The Advent Project of Pope Francis (and Jesus): A World without War by Christmas! (Sunday Homily)

Evangelii-Gaudium-Image

Readings for First Sunday in Advent: IS 2: 1-5; PS 122: 1-9; ROM 13: 11-14; MT 24: 37-44 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120113.cfm

Isn’t it amazing how quickly the world changes? At times radical transformation happens so rapidly that we can miss the significance of events unfolding right before our eyes. One of those events occurred last week. Pope Francis astonished the world by publishing a revolutionary platform (Evangelii Gaudium) for his papacy, church and world. In doing so he is the first world leader among the global elite to call corporate globalization by its true name (systematized murder). As a result, 1.2 billion Catholics suddenly find themselves challenged about the free market, “trickle-down” theory, world hunger and poverty, the roots of terrorism, the unacceptability of war, the surveillance state and obsession of the rich with “defense” and “security.” All of those familiar elements were thoroughly rejected by the pope.

If Catholic Christians (and other fellow-travelers) were to embrace the pope’s message, history’s door would suddenly fling itself open to truly radical change. It would mean for the first time since the 4th century Christians would embrace “the way” of Jesus as opposed to that of Caesar, Constantine and their Euro-American successors. A world at peace would at last be possible.

Today’s liturgy of the word, this first Sunday of Advent, invites us to envision such an unabashedly utopian world. Evangelii Gaudium makes that vision even more compelling and somehow brings it within reach.

Yes, a utopian world! It’s the Judeo-Christian vision. It’s the vision of Pope Francis.

Take the initial reading for this first Sunday of Advent. There the prophet Isaiah identifies Jerusalem as a Center of Peace. He does so in the most unlikely of circumstances – at a time when the city and the entire Kingdom of Judah (as well as the Northern Kingdom of Israel) finds itself under imminent threat from the Assyrian Empire. The threat obscured the vision of Isaiah’s contemporaries –but not the prophet’s.

Despite the fog of war, Isaiah can still see Jerusalem (and the world) as he wants them to be – as he thinks God wants them to be. Jerusalem suddenly becomes a harbinger of a place and time when war will completely disappear from the face of the earth. Then, Isaiah says, resources for battle will be reinvested in agriculture and forestry. Swords will be turned to plows and pruning hooks. No nation will rise against any other. Military training camps will be abolished. An era of light, the prophet promises, will have dawned with Jerusalem (City of Peace) as its center.

Urban renewal with a vengeance will result. That’s what today’s responsorial psalm (# 122) says. It had us chanting “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” The psalm goes on: Let us go to Jerusalem for it is not only a City of Peace, but of the prosperity that inevitably follows the abolition of war and the reinvestment of military resources. Jerusalem’s infrastructure is completely rebuilt. It is as if (in the psalmist’s words) peace had penetrated the city’s very walls and the stones of its buildings. It’s the result of people reinvesting resources in peace, internalizing peaceful aspirations, and adopting the mantra “May peace be within your walls, prosperity in your buildings . . . “Peace be within you!” Action follows thought.

In Chapter 13 of his Letter to the Romans, Paul agrees. He takes up Isaiah’s theme of peacemaking as “walking in light.” If you insist on arming yourselves, he says, let it be with light. This is a reference to the Enlightened Jesus. “Walking in Light,” Paul says, means embodying the Christ’s very presence. So Paul urges us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” – as if he were a garment – so that all who see us find themselves looking at Princesses and Princes of Peace. Paul contrasts walking in light with working in darkness – idolizing pleasure along with competition, jealousy, blind consumption, and drunken oblivion that saps awareness of who we really are. These are the very evils Pope Francis identified as underlying corporate globalization’s systematized oppression.

Finally today’s gospel excerpt from Matthew calls us away from business as usual – the business of war. It challenges us to choose between destroying ourselves and working for the advent of God’s Kingdom.

We stand on the cusp of a new era, Jesus insists – a new beginning as radical as the new world facing Noah after the Great Flood. As then, today’s order is about to be destroyed, Jesus warns. (And it was, when Rome invaded Israel and turned Jerusalem to a pile of rubble.)

It doesn’t have to be that way, the Master insists. Instead of war’s destruction, there could be universal peace. Jesus called it “The Kingdom of God” – what the world would be like if the Parent of All were King – instead of Caesar, the great patron of war and oppression. Like Isaiah’s, Jesus’ vision too is utopian. In God’s Kingdom each treats the other as kin – as sister, brother, friend, and lover. The Golden Rule applies. The earth’s resources are shared, not horded or carelessly destroyed. There are no poor, because everything is shared in common, just as happened in the idealized community of Jesus’ earliest followers (Acts 2:44, 4:32, 5:9).

That Kingdom (or its opposite – it’s up to us) will arrive sooner than we expect, Jesus promises, “like a thief in the night.” This means most might not even know a new era has dawned till after the dreams that sleepwalkers cherish have disappeared. If they don’t wake up, it may even seem that the somnambulants’ very selves have been “taken” – like the man in the field and the woman at the mill Jesus mentions. They simply vanish while their minds and hands are focused on work that then becomes irrelevant.

Like Jesus (and Pope Francis), Noah tried to warn such people about the karma they were creating for themselves. But they were asleep – in denial really – concerned merely with eating, drinking, starting families and laboring as though Noah’s warnings were nonsense.

But then . . . la deluge!

Of course, most progressives hearing all of this today are about as believing as Noah’s audience – or Jesus’ for that matter. We find it hard to believe that real positive change can happen to our world. The evil surrounding us seems so permanent; its forces so overwhelming. But that’s only because we’re asleep. “Wake up!” is the message of Isaiah, the psalmist, Paul and Jesus.

It we do so, it immediately becomes apparent that eras really do change – and sometimes for the better. And I’m not just referring to Evangelii Gaudium. Think about it. All of a sudden, it seems:

• The Soviet Union dissolves – unexpectedly in a matter of weeks. No one saw it coming.
• Someone in the neo-colonial world decides “enough!” and 9/11 happens. In a single day, everything changes. With minimum expenditure, in one fell swoop empire’s victims begin dismantling an “indestructible” behemoth.
• Similar frustrations erupt throughout the empire in rebellions that the imperialists are powerless to control. It’s called an “Arab Spring.” Alternatively, the rebellions are characterized as “terrorism.”
• The Big Brother, who controls by watching us, suddenly becomes the object of our scrutiny and surveillance, and empire’s credibility is lost seemingly overnight. (Thanks, Edward Snowden.)
• In response, empire’s order crumbles before our eyes with its “leaders” themselves doing most of the destroying. That is the elite respond to attacks by looting the empire’s treasuries while they still can. They dismantle everything that made the empire proud. They destroy the basis of their country’s wealth – its infrastructure, the “freedoms of its citizens,” their jobs, the empire’s very Constitution. (Meanwhile, those responsible for 9/11 stand in the wings and laugh.)
• Nature itself cooperates and sympathetically unleashes its fury on a way of life that interferes with her laws. Mountains are literally moved as ice and glaciers melt. The corresponding world-wide deluge gives new meaning to Jesus’ reference to Noah in this morning’s gospel selection.
• Suddenly the imperial order finds itself discarded on the ashbin of history along with its counterparts – most recently Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

Will our future simply be more of the same with some other empire replacing the old one? Or will the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and 2.5 billion Christians in total finally wake up, truly follow the Enlightened Jesus, and transform the world – as the pope has invited us to do?

That’s the Advent project set before us today!

What will you do this week – what will I do – to hasten the advent of the world without war that Isaiah, Paul and the Prince of Peace imagined?

(Discussion follows.)

The Church’s Disastrous Domestication of Jesus (Sunday Homily)

King of the Universe

Readings for the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe”: 2 SM 5: 1-3, PS 122: 1-5; COL 1: 12-20; LK 23: 35-43. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112413.cfm

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” The contrast between the feast’s grandiose title and the readings prescribed for the occasion illustrate a basic reason behind the irrelevance of the church (and Jesus) to the post-modern world. It’s irrelevant to the social and economic transformations necessary to redeem the church’s overwhelmingly Third World membership from globalized oppression.

The contrast I’m referring to involves the great makeover of Jesus of Nazareth changing him from the leader of an anti-imperial revolutionary movement into a pillar of the exploitative status quo.

Let me put it this way: through 4th century sleight of hand, the Jesus who sided with the poor and those oppressed by empire – the one who promised a new heaven and earth belonging to the simple and poor, and who was executed as a terrorist by Rome – was made to switch sides. He was co-opted and domesticated – kicked upstairs into the royal class. He became not only a patron of the Roman Empire, but a “king” complete with crown, purple robes, scepter and fawning courtiers.

Following that transformation, kings and popes (now themselves transformed into gaudy temporal rulers) claimed to govern by divine right on behalf of Jesus as his representatives and vicars. In this way, the poor and oppressed (who then and now constitute the world’s majority) lost their paradigmatic leader, example and advocate. Jesus became instead a key part of the apparatus oppressing them.

Reza Aslan’s recent best-seller, Zealot, attempts to rescue the revolutionary historical Jesus from the distortions of the royal classes just mentioned. Aslan connects his salvage project specifically with today’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion in Luke, Chapter 23. In doing so, the author pays particular attention to Jesus’ cross, to the Roman inscription identifying Jesus as “King of the Jews,” and to the dialog between Jesus and the two “thieves” presented as sharing his fate.

According to Aslan, all three – cross, inscription and dialog – mark Jesus as a dangerous revolutionary “terrorist” rather than a domesticated upholder of the given order. That terrorist remains as threatening to today’s dominant empire, the U.S.A., as he was to imperial Rome. So he continues to be erased from history and by “feasts” like today that mask his true identity.

Take the cross first. It was the mode of execution reserved primarily for insurrectionists against the Roman occupation of Palestine. The fact that Jesus was crucified indicates that the Romans believed him to be a revolutionary terrorist. How could it have been otherwise, Aslan asks? After all, Jesus was widely considered the “messiah” – i.e. as the one, like David in today’s first reading, expected to lead “The War” against Israel’s oppressors.

Moreover, he proclaimed the “Kingdom of God,” a highly politicized metaphor which could only be understood as an alternative to Roman rule. It would return Israel, Jesus himself promised, to Yahweh’s governance and accord primacy to the poor and marginalized. The Romans drew logical conclusions. Put otherwise, the Roman cross itself provides bloody testimony to the radical threat the empire saw personified in Jesus.

That threat was made specific in the inscription the Romans placed over the head of the crucified Jesus. It read, “King of the Jews.”

Typically, those words are interpreted as a cruel joke by the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate – as if he were simply poking fun at those who saw Jesus as the worthy successor of Israel’s beloved King David.

However, according to Reza Aslan, nothing humorous was intended by the inscription. Instead it was a titulus. Every victim of crucifixion had one – a statement of the reason for his execution. The motive for Jesus’ crucifixion was the same as for the many others among his contemporaries who were executed for the same crime: aspiring to replace Roman rule with home rule – with an Israel governed by Jews instead of Romans. The titulus on Jesus’ cross, along with the cross itself identify him as the antithesis of what he eventually became, a Roman tool.

And then there are those two thieves. Aslan says they weren’t “thieves” at all. That’s a mistranslation, he points out. A better translation of the Greek word, lestai , would be “bandits” – the common designation in the first century for insurrectionists. And there probably weren’t just two others crucified the day Jesus was assassinated. There may have been a dozen or more.

And, no, the whole world wasn’t watching either. As scripture scholar John Dominic Crossan observes, Jesus would have represented hardly a blip on the screen of Pontius Pilate. And Jews would have averted their eyes from the spectacle depicted in this morning’s gospel. They wouldn’t want to see “one more good Jew” suffering the fate of so many heroic patriots.

In this context the dialog between Jesus and two of the terrorists crucified with him takes on great significance. Actually, it documents the beginning of the process I described of changing Jesus’ image from insurrectionist to depoliticized teacher.

Think about it. Luke’s account of Jesus’ words and deeds was first penned about the year 85 or 90 – 20 years or so after the Roman-Jewish War (66-70 C.E.). By then the Romans had utterly defeated the Jews, destroyed Jerusalem and its temple as well as slaughtered the city’s population including practically all of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ messianic campaign. Virtually the only Christians left standing were foreigners – gentiles living in population centers like Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. Few of these had any understanding of or sympathy for Judaism much less for Jewish politics and its liberation movements.

Besides that, in the war’s aftermath, both Jews and Christians sought to distance themselves from the socio-political expectations that had brought on the disaster of the Jewish War. So Judaism tried to transform itself from a Temple-centered religion to one focused on the local synagogue and rabbinic teaching – both overwhelmingly concerned with simply preserving the culture and identity of a people in diaspora.

For their part, Christians became anxious to show the Roman world that it had nothing to fear from their membership.

One way of doing that was to distance the dying Jesus from the Jewish insurgents and their terrorist actions against their oppressors. So in Luke’s death-bed dialog among three crucified revolutionaries, one of the terrorists admits that Jesus is “under the same sentence” as he and his comrade in arms. Given what Aslan said about crucifixion, that fact was undeniable. All three had been sentenced as insurrectionists.

But now comes the distancing between Jesus and Israel’s liberation movements. Luke has the “good thief” (read good terrorist) say, “. . . indeed we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”

In other words, Luke (writing for a post-war Roman audience) dismisses insurrection as “criminal,” and removes Jesus from association with such crime – a fact endorsed, Luke asserts, by insiders like the honest lestai crucified with Jesus. Luke’s message to Rome: the killing of Jesus was a terrible mistake; he meant no harm to Rome. And neither do we, his followers.

Loss of the radical revolutionary Jesus is not a trivial matter in terms of Christianity relevance to a world ruled by a nation that styles itself as Rome’s worthy successor. Like its ancient archetype, the U.S. (and a majority of first-world Christians) found the historical Jesus so threatening, that it determined that Jesus’ followers deserved the same fate as their crucified Master. For this we have the evidence of the war that the U.S. fought against liberation theology when it first emerged following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council (1963-65).

Liberation theology committed the unforgiveable sin represented by this homily. It was guilty of connecting the Jesus of history described by scholars like Aslan to post-colonial independence movements and struggles against the neo-colonialism spearheaded by the U.S. and its oligarchical clients in the Third World.

In that struggle Pope John Paul II and his henchman, Josef Ratzinger, threw in their lot with a neo-imperial Ronald Reagan. It was deja-vu all over again: Reagan as Pilate and J.P.II and Ratzinger as the temple priesthood. It was the deja-vu of the church melding its interests with Rome towards the end of the 4th century.

More specifically, the two reactionary popes looked the other way and actively supported Reagan’s policies that assassinated hundreds of thousands of Christians (200,000 in Guatemala alone!) who found the radical Jesus threateningly relevant to their struggles in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.

To balance liberation theology’s threat, Reagan patronized Evangelical Christians who eventually morphed into the Tea Party. It finds Aslan’s understanding of Jesus anathema. Meanwhile, John Paul II and Ratzinger “cleaned house,” eliminating every single progressive bishop from the hierarchy and transforming seminaries into hot houses to nurture a pre-Vatican II reactionary clergy.

Recently Pope Francis delivered a long-winded, very general and content-less speech to the National Council of Bishops in Brazil. That group used to head a church that was a hot-bed of liberation theology I’ve been describing here. The term was never mentioned in the new pope’s remarks. Instead, he presented John Paul II and Pope Ratzinger as champions of Vatican II.

He’ll have to do better than that to fulfill his aspiration towards making the church relevant to the poor he professes to care so much about.

He’ll have to confess the Church’s sins against liberation theology and revive the cult of the historical Jesus – instead of the depoliticized imperial “King of the Universe” today’s feast calls to mind.

Good Snowden/Bad Snowden? Not So Fast

Edward Snowden 1

In his recent article, “The Two Snowdens,” Philip Giraldi issued warnings about making Edward Snowden an unqualified hero. (Giraldi is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest, and a former CIA and military intelligence officer.) Matters are more complicated than that Giraldi advised. Honoring the complication, he made the case for recognizing the existence of a good Edward Snowden on the one hand and a treasonous Snowden on the other.

According to Giraldi, the good Snowden is a true whistleblower. As such he rightly released documents about government surveillance of U.S. citizens. Such surveillance clearly violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and deserves to be exposed as criminal. On Giraldi’s analysis, this good Edward Snowden truly merits our admiration.

The bad Snowden, however, is another story. He’s the one who indiscriminately revealed U.S. espionage on foreign governments. Granted, Giraldi admits, eavesdropping on the cell phone conversations of the likes of Angela Merkel was stupid. Any possible gains were more than cancelled by the potential danger of getting caught.

But otherwise, Snowden’s revelations did irreparable damage to the legitimate espionage the U.S. requires for its national security and economic prosperity. After all, everyone spies on everyone else. The U.S. needs to follow suit otherwise it will be hopelessly disadvantaged.

More specifically, Giraldi continues, Snowden’s revelations have crippled U.S. efforts not only at counter-terrorism, but in its economic competition with China and Russia. While these latter are no longer our “enemies,” they are “competitors” and “opponents.” In any case, Snowden’s revelations give them unfair advantage in the marketplace.

It’s there that I fear Mr. Giraldi’s argument unravels. It misses the big picture that I suspect Edward Snowden sees. I mean, the ex-CIA officer assumes that market competition is somehow neutral and has a right to be protected. It further assumes that the U.S. is just one competitor among others, and that its activities also need to be safeguarded.

In so doing, Mr. Giraldi ignores the real “American Exceptionalism,” – i.e. its leadership of a system that is destroying the planet through its endless wars and its refusal to address the climate change unfettered capitalism causes. Meanwhile the system mercilessly takes advantage of workers privileged enough to be exploited.

That system, whether Snowden sees it or not, needs to be subverted, not supported as Mr. Giraldi would prefer. Anyone aiding and abetting the process of subversion in a non-violent way deserves support not criticism.

First of all, consider the assumptions about the neutrality of global capitalism. In reality, market competition as in the corporate globalization and “free trade” agreements championed by the United States is far from neutral. Its deck is stacked against the environment and the global workforce. It not only outsources jobs from the U.S. home front; it also exploits cheap labor in the former colonies, and takes advantage of lax environmental and labor laws.

The results include disastrous climate change and the deaths of more than 35,000 children each day – from absolutely preventable hunger-related causes. Free-marketers refuse to address those causes, because doing so would mean “interference” in the marketplace which they find anathema to their religious devotion to free market doctrine.

These are criminal charges – life and death matters. They reduce to insignificance the violations of the U.S. Constitution that Mr. Giraldi forefronts. They suggest that Mr. Snowden’s revelations about foreign espionage are even more laudable than his domestic disclosures.

Secondly, consider the overall U.S. project in the world. That project remains best described by George Kennan in the aftermath of the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II). In his capacity as National Security Advisor of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Kennan is considered by all, the architect of U.S. Cold War policy. All contemporary indications confirm that his vision still guides U.S. policy – with the likely exception that it is even more tightly embraced today than it was in 1947. It was then that Kennan wrote:

“We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans the better.” <a

Once again, it turns out that Kennan’s project is a criminal enterprise. It is about keeping the world as it is – about the rejection of world benefaction, altruism, human rights, democracy, and raising living standards – so that the U.S. might control a disproportionate amount of the world’s limited resources. Today Kennan’s employment of “straight power concepts” to keep the envious and resentful at bay employs wars of aggression, torture, suspension of habeas corpus, extra-judicial (drone) executions, and the threat of nuclear holocaust.

To reiterate, that U.S. project needs to be undermined.

So rather than characterizing someone who does so as a “spy,” such a heroic individual deserves our unconditional support – and imitation.

Snowden represents non-violent resistance and international civil disobedience at its finest.

If They Won’t Work, Let the Rich Starve! (Sunday Homily)

Work Eat

Readings for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: MAL 3: 19-20A; Ps. 98: 5-9; 2 THES 3: 7-12; LK 21: 5-9. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111713.cfm

Today’s readings appear to centralize “the end of the world.” So you can expect your preacher this morning to focus on the after-life, pie-in-the-sky, and all the “Left Behind” nonsense that has become the staple of Christianity ever since the 4th century.

Expect them to point to natural disasters, “plagues” like the AIDs pandemic, and the wars of choice so near and dear to our politicians – as signs that the end is near, that God is pissed, and we’d better repent and accept Jesus as our personal Lord and savior.

And, Oh yes, there’s Paul’s dictum in today’s reading from Second Thessalonians “. . . if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” Expect that one to evoke anti-welfare themes of bootstrap self-sufficiency, references to God-helps-those-who-help-themselves, and easy references to “welfare queens.”

I’m not kidding, 2 Thessalonians 3: 10 is a favorite of the Christian right. North Dakota congressman, Kevin Cramer, used it recently to justify his vote to cut nearly $40 billion from the Food Stamp program that keeps the children of poor families from starvation, along with the elderly and disabled. Tea Part darling, Michelle Bachman, did the same thing. When trying to get her party’s nomination for president, she said, “Our nation needs to stop doing for people what they can and should do for themselves. Self-reliance means, if anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”

It’s all so tiresome and predictable.

The right loves embracing Paul’s out-of-context remark. Tea Baggers love ignoring Jesus’ feeding thousands free of charge. It’s as if Jesus’ parable about sheep and goats in Mt. 25 didn’t base everything on a practical recognition of his identification with the hungry, thirsty, homeless, imprisoned, and ill-clad. The right loves “tough love.” It loves apocalypse.

But, of course, there’s not a trace of “tough love” in Jesus’ treatment of the poor. And “apocalypse” is not about the end of the world. It’s about unsustainability. The word apocalypse means “unveiling.” It’s about “revelation” in that sense – making evident what’s hidden about the world and who’s in charge. Apocalypse affirms the unsustainability of empire. Radical change is inevitable.

Apocalypse emerged a few centuries before the birth of Jesus. To convey its message of impending radical change, it employed stock images of natural catastrophe, plagues, wars, earthquakes, and portents involving the sun, moon, and stars. The change would be cosmic.

The audience of this strange literary form was empire’s victims. It was meant to encourage the poor and dispossessed, the unemployed, sick, widowed and orphaned – not the rich and well-off. Apocalypse assured the poor that all systems of oppression end in flames whether they’re Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman. (Those are the global giants that oppressed Israel at one time or another in its history.) Where are they today? They’ve been swept away by the tide of history. And the apologists for “Eternal Rome” find themselves somewhere in antiquity’s dustbin.

So it’s ironic that apocalypse should be embraced by conservatives and their rich patrons – by those who want to keep things as they are. Things do not have to be that way. And “by God,” they won’t be! That’s the message of apocalypse. A new era is dawning, and you’d better be on the right side of history or you’ll lose out. Being “left behind” means supporting the old order that’s doomed.

The problem is that right from the beginning, believers took literally the cosmic and highly poetic symbolism of apocalypse. (We always get in trouble for being too literal.) That’s the attitude that caused Paul to tear his hair out in today’s second reading. Some in the early Christian community took the imminence of this expectation so seriously that they even stopped working.

What was the point of work, they reasoned? Everything was about to change profoundly by God’s intervention. That made human work meaningless. All believers had to do was sit back and wait for Jesus’ triumphant arrival. Eat, drink, be merry, and whistle past the graveyard in the meantime.

Those are the people Paul addresses in this morning’s excerpt from Second Thessalonians. He’s clearly exasperated. He says, “Look I’m working. And I’m the one responsible for your believing in Jesus’ Second Coming! Get real, people. Go back to work. Stop sponging off the community. Instead, be like me and do your part to bring about the new order we all expect. “

Paul’s words bring to mind the people who refuse to work today because they deem apocalyptic expectations divinely ordained or “natural.” And I’m certainly not referring to welfare queens.

Instead, I’m talking about people so committed to the old order that (with Margaret Thatcher) they’re convinced that “There is no alternative,” even though the “inevitable order” they support threatens the very survival of their own grandchildren. So they do what must be done to perpetuate what in God’s eyes is unsustainable.

Such “busy-bodies” refer to their endeavors as “work,” but in reality, their occupations represent a refusal to work. That is, if we identify that term with what contributes to life and the establishment of the Kingdom community Jesus proclaimed.

On this understanding, involvement in the military and the military-industrial complex is certainly not work. Neither is labor in financial market casinos or in the health-insurance and fossil fuel industries and their nuclear power counterparts. Advertising, fashion, professional sports, or much of what we refer to as “education” and journalism might also qualify as anti-work. Such occupations are not only highly questionable in terms of building up human community and protecting the planet. They are often positively destructive. Their purpose is to ward off or distract from the impending Big Change promised by the great unveiling.

Do I mean followers of Jesus should renounce such “work?” Yes I do. Or at least, we need to work to bring about a world where such occupations are not rewarded with pay – i.e. with a ticket to overconsumption even in terms of food and drink. And, to quote St. Paul, if arms manufacturers want to continue their anti-work as inevitable, let them starve! The world will be better off.

What about the unemployment caused by such radical change? It’s simple: share the remaining work. Make sure everyone is working – say for four hours each day, or three days a week, or six months each year. Get everyone to work building or rebuilding infrastructure, paving highways and covering rooftops with solar cells, and cleaning up the dump sites where all our toxic waste has been buried.

Think of the freedom such changes would create for building up God’s kingdom – to play, to garden, write, converse, make love, raise our children, and do all the things that make us human!

“Totally unrealistic” you say? Precisely! Apocalypse is by nature unrealistic. It calls us to work for an entirely different order we can hardly imagine. It calls us to reclaim our humanity from the insanity of destructive anti-work.

I’ll bet you won’t hear much of that from your preacher today!

Respecting Hard Evidence: 9/11, Pearl Harbor, JFK, and Edward Snowden

New Pearl Harbor

Recently, I watched “September 11: The New Pearl Harbor.” That’s Massimo Mazzucco’s documentary that 9/11 scholar, David Ray Griffin, has called “the film we’ve been waiting for.” It’s available gratis on the web, and I recommend it highly.

The amount of evidence the film offers to discredit the official story of 9/11 is overwhelming. It comes from eyewitnesses, government officials, and experts on aviation and explosives. It comes from architects, engineers and others in the scientific community.

Similarly persuasive are the historical details and personal testimonies Mazzucco offers to discredit the official line about the Old Pearl Harbor of December 7th, 1941.They too come from eyewitnesses and a whole array of insiders. Together they debunk the notion that the attack on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii came as a surprise. Instead, the evidence shows that Franklin Roosevelt and others allowed Pearl Harbor to happen in order to justify U.S. entry into World War II.

In the face of such evidence, the refusals of our educational system, the mainstream media, and U.S. politicians to reopen investigations into both the new and the old Pearl Harbors are simply amazing.

It’s enough to make one recall similar refusals concerning the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November of 1963. Instead, the media, politicians, and educators allow to stand an explanation that literally has bullets changing direction in ways that defy the laws of physics. The official explanation holds even though expert riflemen have repeatedly found themselves unable to duplicate the alleged marksmanship of Lee Harvey Oswald using the alleged assassination weapon.

As I write such words, I can almost hear what’s going through some readers’ minds. “Oh, I get it. You’re another one of those ‘conspiracy theorists.’ I’m sorry, but I don’t find the ‘evidence’ you’re citing persuasive. As Americans, we and our leaders have higher standards.”

Really? Consider the following:

• In 2003, the U.S. government insisted on invading Iraq because of its possession of “weapons of mass destruction.” When inspectors couldn’t find those weapons, their failure was characterized by the Bush administration as evidence of Saddam Hussein’s evil genius. Hussein was so insidious, they claimed, that he was able to hide masses of chemical and other weapons from very aggressive inspectors. The administration used such non-evidence-as-evidence to justify an invasion and war that has taken more than a million lives of innocent Iraqis. What’s that you say about high standards of proof?

• Last September President Obama was on the point of bombing Syria for its use of chemical weapons against insurgents whose ranks include al-Qaeda, the arch enemy of “America.” The evidence justifying Obama’s attack remained secret. Beyond that, when asked for justification, only purely circumstantial proof was offered. The chemical weapons in question, we were told, required launchers available only to the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. This means that for Mr. Obama, secret evidence and circumstantial proof were sufficient to justify bombings that would kill hundreds, if not thousands or even hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians. And yet all those hundreds of serious, science-based questions about 9/11 and the Kennedy assassination remain . . . well, unanswered.

• Just last week, Senator John McCain of Arizona accused Edward Snowden of sharing U.S. secrets with Russia. “If you believe he didn’t, McCain said, “then you believe that pigs fly.” McCain’s incontrovertible evidence? Hmm. Maybe he thought his smart remark was enough. But we can’t be sure. He didn’t say. Perhaps he was going on his own experience when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Did he reveal U.S. secrets to the Vietnamese? How else could he act as both judge and jury, and make his flying pigs deduction with such certainty? Logic? Is his evidence stronger than that allegedly requiring a reinvestigation of 9/11?

That last question makes my point.

When it’s a question of attacking enemies, the flimsiest of reasons, the thinnest of connections, simple implications, logical deductions, illogical conclusions, and circumstantial evidence are enough to justify mass murder of the innocent.

Imagine if the proof against Saddam Hussein or al-Assad had risen to the level of that advanced by 9/11 scientists and other scholars. In that case, I’d wager there’s not a person in the world who wouldn’t recognize the guilt of Washington’s designated enemies. The proof would be so overwhelming.

My conclusions:

• “9/11: The New Pearl Harbor” is compulsory viewing for those with the courage to think for themselves.
• We shouldn’t buy any further wars unless their justification transcends the level represented in that film and ridiculed as merely “conspiratorial” by our government and pundits.
• That is, evidence should go beyond the detail offered in Mazzucco’s five hour documentary.
• Moreover, any reasoning legitimizing future wars should evoke comparisons with and questions about 9/11, the level evidence there, and the reasons for ignoring its questions about the official story.
• In effect, such demands would preclude said future wars. In fact, no war in recent memory has been based on anything like the evidence and reasoning marshaled in “9/11: The New Pearl Harbor.”
• Even more concretely, we should ask John McCain about the basis for his statement about Edward Snowden and then judge the weight of his evidence by comparing it with that offered in Mazzucco’s film.

Do you see what I mean? What do you think?

“Captain Phillips”: Cavalry to the Rescue

captain-phillips-tom-hank

Prairie Schooners transporting goods across the plains are attacked by savage Indians. The cavalry comes to the rescue and slaughters the “tribals.” We all go home feeling safe and proud of our armed forces.

Mutatis mutandi, that’s the basic story of “Captain Phillips” starring Tom Hanks and the splendid Somali actor, Barkhad Abdl. Though familiar in basic plot-structure, the film spins a nonetheless gripping account of the 2009 piracy of the container ship, Maersk Alabama, on the open seas. The ship is waylaid by four Somali ex-fishermen turned pirates. The captain, Rich Phillips, is abducted by the bandits. The Navy Seals are called in. They kill the pirates, rescue the captain. And normalcy returns.

The inattentive will no doubt experience the simple catharsis afforded by such “action thrillers.” However, in the case of “Captain Phillips,” there is more to the story than good guys rescuing the innocent from the clutches of savages. In fact, the story, based on actual events occurring in 2009, has much to tell about globalization, national sovereignty, and the military-industrial complex.

Begin with globalization.

The back story of “Captain Phillips” demonstrates that we’re living through an era of buccaneer business, where multinational corporations act like lawless pirates. They roam the globe and operate where they will, regardless of international law, territorial waters, national boundaries, environmental impact, and the noxious effects their investments might have on local populations.

Somalia provides a case in point. There, overfishing by factory ships from Europe and the United States has left tribal fishermen without income. What fish escape the nets of the giant sea trawlers have been poisoned by toxic waste flushed from container ships off Somalia’s coast. Along with loss of income by local fishermen, plummeting living standards, and otherwise avoidable deaths from poverty and starvation are the predictable results.

This is where national sovereignty comes in.

In the absence of an effective national coastguard, such practices have forced locals to form citizens’ defense groups like the National Volunteer Coast Guard . Initially, these attacked the offending ships to drive them from Somalia’s territorial waters. Though characterized as “pirates” by western media, such groups enjoyed the support of Somalia’s affected population. According to a survey by Wardheer News, about 70% in Somalia’s coastal communities “strongly support[ed] the piracy as a form of national defense of the country’s territorial waters.”

Eventually, such “pirates” discovered that responding in kind to buccaneer businesses (represented by container ships) could itself replace lost revenue from fishing. Whether understood as such or not, “reparations” could in effect be seized by attacking ships on the open seas. There goods could be confiscated and hostages taken in return for large ransoms. Ensuing battles amounted to one highly financed buccaneer business competing against another more primitive, poorly financed counterpart.

Never mind limiting concepts such as open seas, territorial waters, international boundaries, or other legal considerations. From viewpoint of the impoverished “pirates,” if such limitations did not apply to their competitors, neither did they apply to them. It’s all “free enterprise” at its rawest – the law of the jungle, the Wild West, or of Cowboys vs. Indians. As Muse, the “captain” of the pirates attacking the Maersk Alabama put it, “No al-Qaeda here. This is just business.”

But then comes the overwhelming response from the military-industrial complex. Giving the lie to right-wing claims of independence from government, Maersk Shipping demonstrates the ability to call in the Navy Seals to protect its private enterprise operations. As portrayed in “Captain Phillips,” the White House itself is involved. After all, if private firms are threatened, “America’s” credibility is on the line.

Two cruiser ships, their crews of hundreds, several helicopters, and parachuting Seals are all employed to enforce the Law of the Sea on four impoverished “pirates.” This is a law whose rejection by the big-time pirates and their protectors was the root cause of the Somalis’ small-time piracy in the first place.

What to take away from all of this? Myths are powerful. And we should beware of their ability to blind us. Though Hollywood can no longer get away with enforcing such archetypes by portraying Indians as savages, it’s still free to do so with Muslim tribals. After all the West has already been won; there is no longer need to vilify “Indians.”

Muslim tribals are another story. Their resources are still up for grabs.

What “Terrorists” Think while Being Tortured (Sunday Homily)

Terrorist

Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 MC 7: 1-12, 9-14; PS 17:1, 5-6, 3, 15; 2 THES 2:11-3:5; LK 20: 27-38. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111013.cfm

One of the wonderful aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition is how so much of it reflects the consciousness of the poor and oppressed, while at the same time giving expression to a “preferential option for the poor.” That’s a gift for us in a culture that generally despises poor people, oppresses the world’s impoverished majority, and spins the news in ways that ignore the poor and reflect a decided “preferential option for the rich.”

This morning’s first reading is especially valuable for us who live in under the torture regime of American Empire. It actually invites us inside the heads of tortured “terrorists.” It raises the question, who are the real terrorists – the forces of empire or those who resist them? In doing so, the reading from Second Maccabees sheds light on the contemporary debate about torture in service of empire. It also highlights parallels between the mentalities of “terrorists” then and now. The reading calls us to question our support for the entire War on Terror.

For starters, consider torture itself. Our culture actually debates torture’s use, its effectiveness and morality! It does!

Previously, that would have been unthinkable. Torture used to be considered one of those intrinsic evils about which there simply could be no debate.

However, ever since Abu Ghraib gave the lie to George W. Bush’s famous prevarication, “The United States doesn’t do torture” – ever since our government’s redefinition of the word to exclude even waterboarding – it has become apparent that Bush (and so many others of our “thought-leaders”) was lying. So today, many prominent “court intellectuals” have been pushed to actually defend torture’s permissibility.

But what do tortured terrorists actually think about having limbs removed and tongues cut out? Read today’s selection about the Maccabee brothers and find out.

The Maccabees were members of a heroic family of guerrilla fighters who in the mid- 2nd century BCE terrorized the invading Greek forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. (Actually, “Maccabee” wasn’t the family’s name; it was more a nom de guerre for an entire resistance movement. The word meant “Hammer” – the Hammer Gang – so-called because of its delight in pounding to mincemeat the invaders of their beloved homeland. The term “Maccabee” was similar to “al Qaeda,” when it simply meant “the list” – a reference to the Rolodex of assets the CIA used when it employed al Qaeda back when they were “freedom fighters” against the Russians in Afghanistan.)

For his part, the Seleucid king, Antiochus, was anti-Semitic. He considered the Jews historically and culturally backward. For him and his empire’s advancement, Jews had to be brought into the 2nd century BCE even if it meant their kicking and screaming the whole way.

Today we might understand Antiochus’ project as “modernizing” the Jews – as Hellenizing them for purposes of imperial control. Evidently the Seleucid king subscribed to the position that if empire can persuade conquered peoples to adopt its patterns of thinking and especially of imagining God, the task of imperial administrators is made that much easier.

Many Jews agreed with the program of Antiochus. After all, the Greeks’ empire seemed invincible. If the empire couldn’t be beat, it was better to join it willingly. So these “Hellenized Jews” stopped circumcising their sons, and changed their diets even to include eating pork. They became more Greek than the Greeks.

They also became the targets of Maccabee “terrorist” attacks. In today’s terms, such Hellenized Jews would be the targets blown up by Maccabee suicide bombers in marketplaces located in Jewish but Greek-loving neighborhoods. (Even if the Maccabee targeting may have been more selective than that, it is certain that Hellenized Jews were as much the objects of Maccabee terror as were the Seleucid forces themselves.)

In countering such extremism, Antiochus IV proscribed the Jewish religion as itself criminal and illegitimate. This was very similar to the way many “Americans” consider Islam. So Greek troops burnt and otherwise desecrated copies of the Torah in much the same way as our “Christian” troops are frequently caught burning or urinating on the Holy Koran and on corpses of Muslim resistance fighters.

Though the Greeks considered the Maccabean forces to be terrorist, faithful Jews admired them as national heroes and servants of God. They understood that the Maccabees were fighting a Holy War against the much more powerful Seleucids. It was David against Goliath all over again.

In any case, according to today’s selection from Second Maccabees, seven brothers of the gang’s leadership were finally arrested (along with their mother) by the Greek invaders. (This would have been reported to Greeks “back home” as a great triumph – “Senior Leaders” captured making “our troops” and “our world” much safer.)

Then the torture and the screaming start.

To begin with all eight are beaten with whips and instruments designed to tear open their flesh. Then following standard operating procedures still practiced today, other enhanced interrogation techniques were used to torture the brothers one after the other in the presence of their blood-drenched mother, herself near death. The purpose here, of course, was to induce the woman to divulge names, places, and plans that she was privy to as the wife of the one who started the Jewish resistance to the Seleucids.

But what does she do? And what about her sons?

In a word, they are all – mother as well as her sons – completely defiant.

“What do you expect to achieve by questioning us” one of the brothers shouts? “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

Even at the point of death he spits out the words: “You accursed fiend” (I wonder what expletive he really used!), “you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”

Another of the brothers sees that his torturers are actually enjoying their work. (The text refers to cutting out his tongue and amputating his hands as “cruel sport.” Does that remind you of Abu Ghraib?) So he sticks out his tongue and stretches out his hands inviting them to do their work. “It was from Heaven that I received these,” he says. “I’d rather lose them than offend Yahweh” (read Allah).

“Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage,” the text says. Far from being intimidated, the freedom-fighter “regarded his suffering as nothing.”

Just before dying, another of the tortured brothers undergoing the very same cruelties says: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.” As indicated by those words, conviction of a happy eternity moved these guerrilla fighters to embrace death willingly. (Seventy-two virgins, anyone?)

So what goes on in the heads of the tortured? Disdain for their torturers. Defiance. Show of courage. Love for the motherland. Hope.

And what goes on for the people they die for? Admiration. Elevation of martyrs and the tortured to sainthood. Motivation to follow their example.

And ultimately victory for the tortured and assassinated. . . . I mean, against all odds, the Jewish resistance – the Hammer Terrorists – did succeed in evicting the Greeks from their homeland.

As I was saying, this reading should cause us to reevaluate our attitude towards terrorism, terrorists, and the scandal of debating the pros and cons of torture.