Fire from Heaven: “Collateral Murder,” Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden (Sunday Homily)

Readings for 13th Sunday in ordinary time: I Kg. 19:16B, 19-21; Ps. 16: 1-2, 5, 7-11; Gal. 5:1, 13-19; Lk. 9: 51-62. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/063013.cfm

The film clip you have just seen has been dubbed “Collateral Murder.” It chronicles a series of attacks by the U.S. Army in Baghdad on July 12, 2007. The attacks directed 30 mm cannon fire at a group of nine to eleven mostly unarmed men – apart from one who carried an AK-47 and another who was holding a grenade launcher. Two in the group were war correspondents for Reuters News Service. Their cameras were mistaken for weapons. After the attack took place, Iraqi civilians arrived on the scene and attempted to aid the wounded. They too were killed. Children in the van which their father stopped to help were also shot. The film was taken by a camera mounted on the gun sights of two AH-64 Apache helicopters.

In 2007, Reuters requested the footage of the airstrikes under the Freedom of Information Act. Their request was denied. Instead the military reported that the shooters in the film had come under attack and were following strict Rules of Engagement.

However in April of 2010, U.S. Army Private, Bradley Manning, released the footage (along with other revealing documents) to the internet whistle-blower website, WikiLeaks. Manning said he wanted to expose crimes whose details routinely crossed his desk as a U.S. Army Intelligence officer. His intention was to bring those specifics to the attention of the American people, and stimulate debate about U.S. military policy and tactics. He judged that policy and its implementation to be largely immoral and contrary to international law. This was true, he said, especially in the criminal war in Iraq which the U.S. entered on false pretenses against a nation that represented no threat to its well-being. Manning found especially shocking the cavalier chatter of those he saw as murderers. Manning’s action also implied that Iraqi citizens had the right to arm themselves against such aggressors brutally invading their sovereign country without provocation.

For his trouble, Private Manning was arrested in July 2010 and held in solitary confinement for more than a year in the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Virginia. His treatment there was described as “torture” by more than one international human rights agency. In February of 2013, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him. He is currently being tried for alleged crimes that could bring a sentence of life imprisonment and even the death penalty.

I bring those details up this morning because inflicting death from the skies seems particularly relevant to our readings about Elijah and Jesus. There the concept of “fire from heaven” is associated with Elijah, invoked by James and John, and rejected by the non-violent Jesus. The readings raise questions about Christians’ routine support for wars – especially illegal ones – and about our attitudes towards prophetic disturbers of our peace such as Bradley Manning and (most recently) Edward Snowden. Snowden, of course, is the CIA employee who recently leaked details of mass surveillance programs directed against ordinary citizens like you and me. The programs appear to violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

You see, all of them – Elijah, Jesus, Manning, and Snowden have been judged by the State to be trouble-makers. In fact, Elijah was specifically called “the troubler of Israel” by King Ahab (I Kg. 18:17). In retort Elijah replied as perhaps Pvt. Manning would to President Obama. The prophet said in effect, “Now there’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black. You, dear King (or Mr. President), are the real trouble-maker. I am merely pointing that out.”

It was later on, when Ahab’s successor, his son Ahaziah, sent soldiers to arrest Elijah, that the prophet called down fire from heaven to kill the fifty arresting officers. Elijah was a fierce man.

That’s the way James and John wanted Jesus to be. It was the way they imagined God to be – fierce, vengeful, and blood-thirsty. It’s the way unquestioning supporters of “our troops” appear to picture God today. But Jesus refused to reprise Elijah’s vengeance. He rejected the prophet’s violent conception of God.

Instead, the divine as embodied in and described by Jesus is more reminiscent of the Yahweh who appears in today’s responsorial Psalm 16. There God is described as the protective refuge of the afflicted, the one who holds human destiny in his loving hands, the God who shows the way to fullness of life and lasting joy. Jesus’ God was not a war God. Instead, the divine for Jesus evoked self-sacrifice in the face of attack.

All of this means that the cost of discipleship for the followers of Jesus is high – especially when speaking truth to political power as both Elijah and Jesus made a habit of doing.

Jesus says as much in this morning’s gospel. Discipleship, he insists, requires adopting Jesus’ own posture of non-violent resistance which rejected the “fire from heaven” approach of Elijah, James and John. It entails being decisive, leaving home and family, crossing borders, and in the end not having anywhere to rest one’s head. Once we put our hands to that plow, Jesus says, there must be no turning back.

Regardless of their spiritual motivation, that in fact is the price being paid today by Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden as they oppose tyranny in the spirit of Elijah, but especially of the non-violent Jesus.

To put it in terms of Paul’s Letter to Galatia, both Manning and Snowden are living “according to the Spirit.” They are engaged in non-violent resistance to acts of deceit and murder. They are serving Truth and opposing “the father of lies.”

God is truth. Or as Gandhi put it, “Truth is God.” Living according to God’s truth means resisting “flesh,” which was Paul’s term for the way of the world that Jesus found so offensive. To repeat, that is what Pvt. Manning and Edward Snowden are doing. And they are paying the price Jesus said was inevitable in this morning’s gospel. They are homeless and hunted by the same kind of arrogant powers that were mobilized against Elijah and Jesus.

Few of us have the courage of a Manning or Snowden. At the very least, however, they deserve our support against those who would turn our world into the Surveillance State so presciently described in George Orwell’s 1984. Manning and Snowden have put their hand to the plow, and for them there is no turning back.

Recently in my travels I saw a sign in the airport reading, “If you see something, say something.” I thought, “Yeah, unless the one you’re reporting is your boss, the President or the head of the CIA, or other officials engaged in mayhem like that portrayed in ‘Collateral Murder’.” Then if you “say something” you’ll be called a terrorist, traitor and thief.

Tellers of truth like Elijah, Jesus, Bradley Manning and Ed Snowden saw what is true, reported it, and suffered the consequences which are always the lot of prophets. They opposed fire from the sky. They all live(d) according to the Spirit and rejected business as usual (“flesh”).

Thank God for all of them! My God give us the courage to support them and follow their examples!

Are 50% of Us Cowards in the Face of Terrorism? (Sunday Homily)

Fear

Readings for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Zec. 12:10-11; 13:1; Ps. 63: 2=6, 8-9; Gal. 3: 26-29; Lk. 9:18-24. http://new.usccb.org/bible/readings/062313.cfm

Recently Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson called you and me cowards. He said at least 50% of us fall into that category. We’re scared out of our wits, he says.

Wilkerson is the former chief of staff to Colin Powell when Powell served as U.S. Secretary of State. (The Colonel campaigned for Barack Obama in 2007.)

Wilkerson was talking about our compliance with the “War on Terror” in general and our acceptance of most anything our government and its “spineless leaders” decide to do – always justified by ”9/11.” Everything is permitted, we’re told, because our overseers are keeping us safe. We should trust them.

That’s nonsense, Wilkerson charged.

The Colonel was referring to support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as drone operations, torture and detainee abuse. He was talking about widespread invasions of privacy like those exposed last week by Edward Snowden – the whistleblower who revealed that the government is eavesdropping on our phone calls and e-mails on a daily basis.

Most of us are persuaded that all of those measures are necessary to “save” us from terrorists who are supposedly lurking behind every crime, threatened plot and alleged conspiracy.

Here are Wilkerson’s actual words. Consider them in the light of today’s liturgical readings:

Did you hear that? Wilkerson is pointing out that relatively few people have lost their lives to terrorists in our “homeland.” In fact, far more have been killed in auto accidents. (And, I might add, infinitely more find themselves threatened by global warming.) We do virtually nothing about climate change. We don’t outlaw automobiles or super highways. Yet we spend billions each day to defeat an essentially invincible “enemy” responsible for a comparatively few casualties.

Terrorism cannot be defeated, Wilkerson reminds us. The best we can do is minimize its occurrence. In fact, it is preferable to have active terrorists on the loose and plotting against the United States than to violate international law by keeping the innocent in prison.

Nonetheless, efforts to defeat terrorists are not only depleting our national treasury; they are turning the U.S. into a Third World country. We’re pouring money down the rat hole of weapons and war while our infrastructure and social programs decay and vanish. In a word, counter-terror initiatives are fundamentally changing the traditions the U.S. claims to stand for. In effect, by trying to save our lives, we are losing what makes life meaningful.

Today’s liturgy of the word addresses such folly. It helps us face the question: are we cowards like half of our compatriots or courageous like Jesus and Zachariah? Are we prepared to face the extremely remote possibility of death at the hands of terrorists rather than resort to the unending violence of an eternal unwinnable war against a relatively insignificant threat?

Consider that question in the light of this morning’s gospel.

Luke tells us that Jesus has just emerged from a period of solitary prayer. That experience has evidently brought the Master face-to-face with his fundamental God-identity – an identity Paul tells us in the second reading, is shared by all of us who are, the apostle reminds us, “children of God” just like Jesus. Since we exist “in Christ,” Paul implies, we can learn something from the experience of Jesus and from the attitudes he expressed in his words and actions. We should be able to see ourselves “in Christ.”

In any case, our Lord has just encountered the God within. According to the responsorial from Psalm 63, that God is not only powerful and glorious, but our ultimate source of help, support, and joy in life’s greatest difficulties. For that God each of us should be thirsting, the Psalmist says, like parched ground for water. In fact, God’s kindness is more valuable than life itself. Or as the psalmist puts it, God’s kindness is “a greater good than life.” This seems to mean that it’s more important for believers to be kind (i.e. non-violent) than to survive.

With those insights in mind, Jesus decides to share them with his disciples. So he asks a leading question about identity: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Jesus really wants his friends to face who they are!) The disciples have a ready response. Everyone is talking about Jesus. “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead,” they say. “Others say you are Elijah or one of the prophets come back to life.”

“But who do you say I am?” Jesus insists.

Peter speaks for the others. “You are God’s anointed,” he says – “the Messiah.”

Jesus knows what Peter has in mind. For a Jew living under the Roman jackboot, “Messiah” could mean only one thing – the leader of The War against Rome.

So Jesus says, “Don’t call me that! I am not the Christ you imagine! No, I’m a human being like the rest of you.

“Yes, I’m as much against the Roman enemy as you are.” Like the ‘Son of Man’ in the Book of Daniel, I reject all the enemies of our people in the name of Yahweh our God. I am a patriot just like you – and the prophet Daniel. But rather than use violence to conquer our enemies, I am willing to lose my life even if it means crucifixion at the hands of Rome. They cannot kill my real Self; I will rise again and again despite the way they terrorize us all. In the final analysis the God within all of us cannot be defeated.

“And there’s more. All of you must all be prepared to follow my example – even if it means rejection by the religious establishment and a cross imposed by our foreign enemies. In fact, I tell you all, anyone who tries to save his or her life will lose it.

“Don’t you realize that by killing others, you are killing your Self? You are murdering the God within. But those who follow my example of non-violent resistance will actually save their Selves. They will preserve their in-born unity with the divine core shared by all of God’s children. Don’t be afraid to follow my example of non-violent resistance. You will emerge victorious in the end.”

That, I think, is what Jesus means in this morning’s gospel with his talk about losing life and saving it, with his words about denying self and carrying one’s cross. Suffering, terrorism, and even national enslavement are not the end of the world.

Yes, even national enslavement! The prophet Zachariah makes that point in today’s first reading. Writing at the end of the 6th century BCE, he addresses an Israel defeated and enslaved in Babylon for more than 50 years. They survived, he reminds them. And somehow they’re better off than before. They’ve been purified as if by a gushing fountain.

Of course, Colonel Wilkerson’s point about terrorism is that nothing like national defeat is threatened by “terrorists.” Once again, terrorists’ threats to our homeland are remote and relatively insignificant.

Instead, it is our country’s response to terrorism – our efforts to “save ourselves” – that threatens us with defeat. According to Jesus and Zachariah, accepting life’s lessons administered by a foreign enemy might even lead to national purification.

Paradoxically, however, doomed efforts to save our lives through violence will bring about the end we so fearfully seek to avoid.

As Jesus himself put it: “. . . those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake (that is, as a result of living ‘in Christ’) will save it.”

That sort of insight and the courage to follow Jesus can only come from the kind of deep prayer which Jesus exemplified in Luke this morning. They come as well from the meaningful sharing of bread and wine at the heart of today’s liturgy.

Please pray with me that our cowardice might be overcome by Jesus’ courage, by prayer and the Eucharist we share.

Critical Thinking: Where I’m Coming From

[This is the fifth blog entry in a series on critical thinking which lays out ten guidelines for critical thought. My previous entries addressed the first rule of critical thought, “Think Systemically.” That rule holds that we can’t really remove our culture’s blinders unless (without prejudice) we’re clear about the meaning of the key systemic terms: capitalism, Marxism, socialism, communism, mixed economy, and fascism. Today’s blog post begins explaining my second rule for critical thought, “Expect Challenge: Questioning the ‘Ruling Group Mind’” I open the topic with an autobiographical explanation of why I approach critical thought the way I do.]

Let me tell you where I’m coming from when it comes to critical thinking.

I am a field researcher whose travels have been inspired by concerns about Peace and Justice Studies – a program which I helped found and direct at Berea College in Kentucky. My research “digs” began in Rome where many years ago I spent half a decade doing graduate work, and where I first encountered Third World colleagues who raised deep questions about my own perceptions of reality.

Subsequently, my pursuit of intellectual archeology took me all over Europe – most notably to Soviet Poland – and then to Brazil, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Zimbabwe, India, Palestine-Israel, and Cuba. Over the years, I’ve taught as well in a Latin American Studies Program in Costa Rica, where I’ve also worked with a think tank, the Ecumenical Research Institute (DEI), in San Jose.

In all those places I’ve found that developing world thinkers are far ahead of would-be progressives in the United States. Third World scholars know all about colonialism, neo-colonialism, the CIA and its coups, as well as its support of dictators and right-wing counter revolutions around the world.

In the Third World, university students also know about the IMF and its disastrous Structural Adjustment Policies – terms which often raise nothing more than quizzical looks from U.S. audiences. So there’s no need in most Third World settings to argue about the pros and cons of corporate globalization and its effects on the world’s majority. For them the argument was long ago settled.

None of that is true in the United States. Here higher education largely ignores the Third World, where most people live. Most college classes overlook its rich traditions, indigenous scholarship, and progressive thinking. (I even once had a well-meaning colleague respond to similar observations on my part by admitting, “I didn’t know there were any Third World scholars.”) In the United States, the so-called “developing world” is seen as a center of self-induced misery, population problems, food-shortages, and inexplicable revolutions and genocides. Alternatively, the Third World is seen as the undeserving recipient of largesse on the part of the United States understood as the Santa Claus of the world

In the light of history and political realism, I’ve concluded that clearing up such misunderstandings should be Job #1 for post-secondary educators concerned with critical thinking. Doing so entails questioning the unquestionable and broadening students’ horizons to embrace what most thinkers in the Third World recognize as simply given.

To begin with, critical thinking must question the “of course” convictions that belong to American culture – to any culture. As noted earlier, Plato referred to such unquestioned beliefs with the Greek word, doxa. Its power is conveyed by his familiar “Allegory of the Cave.” There the human condition is portrayed in terms of prisoners chained in a cavern where their only experience of reality (including themselves) is conveyed by shadows produced by their manipulative captors.

Plato’s allegory finds its counterpart in American culture, including the prevailing system of education. Typically what happens in the classroom predisposes students to accept what John McMurtry of the University of Guelph (in Canada) calls “Ruling Group Mind” which is largely set by the parameters of generally admissible political opinion. Within such confines, the United States is seen as the best country in the world. Its overriding concern is with democracy, peace, justice and human rights. Its wars are fought in the interests of peace. God is on its side. “Of course!” we all agree.

Such naiveté is revealed in the second episode of the HBO series, “Newsroom.” Its highlight had lead actor, Jeff Daniels, delivering a speech about our country that has been viewed widely on the web. As a news anchorman of the stature and credibility of Walter Cronkite, Daniels’ character is badgered into answering a question posed by a bright American college student: “What makes America the greatest country in the world?” Here’s how he answered.

Daniels’ answer captures the realism of what I consider a major goal of critical thinking.

(Next week: Unveiling the uniquely narrow U.S. spectrum of debate)

Why Did Capitalists Support Hitler?

hitler financed

[This is the fifth entry in a series on “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”(The previous mini-essays are found under the heading “Hitler and Christianity” just below the masthead of this blog site.) I’m running the series because the triumph of “Hitlerism without Hitler” led by the United States is becoming more evident by the day. (Citations here are from Jackson Spielvogel’s text, “Western Civilization,” a source commonly used in courses by the same name in colleges and universities. John K. Galbraith’s “The Age of Uncertainty” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1977) and Hagen Schultze’s “Germany: A New History” (Trans. Deborah Lucas Schneider (Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1998) are also cited.]

Capitalists supported Hitler because he would not threaten the most important element of their system (private property), because he would keep their working class antagonists under control, and because his anti-Semitism promised to eliminate a major source of commitment to the victims of social Darwinism. Consider the first two points here. The reasons for Hitler’s anti-Semitism will be discussed later.

To begin with, the most important component of the capitalist system is private ownership of the means of production. To save that, capitalists during the 1930s generally agreed that it would be necessary to tinker with the system’s two other defining elements, viz. free and open markets, and unlimited earnings. That is, to save the system, the German government would have to intervene in markets and modestly limit and redistribute some income. Despite pressure from some in his party, Hitler assured his powerful backers that he would not generally nationalize German industry. Once again, Spielvogel makes this clear:

“In the economic sphere, Hitler and the Nazis also established control, but industry was not nationalized as the left wing of the Nazi Party wanted. Hitler felt that it was irrelevant who owned the means of production so long as the owners recognized their master. Although the regime pursued the use of public works projects and “pump-priming” grants to private construction firms to foster employment and end the depression, there is little doubt that rearmament was a far more important contributor to solving the unemployment problem” (799).

Again, as we shall see below, Hitler’s approach to Depression economics was not far removed from Franklin Roosevelt’s. Consciously or unconsciously, it was classic Keynesianism with its refusal to nationalize extensively, and with its public works and “pump-priming” grants aimed at ending widespread unemployment. John Kenneth Galbraith, Roosevelt’s chief economic advisor, makes this point.

“The Nazis were not given to books. Their reaction was to circumstance, and this served them better than the sound economists served Britain and the United States. From 1933, Hitler borrowed money and spent – and he did it liberally as Keynes would have advised. It seemed the obvious thing to do, given the unemployment. At first, the spending was mostly for civilian works – railroads, canals, public buildings, the Autobahnen. Exchange control then kept frightened Germans from sending their money abroad and those with rising incomes from spending too much of it on imports. The results were all a Keynesian could have wished. By late 1935, unemployment was at an end in Germany. By 1936, high income was pulling up prices or making it possible to raise them. Likewise wages were beginning to rise. So a ceiling was put over both prices and wages, and this too worked. Germany, by the late thirties, had full employment at stable prices. It was, in the industrial world, an absolutely unique achievement.” (Galbraith 213-14)

Galbraith’s words concretize the basic elements of John Maynard Keynes’ interventionist approach to economic reform, which Hitler unwittingly adopted. The key was borrowing and spending with abandon. Railroads, canals and superhighways renovated Germany’s economic infrastructure for capitalists, while putting the unemployed to work. Public buildings were given new faces when administration centers, court houses, libraries and post offices were renovated or rebuilt. Meanwhile, local industry was protected by way of exchange controls preventing the well-to-do from not “buying German.” And, as Galbraiath says, it all worked. Unemployment plummeted; wages, prices and profits rose. Hitler then applied wage and price controls, all with such great success that by 1935 Germany had already largely emerged from its depression. Capitalism had been saved. Socialists and communists had largely lost the grounds for their critique of the system.

Besides his reassuring approach to private ownership of the means of production, Hitler attracted capitalist support because of his labor policy. For one thing, he eliminated labor unions independent of the state. Thus employers were relieved of the threat of strikes and of the necessity of protracted collective bargaining sessions. For their part, workers were impressed by Hitler’s spectacular job-creation programs. They also saw their benefits packages improve, along with free time activities (Schulze 256). The key concept here was that of control. Secretary of Labor, Robert Ley, made sure mollified workers would not prove threatening to their employers.

“The German Labor Front under Robert Ley regulated the world of labor. The Labor Front was a single, state-controlled union. To control all laborers, it used the work-book. Every salaried worker had to have one in order to hold a job. Only by submitting to the policies of the Nazi controlled Labor Front could a worker obtain and retain a workbook. The Labor Front also sponsored activities to keep the workers happy” (Spielvogel 800).

Such pro-capitalist policy and the manipulation of the German labor movement led some on the left to see Hitler as a puppet of “monopoly capitalism.” For instance, a 1932 cover of AIZ Magazine portrayed the “real meaning of the Hitler salute.” It pictured der Fuhrer’s extended right hand raised, palm open, to receive money from a huge bourgeois figure standing directly behind (Schulze 239). The cover’s intention was to unveil the ultimate source of Hitler’s power.

Hitler capitalism

Move Over, Pope FrancIs, and Bring on FrancEs I!! (Fathers’ Day Sunday Homily)

Anointing

Readings for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time:2 SM 12:7-10, 13; Ps. 32: 1-2, 5, 7, 11; Gal. 2: 16, 19-21; Lk. 7:36-8:3. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061613.cfm

Today is Father’s Day. So, happy Father’s Day to all of us who merit the title “father.”

However, I must observe that despite the male focus which our culture gives this June 16th, today’s readings end up being quite critical of men and patriarchy. They reveal the misogyny of western culture and of the Christian tradition right from the beginning. Unwittingly, they also make a strong case for female leadership in the church even to the point of suggesting female leadership for the entire enterprise. Sorry, dads!

Start with the first reading. There Nathan condemns the great father-figure, David for his own male chauvinism and for his disregard of all the gifts the prophet says he himself gave David in God’s name.

Nathan recalls that as prophet he himself anointed David king over both Israel and Judah. Nathan rescued David from his rival, Saul. The prophet gave him the Lord’s dwelling and a harem to live with David in his palace. All these including David’s many wives, Nathan says, were gifts from God. (So much for Yahweh’s “traditional family values” allegedly favoring domestic arrangements with one father and one mother.)

And what was David’s response to all the favors conferred by Nathan? Adultery and murder. He used his power as king to steal the wife of one of his generals, Uriah the Hittite. Then in effect, he “rendered” Uriah to the Ammonites to have him killed, while preserving his own “deniability” for the crime. But neither Yahweh nor Nathan was fooled.

Of course, the woman’s in question was the famous Bathsheba who eventually gave birth to King Solomon, who ended up succeeding David as King of Israel instead of David’s eldest son, Adonijah.

In fact the section of 2nd Samuel in which this episode is found is referred to as “the succession narratives,” because it answers the question “why is it that Solomon is sitting on the throne instead of David’s eldest living son, Adonijah?”

Solomon is on the throne, the story says, because of David’s theft of Bathsheba and killing of Uriah, and the curse of Nathan which resulted: “The sword will never depart from your house.” That is, all of David’s sons, but Solomon were condemned to die violent deaths. According to this tradition, God’s sole “blessing” for the eventually penitent king is limited to the boon that he himself will not be killed. Father-rule – the patriarchy – does not come out well in this first reading.

Neither is today’s gospel selection kind to patriarchy. Jesus has been invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner. For Jews Pharisees were defenders of the father-rule system But in this case, the “host” proves to be an inhospitable man in terms of Jewish custom. He obviously sees the carpenter from Nazareth and his uncouth fisherman friends as riff-raff. He omits giving them the traditional greeting, and doesn’t even offer them water to wash their feet. Evidently he considers the band from Nazareth unclean – dirty people who won’t even know the difference.

Then the hero of the story appears to set things right. She’s a woman whose gender relegated her to unquestionably second class status. She is Mary of Bethany (whom scholars identify with Mary Magdalene). And she does something extraordinary. She does what Nathan the prophet recalled in today’s first reading that he did for David. She anoints Jesus as the Christos – the Christ, designating (and making) him God’s chosen one.

This is extraordinary, since the term “Christos” (or Christ) itself means “anointed.” And in the gospels there is only one anointing of Jesus the Christ. And it occurs at the hands of Mary Magdalene, not of some male priest. In other words, the Magdalene in today’s gospel acts as prophet and priestess on a level arguably above Nathan’s role recalled in the reading from 2nd Samuel.

And there’s more. The Magdalene appears in public with her head uncovered and hair flowing – a condition appropriate for a woman of Jesus’ time only in the presence of her husband. And besides anointing Jesus, she performs what can only be described as an extremely intimate act. She continually kisses his feet with her lips and washes them with tears of love.

But how could a woman perform such an act? Why would Jesus allow it? After all, according to Jewish law, women were not even permitted to say ritual prayers at home, much less perform religious rites of such central import as identification and anointment of the Christ.

That is, not according to Jewish law. However, according to “pagan” law such election by a priestess was not only permitted but essential for any sacred king. There according to the rite of hieros gamos or sacred marriage, the priestess would anoint the priest-king and by virtue of her act (often consummated by ritual sex), the anointed would be flooded with power of the god. Conversely, without the power conferred by the woman, the king would remain powerless and have no knowledge of himself or of the gods. These facts would have been evident to Jesus’ contemporaries.

Why has this history and the prophetic role of Mary Magdalene in identifying (and consecrating) the Christ been hidden from us all these years? Feminist scholars tell us that patriarchal misogyny – anti-woman sentiment – is the answer.

And negativity towards women is written all over today’s excerpt from Luke’s gospel. There the evangelist emphasizes the sinfulness of the Magdalene as that of the other women in Jesus’ company.

Luke describes Mary as “a sinful woman in the city,” and “a sinner.” He has Jesus tell those seated at table that “many sins have been forgiven her,” and say to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” So we won’t miss the point, Luke gratuitously describes Mary Magdalene as the one “from whom seven demons had been cast out.” And finally, women in Jesus’ company are described as formerly sick and possessed.

Nevertheless, Luke feels compelled to note what everyone in his community knew: women like the Magdalene and Joanna and Susanna and the “many others” who followed Jesus were his financial supporters of Jesus and “the twelve.”

But Luke doesn’t call the apostles “free-loaders.” Neither does he parallel his description of the women as sinners by recalling that one of the 12, Peter, was identified with Satan himself by Jesus. Nor does he recall that a key apostle, Judas, actually betrayed Jesus or that all of the twelve but one (unlike the Master’s women followers) abandoned him in his hour of greatest need. Instead, Luke simply mentions “the twelve,” who by the evangelist’s omissions are implicitly contrasted with the “sinful” women.

Above all, Luke omits the description of Mary Magdalene which we find in the church-suppressed Gospel of Thomas. There she is described as “the apostle of apostles” – no doubt because of her key role in identifying and anointing Jesus as the “Christos,” and because she was the one to whom the resurrected Jesus appeared before showing himself to any of “the twelve.”

In fact the Gospel of Thomas describes says:

“. . . the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene. But Christ loved here more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended . . . They said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?'”

Here the word for “companion” is koinonos which refers to a consort of a sexual nature. Moreover in other suppressed writings, Magdalene emerges as Jesus’ star pupil and the center of his attention. He praises her as “one whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy brethren.” He predicts that she “will tower over all my disciples and over all men who shall receive the mysteries.” Additionally, following Jesus’ ascension, it is Magdalene who comes to the fore to encourage the disheartened apostles to man-up and get on with the business of understanding and living out the teachings of Jesus.

These words and the Magdalene’s functioning as prophet and priest should be extremely meaningful for contemporary women – and us patriarchs so fond of “Father’s Day. They highlight the way at least one female disciple of extraordinary talent and charisma was not only marginalized but denigrated in the church right from the beginning. And that denigration has continued in church circles and beyond to our very day.

Put otherwise, besides shedding light on the distant past, today’s readings expose the extreme weakness of contemporary ecclesiastical “fathers” in their exclusion of women from the priesthood and from other forms of church leadership. They also uncover the perversity of their other anti-woman pronouncements regarding topics such as contraception, abortion, and women’s rights in general.

In short today’s readings help us see beyond the “official story” to discern the fact that female leadership in the Christian community is nothing new. It is the males – the ones we call “father” – who are the interlopers and charlatans.

Mover over, Francis; bring on Pope FrancEs I!

Critical Thinking: Mixed Economies Are All We Have

Mixed Economy

[This is the fourth blog entry in a series on critical thinking which lays out ten guidelines for critical thought. My previous two entries addressed the first rule of critical thought, “Think Systemically.” That rule holds that we can’t really remove our culture’s blinders unless (without prejudice) we’re clear about the meaning of the key systemic terms: capitalism, Marxism, socialism, communism, mixed economy, and fascism. So having already dealt with capitalism, the last installment tried to explain Marxism, socialism and communism in fewer than 1000 words. This week’s episode finishes Rule One by explaining mixed economy and fascism in just three points each. Next time we’ll move on to the second rule of critical thinking, “Expect Challenge.”]

MIXED ECONOMY

Following the Great Depression of the 1930s, the world as a whole has moved away from attempts to implement either pure capitalism or pure socialism. Instead, the trend virtually everywhere has been towards selecting the best elements from each system in a “mixed economy.” As the phrase implies, this involves (1) some private ownership of the means of production and some public ownership, (2) some free and open markets and some controlled markets, and (3) earnings typically limited by a progressive income tax.

Of course what we have in the United States is a highly mixed economy. The U.S. government is, after all, the largest land owner in the nation. Drug, alcohol, food, and medical care markets (and many others) are highly regulated. Following World War II, Americans earning more than $400,000 were taxed at a rate of 91%. Currently, the top income tax bracket is 34%. None of that would be possible under pure free market capitalism.

Similarly, countries claiming to be “socialist” (like Venezuela) or “communist” (like Cuba) have mixed economies. Private enterprise is a key part of both.

Does this mean that the economic systems of the United States and Cuba for example are the same? Not at all. True, both economies are “mixed.” But they differ in terms of whom they are mixed in favor of. The United States economy is mixed in favor of the wealthy and corporations. This is illustrated by consideration of the recipients of recent government bailouts – basically large corporations and Wall Street firms rather than middle or lower class people. The theory at work here is “trickle down.” That is, it is believed that if the wealthy prosper, they won’t hide their money under their mattresses. Instead they’ll invest. Investment will create jobs. Everyone will benefit. So mixing an economy in favor of the wealthy is not sinister; it’s done for the benefit of all.

Cuba, for instance, has a different approach. Its theoreticians observe that historically the wealth hasn’t trickled down – at least not to people living in the Third World (the former colonies). So, (the theory goes) the economy must be mixed directly in favor of the poor majority. The government must adopt a proactive posture and interfere directly in the market to make sure that everyone has free education (even through the university level), free health care, and retirement pensions. Food is subsidized to ensure that everyone eats. And the government is the employer of last resort to provide dignified employment for everyone, so that Cubans are not simply on the dole.

In summary, then, all we have in the world are “mixed economies.” Today, most of them are mixed in favor of the wealthy (once again, on the “trickle-down” theory). Some, like Cuba’s, prioritize the needs of the poor.

FASCISM

What about fascism then? Today the word is thrown around on all sides, and seems to mean “people I disagree with,” or “mean people,” or “those who force their will on the rest of us.” There’s talk of Islamo-fascists. President George W. Bush was accused of being a fascist. Recently President Obama has been similarly labeled.
None of those really capture the essence of fascism. Benito Mussolini, who claimed fascism as a badge of honor in the 1930s (along with Adolph Hitler in Germany, Antonio Salazar in Portugal, and Francisco Franco in Spain), called fascism “corporatism.” By that he meant an alliance between government and large business concerns or corporations.

In terms of Rule One of Critical Thinking, then, we might understand fascism as “capitalism in crisis” or “police state capitalism.” That is fascism is the form capitalism has historically taken in situations of extreme crisis, as occurred in the 1930s following the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929.

More accurately however (in the light of our previous section on mixed economies), we might call fascism police state economy mixed in favor of the wealthy. Fascists are always anti-socialist and anti-communist.

The three elements of fascism then include: (1) A police state (2) enforcing an economy mixed in favor of large corporations, (3) characterized by extreme anti-socialism and anti-communism, and by scapegoating “socialists,” “communists” and minorities (like Jews, blacks, gypsies, homosexuals . . .) for society’s problems.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Both economies mixed in favor of the rich and those mixed in favor of the poor claim to respect human rights. They also blame their opponents for not following suit. The truth is, however, that both types of economies both respect and disrespect human rights. That is, despite claims to the contrary, no system of political-economy has shown consistent respect for all human rights. Instead all systems prioritize them according to what they consider the most basic. This means that capitalism respects some human rights more than others. So does socialism.

Capitalism puts at the top of its list the rights to private property, the right to enter binding contracts and have them fulfilled, as well as the right to maximize earnings. These rights even belong to corporations which under capitalism are considered persons.

On the other hand, capitalism’s tendency is to deny the legitimacy of specifically human rights as recognized, for example, by the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. For this reason, the United States has never ratified key protocols implementing the Declaration, or other key documents asserting rights beyond the corporate. Moreover, if capitalism’s prioritized rights are threatened, all others are subject to disregard, including the rights to free elections, speech, press, assembly, religion, and freedom from torture. Historical references in the blog entries which follow this one will support that observation.

Similarly, socialism heads its own list with the rights to food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education. In the name of those rights, socialism relativizes rights to private ownership and the rights to enter binding contracts, and to maximize earnings. If the rights socialism considers basic are threatened, history has shown that it too, like capitalism, will disregard all others.

CONCLUSION

What’s the “take-away” from all of this? Simply this: capitalism is both a simple and complicated system; so is socialism. Both can be summarized quite simply, as can mixed economies, Marxism, communism, and fascism. Capitalism respects some human rights, while disregarding others. The same can be said of socialism and systems that call themselves “communist.”

Critical thinkers should remember those simple summaries and truths about human rights. Doing so will help cut through many of the misunderstandings and distortions that characterize discussion of today’s key issues.

Hitler and Capitalism

John Ralston Saul

[This is the fourth entry in a series on “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”(The previous mini-essays are found under the heading “Hitler and Christianity” just below the masthead of this blog site.) The entry below follows a third installment which attempted to clear up some common misconceptions about fascism which many see as threatening to take over the U.S. today just as it did Germany in the early 1930s. Fascism, the last entry concluded, might best be defined as “capitalism in crisis.” The current installment looks more specifically at Hitler’s relationship to capitalism. (Unless otherwise indicated, all references are to Jackson Spielvogel’s text, “Western Civilization,” a source commonly used in courses by the same name in colleges and universities.)]

To understand Adolph Hitler’s connection to capitalism, it helps to distinguish common perceptions from what textbooks like Spielvogel actually say. Common perceptions are that the German economy was devastated following World War I. The impositions of the Treaty of Versailles are well-known. Images of Germans marshaling wheelbarrows full of deutsch marks to pay their grocery bills are fixed in everyone’s mind. After the Great War, inflation was rampant. In such context, Hitler’s rise to power is typically explained as the reaction of a humiliated German people to the Allies’ shortsighted demands for war reparations and border concessions inherent in their Treaty. Germans were so desperate, the story goes that they turned to a madman, Adolph Hitler, to restore their national pride.

Of course, there is truth to such understanding. Germany’s economy was in a shambles after World War I. Inflation had reached unprecedented levels. Ordinary Germans saw their earnings and pensions disappear. They were humiliated, desperate and in search of an alternative to the Weimar Republic which was under fire from factions on both the left and the right.

However, two key realities, relevant to the argument at hand, are often overlooked about Germany’s post-World War I situation. The first reality is that by the time Hitler emerged as a serious factor in the German political scene, the country’s economy had long since been intensively and triumphantly capitalist. Already by 1870, Germany had become Europe’s undisputed industrial leader, replacing Great Britain in that role (Spielvogel 682). By the 1920s, the country’s real reins of power were firmly in the hands of capitalist giants.

Germany’s most effective leadership came no longer from the aristocrats of William II’s Empire. Much less was it provided by Paul von Hindenburg, the backward-looking monarchist who succeeded Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Stresemann to head the country in the mid-twenties. Instead, leadership and power found location in the private enterprises today being sued for compensation by those they employed as slave labor during Hitler’s Reich. That leadership resided in banking industry giants such as Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank; in auto-makers, Volkswagen and BMW; in chemical and pharmaceutical companies Bayer, Hoechst, and BASF; in industrial firms Degussa-Huels, Friedrich Krupp and Siemens; and in the Allianz Insurance Company.

Secondly, Spielvogel makes it clear that Germany’s economy had largely rebounded from the devastation inflicted by the Treaty of Versailles. In fact, from 1924-1929, the country actually participated in “the Roaring Twenties.”

“The late 1920s were . . . years of relative prosperity for Germany, and, as Hitler perceived, they were not conducive to the growth of extremist parties. He declared, however, that the prosperity would not last and that his time would come” (796).

Hitler, of course, was correct that his party’s time had not yet come. During the ‘20s, Hitler’s Nazis remained a minor right-wing faction. For example, in the elections of 1928, the Nazis gained only 2.6 percent of the vote and only twelve seats in the German Parliament (796).

Hitler was also correct that his time would come. It arrived with the onset of the Great Depression (796). The collapse of market economies throughout the industrialized world had their leaders scrambling to save a system that seemed moribund. Socialists and communists were gleeful and ascendant. Indeed, in 1934, Josef Stalin convoked a “Congress of Victory,” to celebrate socialism’s apparent triumph over capitalism and what he called “the end of history.”

As Spielvogel reports, such threats from the left forced German capitalists to turn to Hitler as their Messiah. Industrialists and large landowners provided the firm base of support he needed. More specifically, the elite were fearful, because the Depression’s economic hard times had given heart (and popular appeal) to socialists and communists who in Russia had seized power in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Spielvogel writes:

“Increasingly, the right-wing elites of Germany, the industrial magnates, landed aristocrats, military establishment, and higher bureaucrats, came to see Hitler as the man who had the mass support to establish a right-wing, authoritarian regime that would save Germany and their privileged positions from a Communist takeover” (796).

The capitalist nature of Hitler’s system stands clear in this description – though it is fogged by circumlocutions. The attentive reader should note that, along with the military hierarchy and government administrators, the powers behind Hitler’s takeover of Europe’s leading capitalist nation are the captains of industry and large landowners.

Spielvogel’s avoidance of the term “capitalists” seems dictated by concerns about “political correctness” in a textbook intended for educational institutions whose mission is to inculturate rather than to raise consciousness. Once again, such avoidance contributes to general misconceptions about the nature of the Nazi regime.

(Next week: Capitalist Support for Hitler)