How Hitler Won the Second Inter-Capitalist War

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This is an “easy essay” (in the spirit of Peter Maurin’s contributions to “The Catholic Worker”). It is a follow-up to Monday’s posting about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Nazis’ reincarnation in today’s United States. It explains how Hitler actually prevailed in World War II (the Second inter-capitalist war). The “essay” references Marge Schott, the then-owner of the Cincinnati Reds, who in 1996 famously said that “Hitler was good in the beginning, but went too far.” The caption under the picture above reads in Spanish: “Hitler Won the War”

Following Germany’s defeat
in “the First Inter-Capitalist War,”
the system was in trouble in “das Vaterland.”
It also foundered world-wide
after the Crash of ‘29.
So Joseph Stalin
convoked a Congress of Victory
to celebrate the death of capitalism
and the End of History —
in 1934.

Both Hitler and F.D.R.
tried to revive the corpse.
They enacted similar measures:
government funds to stimulate private sector production,
astronomically increased defense spending,
nationalization of some enterprises,
while carefully keeping most in the hands of private individuals.
To prevent workers from embracing communism,
both enacted social programs otherwise distasteful to the Ruling Class,
but necessary to preserve their system:
legalized unions, minimum wage, shortened work days, safety regulation, social security . . .
Roosevelt called it a “New Deal;”
Hitler’s term was “National Socialism.”
Roosevelt used worker discontent
with their jobs and bosses
to get elected four times.
Meanwhile, Hitler successfully directed worker rage
away from the Krupps and Bayers
and towards the usual scapegoats:
Jews, communists, gays, blacks, foreigners and Gypsies.
He admired the American extermination of “Indians”
and used that model of starvation and internment
to guide his own program for eliminating undesirables
by hunger and concentrated slaughter.
Hitler strictly controlled national unions,
thus relieving the worries of the German elite.
In all of this,
he received the support of mainline churches.
Pius XII even praised der Führer as
“an indispensable bulwark against the Russians.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the German “Confessing Church”
resisted Hitler’s program
of social Darwinism, patriotism and persecution of the undeserving.
Confessing faithful were critical of “religion”
which combined anti-Semitism, white supremacy, patriotism and xenophobia
with selected elements of Christianity.
They insisted on allegiance
to Jesus alone
who stood in judgment over soil, fatherland, flag and blood.
They even urged Christian patriots
to pray for their country’s defeat in war.
Bonhoeffer participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler
and explored the promise of
Christianity without “religion.”

Hitler initially enjoyed great popularity
with the powerful
outside of Germany,
in Europe and America.
He did!
Then as baseball magnate and used car saleswoman, Marge Schott, put it,
“He went too far.”
His crime, however, was not gassing Jews,
but trying to subordinate his betters in the club
of white, European, capitalist patriarchs.
He thus evoked their ire
and the “Second Inter-Capitalist War.”

Following the carnage,
the industrialists in other countries
embraced Hitlerism without Hitler.
They made sure that communists, socialists and other “partisans”
who bravely resisted German occupation
did not come to political power,
but that those who had cooperated with Nazis did.

Today, the entrepreneurial classes
still support Nazis, whenever necessary.
The “Hitlers” they championed have aliases
like D’Aubisson (El Salvador), Diem (Vietnam), Duvalier (Haiti), Franco (Spain),
Fujimori (Peru), Mobutu (Zaire), Montt (Guatemala), Noriega (Panama), Peron (Argentina),
Pinochet (Chile), Resa Palavi (Iran), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Somoza (Nicaragua), Strossner
(Paraguay), Suharto (Indonesia). . . .
The list is endless.
The global elite deflect worker hostility
away from themselves
towards communists, blacks, gays, immigrants and Muslims,
towards poor women who stay at home
and middle class women who leave home to work.
Today, Christians embrace social Darwinism
while vehemently rejecting evolution.
Standing on a ground of being
underpinning the world’s most prominent culture
of religious fundamentalism,
they long for Hoover,
and coalesce
with the right.

In all of this
is forgotten the Jesus of the Christian Testament
who was born a homeless person
to an unwed,
teenage mother,
was an immigrant in Egypt for a while,
came from the working poor,
was accused of being a drunkard,
a friend of sex workers,
irreligious,
possessed by demons
and condemned by the state
a victim of torture
and of capital punishment.

Does this make anyone wonder about Marge Schott,
the difference between Hitler’s system
and our own,
and also about “religion”
and how to be free of it,
about false Christs . . . .
And who won that war anyway?

Bonhoeffer and the Brennan Hearings: The Nazis Are Coming and They Are Us

Bonhoeffer

Ever since I started reading and teaching Dietrich Bonhoeffer 40 years ago I’ve been haunted by the idea that my country is reliving the history of the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer, of course was the Lutheran pastor who joined in the “Confessing Church” that opposed Hitler while mainline churches were expressing enthusiastic support for der Führer. He and other thought leaders like Pastor Martin Niemoller could see Germany’s tragedy coming. Others blinded by flag-waving nationalism called them fools, alarmists, and traitors.

The problem was (and remains) that the takeover of fascism (which I define as “capitalism in crisis”) happened gradually. However, in our own case, the process has accelerated to the point where it should be evident to everyone. In fact were it not for the power of “group think,” most would reach this conclusion simply by watching the recent Senate hearings on John Brennan’s appointment as director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The inescapable deduction: the Nazis are here and they are us.

Nazis, of course, believed in the inherent superiority of their Arian Race of blond, blue-eyed darlings of the Gods. As the indispensable nation, it was their vocation to rule the world and to rid it of evil represented by lesser peoples, some of whom were deemed inherently evil. So of course, as indispensable, Nazis were not bound by the same laws as others. They could wage wars of aggression, invade countries near and far, and exterminate the inherently evil simply on the say-so of der Führer. The world belonged to the Master Race.

As Glen Greenwald has argued recently, the reincarnation of the Master Race – this time calling itself “America” – is based two key assumptions that none dares question if s/he aspires to be taken seriously as politician, educator, journalist, religious leader – or blogger. One is that the United States is fighting a never-ending war on a world-wide battlefield. The other is that the United States is “exceptional” and therefore not subject to law in the same way that other nations are. Both assumptions carry with them the odor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. They are based on ignorance of the elementary moral law of reciprocity. Consider those concepts in order.

To begin with, the concept of world-wide War on Terror renders the U.S. insidiously masterful on a global scale. According to this assumption, any person (U.S. citizens or not) opposing the United States can be labeled an enemy combatant, terrorist or terrorist sympathizer. Persons so classified are thus liable to be killed without benefit of judicial process just as enemy soldiers have been killed massively without such procedure on innumerable battlefields throughout the history of the world.

In other words, the War on Terror and the concept of a world-wide battlefield grant blanket permission to the Executive branch of the U.S. government to kill anyone anywhere at any time based solely on the judgment of the President of the United States. Moreover, since the WOT is never-ending, such permission is extended to the POTUS in perpetuity. The United States rules the planet; it is Master of all it surveys.

Absent the power of what John McMurtry calls “the ruling group mind,” such executive power would be alarming to any who care about the United States Constitution, or about their own lives. That is, according to the logic of perpetual world-wide war, any of us could easily find ourselves at the wrong end of a drone strike – or imprisoned or tortured without charge or judicial recourse. This is like the position of German citizens under Adolph Hitler.

However, the ruling group mind tells us not to worry. (And here’s where the second key assumption I mentioned enters the picture.) As representative of an exceptional nation, our government, we assume, would never imprison without charge, torture or kill good people like us. This is because unlike other governments, our’s is good and morally responsible. If we keep our noses clean, there’s nothing to worry about.

This too is exactly what people thought under the Third Reich. Like them we’re assured of our own safety because we know that ours is the “greatest nation in the world.” Virtually no person in public life wishing to be taken seriously questions this formula of national exceptionalism – not parents, teachers, priests, ministers, politicians, journalists or talk show hosts.

The assumption of U.S. exceptionalism is extremely dangerous. It renders “America” immune from what Noam Chomsky refers to as the law of reciprocity. (And this is my third point.) This moral law is so elementary that any child above the age of 5 can understand it. However it was beyond the comprehension of the Nazis – and apparently of people like John Brennan or even President Obama.

Simply put, the law of reciprocity states that what is good for you to do is good for me. Correlatively what is bad for you to do is also bad for me.

On the playground level this means that if it’s bad for a smaller child to hit a larger one, it is also bad for a larger child to hit a smaller one. On the international level it should mean that what the United States allows itself to do, it should allow to other nations. If it’s good for the U.S. to possess nuclear weapons, it is also good for nations like Korea or Iran to have them. If it’s bad for foreigners to send drones (or commercial airplanes) over U.S. soil to kill those they designate as “terrorists,” it is also bad for the U.S. to do so.

Nonetheless, as is apparent from the Brennan hearings, U.S. explanations for its drone policy, its outrage over Korea’s recent nuclear tests, and its insistence that Iran not acquire nuclear weapons, the law of reciprocity simply does not apply to the United States. Once again, this is because it is an exceptional nation. As such the United States is self-evidently GOOD, while those it designates as enemies are BAD. End of story.

What will it take to wake us up to the fact that the Nazis are here and they are us? First of all, we have to recognize that the War on Terror is bogus. Terror is a tactic, not an enemy. As such it cannot be the object of war except in a highly metaphorical sense – like the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, or the War on Crime. No one would ever argue that any of those “wars” (and they’ve all been officially designated as such by our government) suspends the Constitution or justifies extra-judicial killings. No, we are not at war, and should not allow the assumption that we are to go unchallenged. It justifies our emerging police state.

Similarly, we have to recognize that the U.S. government is not exceptional – except in its brutality. Yes, that’s what the evidence says! Read Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States and realize that the U.S. is exceptionally self-serving, venal, cruel and anti-democratic. Instead of GOOD, it might even be designated (as Dr. King said) the greatest purveyor of violence in today’s world – which means the greatest purveyor of violence in the history of the world.

According the John Stockwell, the highly decorated ex-CIA station chief, even before the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. “Third World War” was responsible for the deaths of 6 million people in the less developed world through its instrument of proxy wars against the poor of the planet. Additionally, the U.S. has the highest per capita rate of incarceration of any nation on earth. It maintains a world-wide secret prison system. It tortures mercilessly. It has sponsored dictators and death squads in country after country. It pollutes the planet without conscience. Like none other the U.S. threatens the very survival of the human race.

The list goes on and on.

Until we face such home truths, we will be powerless to overcome the ruling group mind and to act before it’s too late.

I’m reminded of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s words about naïve Germans who postponed acting before time ran out:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Abram’s Self-Butchering God (Sunday Homily)

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Readings for 2nd Sunday of Lent: Gn. 15:5-12, 17-18; Ps. 27:1, 7-9, 13-14; Phil. 3:17-4:1; Lk. M9:28B-36. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022413.cfm

For the last several months I’ve been involved with an alternative faith community in central Kentucky. It calls itself the “Ecumenical Table.” It’s composed of people like me who for one reason or another find ourselves dissatisfied with our local church experiences.

In my own case, I find Sunday experiences in my Catholic parish irrelevant to my life and disconnected from reality in general. Here we are living in a world of rampant violence, widespread addictions, permanent war, torture, climate change, drone attacks on the innocent, and rather complete cultural disintegration, and yet in church none of these problems is even mentioned.

We pretend to be following the example of a Martyr who opposed empire and religious hypocrisy on the one hand, and who literally identified with the tortured and victims of capital punishment on the other. And still we carry on as though that Martyr, Jesus of Nazareth, was somehow like white bourgeois Americans and blessed our addiction to imperial overconsumption and violence. I find that painful to endure.

And so I find myself following the hallowed example of religious protesters (Protestants) over the last 2000 years, and looking for something better. Actually, I find myself following the example of the Jewish Testament’s Abram, and that of Jesus himself as he’s pictured in today’s gospel account of his transfiguration. Abram was himself looking for something better. And in today’s reading, he receives assurance that the One in whom we live and move and have our being would lead him there. For his part, Jesus of Nazareth, received reassurance in today’s gospel episode that his life as professional troublemaker was on the right track. Let me explain. . . .

Abram was an ancient sheik, who turned out to be the furthest back ancestor the Jews could remember. He originally lived in ancient Babylon but felt called to move off to the west, to start over, find a new homeland, and start a new independent tribe. He somehow felt that God was calling him to do all these things. Problem was, Abram was already advanced in years and his wife, Sarah, was beyond menopause. Still, he felt that God was promising him a large family – a tribe whose people would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens.

In today’s readings, Abram evidently feels time is running out on God’s promise. The sheik is looking for reassurance. It comes in the form of a dream. The dream answers his question: how trustworthy is God? How far can you trust an agreement – a covenant – with this God who has promised him a large family? Can God be trusted to guide Abram as he starts over and begins a new life?

Abram’s question makes this tribal pastoralist dream of the most solemn human covenant he knew of – the “Covenant of Pieces.” According to tribal practice, when an inferior made an important agreement with a patron – say to transfer property, do work, fight a battle, or repay a debt – he had to go through an extremely graphic pledge ritual. The ceremony involved sacrificing animals from the client’s flock (in today’s reading a mature heifer, she goat and a ram along with a turtle dove and a pigeon). The inferior was to split the animals in two, and align the carcasses in rows so that they formed a path with one half the heifer’s carcass on the left and the other on the right, and the same with the she goat and ram. Then with the patron holding his hand, the client was to solemnly walk between the carcasses taking note of their dead rotting state, their putrid smell, and of the vultures flying overhead.

All of this was a reminder of the power the client was handing over to his patron. He was saying in effect, if I don’t keep my pledge, I’m giving you permission to do this to me and to my family. You can butcher us all and leave us to rot in the sun. That’s a pretty serious commitment. Sheik Abram could think of nothing more solemn, reassuring or binding.

So his dream which at first glance seems so strange and confusing to us was extremely comforting to him as a tribal pastoralist. It had God (in the form of fire and smoke) playing the role of client to Abram. God was performing the “pieces” ritual in Abram’s presence by running the gauntlet formed by rotting meat. That is if God did not keep his word, God was willing to be butchered! This, of course, could never happen. So the dream meant God could never not keep God’s word. A God willing to be butchered rather than break his word? Reassuring indeed!

Jesus obtains similarly strong reassurance from Abram’s Servant God in today’s reading from Luke. The young carpenter is on his way to Jerusalem. And something extremely risky is about to happen there. He’s determined to be part of it. The risky action has to do with the temple and Jesus’ dissatisfaction with what routinely happens there. (It was not unlike the dissatisfaction with church that I referenced earlier.)

The temple has become worse than irrelevant to the situation of his people living under Roman oppression. What happens there not only ignores Jewish political reality. The temple leadership has become the most important Jewish collaborator of the oppressing power. And Jesus has decided to address that intolerable situation.

Everyone knows that a big demonstration against the Romans is planned in Jerusalem for the weekend of Passover. There’ll be chanting mobs. The slogans are already set. “Hosanna, hosanna, in the highest” will be one chant. Another will be “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Hosanna” is the key word here. It means “save us!” The Romans won’t notice that the real meaning is “Save us from the Romans.” “Restore an independent Israel – like David’s kingdom!”

Jesus has heard that one of the main organizers of the demonstration is the guerrilla Zealot called Barabbas. Barabbas doesn’t call what’s planned a “demonstration.” He prefers the term “The Uprising” or “ the Insurrection” (Mk. 15). Barabbas has a following as enthusiastic as that of Jesus. After all, Barabbas is a “sicarius” – a guerrilla whose solemn mission is to assassinate Roman soldiers. His courage has made him a hero to the crowds. (John Dominic Cross compares him to the Mel Gibson character in “The Patriot.”)

Jesus’ assigned part in the demonstration will be to attack the Temple and symbolically destroy it. He plans to enter the temple with his friends and disrupt business as usual. They’ll all shout at the money-changers whose business exploits the poor. They’ll turn over their tables. As a proponent of non-violence, they’re thinking not in Barabbas’ terms of “uprising,” but of forcing God’s hand to bring in the Lord’s “Kingdom” to replace Roman domination. Passover, the Jewish holiday of national independence could not be a more appropriate time for the planned event. Jesus is thinking in terms of “Exodus.”

And yet, this peasant from Galilee is troubled by it all. What if the plan doesn’t work and God’s Kingdom doesn’t dawn this Passover? What if the Romans succeed in doing what they’ve always done in response to uprisings and demonstrations? Pilate’s standing order to deal with lower class disturbances is simply to arrest everyone involved and crucify them all as terrorists. Why would it be different this time? Like Abram before him, Jesus has doubts.

So before setting out for Jerusalem, he takes his three closest friends and ascends a mountain for a long night of prayer. He’s seeking reassurance before the single most important act in his life. As usual, Peter, James and John soon fall fast asleep. True to form they are uncomprehending and dull.

However, while the lazy fall into unconsciousness, the ever-alert and thoughtful Jesus has a vision. Moses appears to him, and so does Elijah. (Together they represent the entire Jewish scriptural testament – the law and the prophets.) This means that on this mountain of prayer, Jesus considers his contemplated path in the light of his people’s entire tradition.

Last week, we saw in the reading from Deuteronomy 26, that tradition centered on the Exodus. Fittingly then, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah “discuss” what is about to take place in Jerusalem. Or as Luke puts it, “And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Jesus Exodus!

It is easy to imagine Moses’ part in the conversation. That would be to remind Jesus of the chances Moses took when he led the original Exodus from Egypt. That might have failed too. Elijah’s part was likely to recall for Jesus the “prophet script” that all prophets must follow. That script has God’s spokespersons speaking truth to power and suffering the inevitable consequences. Elijah reminds Jesus: So what if Barabbas and those following the path of violence are defeated again? So what if Jesus’ non-violent direct action in the temple fails to bring in the Kingdom? So what if Jesus is arrested and crucified? That’s just the cost of doing prophetic business. Despite appearances to the contrary, Abram’s faithful God will somehow triumph in the end.

Is there a message here for us – in the experience of Abram and of Jesus, both of them seeking reassurance as they embark on risky paths in response to a compassionate Servant God? Is there hidden meaning for those of us who like Abram are seeking a new home and “church” community blessed by a God who would rather die than be unfaithful? Is there a message here for followers of the Nazarene rabbi who cannot separate worship and political commitment and activism?

Those are the kind of questions Christians should ask and discuss around Ecumenical Tables everywhere on this Second Sunday of Lent.

(Discussion follows)

The Carnival Cruise Ship Fiasco: A preview of what awaits us all

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Years ago, Warren Lambert, a history professor at Berea College, where I taught for nearly 40 years, wrote an essay on the Titanic. He saw it as an image of western culture at the turn of the 20th century. The great ship that could not be sunk seemed to embody the triumph of western culture traveling towards an unlimited horizon of power and prosperity.

In the 17th century, Newton and his laws of motion had explained the universe providing the keys for human manipulation of nature. In the 18th century, Adam Smith had done something similar for economics. His Utilitarian successors promised that unfettered application of Smith’s laws would inevitably maximize material good for the greatest possible number.

By the 19th century, engineers employing laws of both physics and economics had brought to our planet the steam engine, railroads, electricity, and other scientific wonders portending a future without limit to human achievement. Meanwhile Charles Darwin had unlocked the secrets of biology and of evolution promising a trajectory of species development without end. There was even talk of telephones, radios, television, airplanes and automobiles. Who could not believe that every day in every way the world was getting better and better? The unsinkable Titanic was an image of it all.

But then came the unforeseen icebergs. World War I with its millions slaughtered did its part to debunk the idea of constant human improvement. The Great Crash of ’29 undermined confidence in the inevitable triumph of Smith’s laws. World War II, the Jewish Holocaust (and Nazi “Social Darwinism”), Hiroshima and Nagasaki all ripped the Titanic hull of western optimism, hubris, and belief in inevitable progress. The 20th century, once so full of promise, turned out to be the bloodiest in the history of the world. And the west was responsible for it all; it was indeed eminently sinkable. Could it even hope to survive?

I was reminded of Dr. Lambert’s essay last week as I watched unfold the plight of the more than 4000 passengers on the Cruise ship, ironically named Triumph and floundering precisely at the time of pre-Lenten Carnival.

An engine fire had caused the ships systems to shut down, and travelers were left without power. As a result, everyone on the Triumph sweltered in their rooms as people were virtually forced to live on deck. Food became scarce. People started hording, looting, and going off on each other over trivial matters.

Perhaps worst of all, toilets stopped functioning. And passengers were reduced to urinating in showers and defecating in plastic bags which they then handed over to crew members for sequestration and disposal once the liner reached shore. “It was the most embarrassing thing I’ve had to do in my life,” one woman passenger complained.

People who just days earlier had been so delighted to be on the cruise of a lifetime, found themselves holding up SOS signs and shouting in vain for help to helicopter pilots bringing generators and food supplies. Everyone was talking about lawsuits.

In the light of Warren Lambert’s essay, the fate of the Triumph seemed as eerily prophetic of the 21st century as the Titanic’s did of the 20th. This time we can see what’s coming – not icebergs, but a complete breakdown of systems – providing food, shelter, law and order. I’m referring, of course, to the effects of climate change and the massive disruptions that promise to shut down entire eco-systems. Except to the willfully blind, the signs of approaching disaster are unmistakable – unprecedented drought, flooding, super-storms, earthquakes, and tsunamis.

As we saw with “Sandy” last fall, those “Acts of Man”(we can no longer blame them on God) cause massive loss of power and the associated problems related to sewage, food shortage, looting, hoarding, violence and loss of human dignity and fellow-feeling.
Yes, the impending breakdowns are apparent. Nonetheless, our insane captains keep shouting “full steam ahead” drawing us further and further into the deep where we will soon find ourselves stranded with no one to answer our desperate appeals for help.

Do you want to see where it’s all going – where our captains are leading us? Watch the news. Look at the pyrrhic Triumph of Carnival as it limped into port!

When the portended breakdown happens, there’ll be no harbor awaiting the stranded.

Christians Have Been Worshipping the Devil for Millennia: Lent calls us to change Gods

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Readings for First Sunday of Lent: Dt. 26: 4-10; Ps. 91: 1-2; 10-15; Rom. 10: 8-13; Lk. 4: 1-13. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021713.cfm

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is a time of renewal – of getting back to basics – to asking questions about what we really believe and what God we truly worship. Today’s liturgy of the word helps us to do both. Deuteronomy 26 directs us to the authentic faith of Jesus – in the God who liberates the enslaved. Today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel calls us to worship that God rather than devil – the evil one that our culture and church (!) have been worshipping for centuries – ever since they first embraced imperialism in the 4th century C.E. Let me explain.

Start with that reading from Deuteronomy 26. It’s a key text if we want to understand the God in whom Jesus placed his faith. Jesus, remember, was a Jew, not a Christian. And Deuteronomy 26 provides us with the creedal statement that the Jewish Jesus accepted as did all Jews of his time. I mean, for them, Deuteronomy 26 functioned much like our Nicene Creed does for us each Sunday. It was a reminder of their basic belief. As such, it can be summarized in the passage’s seven points:

1. Our father (Abraham) was a wandering Aramean (a Syrian).
2. “Abraham” (i.e. his descendents) went down into Egypt.
3. There we became a great people.
4. But the Egyptians enslaved us.
5. We cried out to our God, Yahweh, who raised up the rebel prophet, Moses.
6. He led us out of Egypt, across the sea, through the desert, and to this land “flowing with milk and honey.”
7. This land is our gift from Yahweh; Thanks be to God!

That’s it! That was the faith that Jesus, the Jewish prophet, inherited from his ancestors. It was a tribal faith centered on the ownership of a God-given piece of land (Palestine) which (despite its dryness and desert character) the descendents of Jacob saw as rich and productive (flowing with milk and honey).

Notice that this Jewish faith had nothing to do with an afterlife, heaven or hell. (In fact, belief in the afterlife was a very late development among the Jews; it didn’t emerge even for debate until about 200 years before Jesus’ birth.) Instead, as among all hunter-gatherers, herds people and agriculturalists, Jewish faith was centered on land. Obviously then, it had little tolerance for colonial military forces like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks or Romans all of whom at various times occupied Palestine. Colonialism and foreign occupation contradicted Jewish faith in a fundamental way. It was intolerable.

That was true for Jesus too. As a prophet, his fundamental proclamation was not about himself or about a new religion. Much less was it about the after-life or “going to heaven.” Instead, Jesus proclaimed the “Kingdom of God.” That phrase referred to what the world would be like without empire – if Yahweh were king instead of Rome’s Caesar. In other words, “Kingdom of God” was a political image among a people unable and unwilling to distinguish between politics and religion.

In God’s Kingdom, everything would be reversed and guiding principles would be changed. The first would be last; the last would be first. The rich would weep, and the poor would laugh. Prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the Kingdom, while the priests and “holy people” – all of them collaborators with Rome – would find themselves excluded. The world would belong not to the powerful, but to the “meek,” i.e. to the gentle, humble and non-violent. It would be governed not by force and “power over” but by compassion and gift (i.e. sharing).

The creedal account of Deuteronomy 26 sets the stage for today’s gospel narrative about Jesus’ temptations in the desert. (And it’s here that the devil-worship connected with empire enters the picture. Listen closely.) In a context of Roman occupation, Luke’s account raises the question of whom to worship. The choice he presents is stark: one can worship the devil the author of empire or Yahweh, the opponent of imperial power of all types.

That clear choice becomes apparent in Luke’s version of Jesus’ second temptation. From a high vantage point, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth. Then he says,

“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

Notice what’s happening here. The devil shows Jesus an empire infinitely larger than Rome’s – “all the kingdoms of the world.” Such empire, the devil claims, belongs to him: “It has been handed over to me.” This means that those who exercise imperial power do so because the devil has chosen to share his possession with them: “I may give it to whomever I wish.” The implication here is that Rome (and whoever exercises empire) is the devil’s agent. Finally, the tempter underlines what all of this means: devil-worship is the single prerequisite for empire’s possession and exercise: “All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

But Jesus responds,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”

Here Jesus quotes the Mosaic tradition summarized in Deuteronomy 26 to insist that empire and worship of Yahweh are incompatible. Put otherwise, at the beginning of his public life, Jesus declares his anti-imperial position in the strongest possible (i.e. scriptural) terms.

Now fast forward to the 4th century – 381 CE to be exact. In 313 Constantine’s Edict of Milan had removed from Christianity the stigma of being a forbidden cult. From 313 on, it was legal. By 325 Constantine had become so involved in the life of the Christian church that he himself convoked the Council of Nicaea to determine the identity of Jesus. Who was Jesus after all – merely a man, or was he a God pretending to be a man, or perhaps a man who became a God? Was he equal to Yahweh or subordinate to him? If he was God, did he have to defecate and urinate? These were the questions.

However, my point is that by the early 4th century the emperor had a strong hand in determining the content of Christian theology. And as time passed, the imperial hand grew more influential by the day. In fact, by 381 under the emperor Theodosius Christianity had become not just legal, but the official religion of the Roman Empire. As such its job was to attest that God (not the devil) had given empire to Rome in exchange for worshipping him (not the devil)!

Do you get my point here? It’s the claim that in the 4th century, Rome presented church fathers with the same temptation that Jesus experienced in the desert. But whereas Jesus had refused empire as diabolical, the prevailing faction of 4th century church leadership embraced it as a gift from God. In so doing they also said “yes” to the devil worship as the necessary prerequisite to aspirations to control “all the kingdoms of the world.” Christians have been worshipping the devil ever since, while calling him “God.”

No, today’s readings insist: all the kingdoms of the world belong only to God. They are God’s Kingdom to be governed not by “power over,” not by dominion and taking, but by love and gift which leave people like the liberated daughters and sons of Abraham free to live in control of their own God-given piece of earth. Or in the words of Jesus, the earth is meant to belong to those “meek” I mentioned – the gentle, humble, and non-violent.

All of this has implications for us as would-be followers of Jesus and as citizens of a country whose “leaders” (supported by their “Christian” counterparts) increasingly embrace empire as the inevitable and fitting destiny of the United States.

In fact, in 2003, then vice-president, Dick Cheney sent out a Christmas card on which was inscribed the words, “And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” Cheney’s implication was that the United States is God’s new chosen people. Empire as practiced by the United States represents God’s will.

Instead, today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us the opposite. Empires arise only with the devil’s aid.

Does this mean that faithful followers of Jesus must pray for the defeat of the United States in its imperial conquests? Must we discourage our sons and daughters from joining the military?
(Discussion follows)

Lenten Reflection: The Ash Wednesday after the Pope’s Resignation

ash-wednesday-1[1]

Well, it’s Lent. Today is Ash Wednesday. My question is what does that mean for activists who are aspiring to follow in the footsteps of the great prophet, dissident, teacher of unconventional wisdom, story-teller, mystic, and movement founder, Yeshua of Nazareth?

The question is obscured by long centuries of covering up those identities in favor of Jesus’ overwhelming identification as “Son of God.” That title swallows up all the rest and makes it difficult, if not impossible to engage in what Thomas a Kempis called “The Imitation of Christ.”

But for the moment, suppose we set aside “Jesus the Christ,” and concentrate on that man his mother named Yeshua. He lived in a time not unlike our own, in a province occupied by an empire similar to ours. He found such occupation unbearable, and devoted his public life to replacing the “Pax Romana” with what he called the “Kingdom of God.” There the world would be governed not by Roman jackboots, or by the law of the strongest, but by compassion and gift – even towards those his culture saw as undeserving.

The latter was “Good News” for the poor and oppressed among whom he found himself and his friends – laborers, working girls, beggars, lepers infected with a disease not unlike AIDS, and those fortunate enough to have government work as toll gatherers. He ate with such people. He drank wine with them. Some said he got drunk with them. He defended such friends in public. And he harshly criticized their oppressors, beginning with his religion’s equivalents of popes, bishops, priests, ministers, and TV evangelists. “Woe to you rich!” he said. “White-washed tombs!” he called the religious “leaders.”

What does it mean to follow such an activist and champion of the poor this Ash Wednesday February 13, 2013?

I would say it means first of all to ask that question and to pray humbly for an answer.

Other questions for this Lent: Does following Jesus mean taking a public stance against empire and “church” as he did? Does it mean praying for the defeat of U.S. imperial forces wherever they wage their wars of expansion and aggression? Does it mean discouraging our daughters and sons from participating in a disgrace-full military? Does it mean leaving our churches which have become the white-washed tombs of a God who through failed church leadership has lost credibility and the vital capacity to effectively summon us beyond our nationalism, militarism, and addiction to guns and violence? Does it mean lobbying, making phone calls on behalf of and generally supporting those our culture finds undeserving and “unclean?”

Does it mean for Catholics that we somehow make our voices heard all the way to Rome demanding that any new pope save the church from itself by rejecting the anti-Vatican II schismatic tendencies of the last two popes, healing the wounds of the pedophilia crisis, reversing the disaster of “Humanae Vitae’s” prohibition of contraception, allowing women to become priests, eliminating mandatory celibacy as a prerequisite for ordination, and recognizing and honoring the contributions of Catholic women like the members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)?

Yes, I think, it means all of those things. But Lent also calls for self-purification from the spirit that arrogantly locates all the world’s evils “out there” in “those people.” In its wisdom, the grassroots church of Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi and St. Clare, of Daniel and Phil Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Ignacio Ellacuria, Jean Donovan, and Matthew Fox calls us to deepen our interior lives for purposes of sharpening our discernment about how to contribute towards replacing empire with God’s Kingdom. All of those saints, remember, were condemned by the hierarchy just the way Yeshua was in his own day.

Six weeks is a relatively long time for the purification necessary to eliminate undesirable patterns in our lives and to replace them with habits exemplified in the lives of the saints I’ve just mentioned. It’s plenty of time for working on our addictions to the pursuit of pleasure, profit, power, and prestige. Each of us knows what behaviors in our own lives are associated with those categories. So it’s time to get to work.

As for myself . . . besides using this period for training my senses, I intend to recommit myself with renewed fervor to my daily practice of meditation, my mantram (“Yeshua, Yeshua”), spiritual reading, slowing down, one-pointed attention, spiritual companionship, and putting the needs of others first – the eight-point program outlined by Eknath Easwaran in his book Passage Meditation. I’m going to keep a spiritual journal this Lent to make sure I stay focused.

I’m also joining some friends of mine in a resolution to give up church for Lent. We’re doing so in favor of a six week experiment with an “Ecumenical Table” — a lay-led liturgical gathering often featuring a woman as homilist and Eucharistic Prayer leader. Though some in the group will also continue to attend their normal churches, the experiment may help us discern how to finally cope with the white-washed tombs of God I mentioned earlier.

And then there’s our parish Lenten Program I’ll be facilitating. It’s called “The Quest of the Historical Jesus: from Jesus to Christ.” It will be devoted to discovering the carpenter Yeshua behind the Jesus Christ of the gospels. In the light of our discoveries, we’ll unpack the liturgical readings for the following Sunday in hopes of making those Lenten liturgies more meaningful and challenging.

Additionally, my wife Peggy and I will also be working hard on our communication and have decided to devote significant time each evening to listening to each other in a loving respectful way.

In these ways I hope to pass my most fruitful Lent ever, to be truly able to rise with Yeshua to a new level of Kingdom-commitment on Easter Sunday.

More Happiness in the Barrios than in the Suburbs

Moon-lightening

Here is a thoughtful comment on my posting of February 6th, “Why Bother with the Historical Jesus?” It’s authored by a friend of mine, Jim Cashman (photo above), who studied with me for three years at St. Columban’s Major Seminary in Milton, Massachusetts when I was there from 1961-1967. Jim was an exchange student from Ireland, where he was ordained in 1964. Like most of us from that era, he left the priesthood after the Great Awakening which followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-’65). Jim writes:

In my view if all we have is subjective and “bias” and hence doubtful history on Jesus, then the more digging one does, especially based on modern science, the better it is for us getting to the reality on Jesus. The Jesus uncovered by science is vastly superior to the faith or propaganda-based version. I have always been dubious about taking anything on faith. It leads to too many wars! What we seek is the truth not support for our environmental brainwashing.

The thing which I regard as above debate is the focal point of your blog. I’m referring to the nature or qualities of God. Factually we know so little about that – maybe nothing. Given that reality, it seems better not to think of Jesus as the son of god or of God being Jesus, but as simply reflecting the nature of God. That seems to be the important point you make. I never had any hang-up/special needs for the divinity of Jesus or the virginity/motherhood of God. I do not feel it is central to the Jesus message. It might be central to Catholicism, but not to understanding of the meaning of my life. Why the hell am I here?

What I find central is that Jesus (like many of the prophets), reflects the core nature of God and that is Love. I feel this Love is not what we think it is. It’s not charitable foundations or helping old folks like me cross the street?

Maybe as Paul hints we are not yet sufficiently evolved or “spiritual” to accept Jesus’ very simple revelation about the nature of God as Love. Now we known in part; then we shall know fully – even as we are fully known. From Krishna to Christ this is the common unifying thread of human development: giving without any payback or satisfaction!. All of this contradicts where we are in the world of greed, self interest and now the ultimate decadence – endless ‘shopping.’

If we all take from nature only enough for what we need, then the poor we could “always have with us” – as equals. Even with the little they have, the stats show there is more happiness in the barrios than in the suburbs.

The worst outcome we could have from the present move against the hypocrisy of Rome (and Washington) is that we achieve “renewal” and leave the real task – the search for truth, for another millennium.

Keep pushing out the boundaries, Mike; we are at the early stage of evolution. And in your downtime you might find this of interest:
http://archive.org/details/ACanticleForLiebowitz The irony like. “1984”, is chilling. Jim

PS – the “stream” may need some manual help in this dramatized audio edition.