for this restriction is that religion must be confined and tamed in this way so as not to interfere with the smooth functioning of globalized capital. The moral forces generated by the enthusiastic love of God could quickly become an obstacle to growing profits, as is currently taking place in Appalachia where Bible-based resistance to mountain-top coal mining is growing stronger daily. In the words of Richard Horsley, "Religion in the West was reduced to individual faith and marginalized activities on sabbath days to keep it from interfering in the imperial industrial and capitalist reconstruction of the world on the one hand and, on the other hand, to retain it either as the remaining heart in a heartless world or a vague spirituality for nurturing sick souls." - Richard A. Horsley. Religion and Empire: People, Power, and the Life of the Spirit (Facets). (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003). Page 23.

By seeking to confine the potential globalizing power of religion within the fences of personal interest, imperial interests can continue its ever-expanding dominance without interference. Today even watching our government officials drive the nails into the hands no longer awakens outrage - after all, it has nothing to do with religion.