Dives & Lazarus: a primer on liberation theology

Readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time: AM 6: 1A, 4-7; PS 146: 7-10; I TM 6: 11-16; LK 16: 19-31 

Today’s liturgy of the word provides us with a virtual catechism of liberation theology – Christianity’s most important theological development in the last 1500 years, and the West’s most important social movement of the last 150 years.

I have come to those conclusions over a period of more than forty years studying liberation theology. My interest began in Rome during my graduate studies there, 1967 through 1972. There I first heard Peru’s Gustavo Gutierrez speak. (Fr. Gutierrez is considered the father of liberation theology.)

Subsequently I read Gutierrez’s bookA Theology of Liberation (1971) and was completely taken by it. Reading the book gave me the feeling that I was hearing Jesus’ Gospel for the very first time.

You might ask, what is liberation theology? To answer that question fully, please look at my blog entries under the “liberation theology” button. I’ve written a series on the question. In my blogs, you’ll find that I always define it in a single sentence. Liberation theology is reflection on the following of Christ from the viewpoint of the world’s poor and oppressed. That’s the class of people to which Jesus himself belonged. They constituted the majority of his first followers.

When read from their viewpoint, accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds – the entire Bible for that matter – take on depths of meaning and relevance to our contemporary world that are otherwise inaccessible to people like us who live in the heart of the wealthy world. From the viewpoint of the poor, God passes from being a neutral observer of earth’s injustices to an active participant with the poor as they struggle for justice here on earth. Jesus becomes the personification of that divine commitment to the oppressed. After all, he was poor and oppressed himself. The Roman Empire and its Temple priest collaborators saw to that.

My interest in liberation theology deepened as my teaching career developed at Berea College in Kentucky from 1974 to 2010. There I was encouraged to continue my study of liberation theology. So, I spent extended periods in Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Cuba, Mexico, Zimbabwe, South Africa, India and elsewhere studying under liberation theologians, dialoging and publishing with them. The poor in all of those countries were suffering from the aggression the United States directed against them.

Meanwhile at Berea, I found the conclusions of liberation theologians validated by the college’s very fine scripture scholars. They had almost no acquaintance with liberation theology, and yet what they were teaching perfectly harmonized with its central tenets. It’s just that they stopped short of drawing what seemed to me the obvious political conclusions from their work.

More specifically, Berea’s scholars identified the Exodus (Yahweh’s liberation of slaves from Egypt) as God’s original and paradigmatic revelation. The whole tradition began there, not in the Garden of Eden. Moreover, the Jewish prophetic tradition emphasized what we now call “social justice.” Even more, Jesus of Nazareth appeared in the prophetic tradition, not as a priest or king. Jesus directed his “ministry” to the poor and outcasts. The Gospel of Luke (4: 18-19) has Jesus describing his program in the following words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After his death, Jesus’ followers continued along those lines. They lived communally, having sold all their worldly possessions and distributed the proceeds to the poor.

All of that finds vivid expression in today’s liturgy of the word. As I said, it’s a kind of catechism of liberation theology. The reading from Amos the prophet describes the sin that most offends God – wealth disparity in the face of extreme poverty. Amos decries a “wanton revelry” on the part of the wealthy that sounds like the “American Way of Life” or the “Lives of the Rich and Famous” that we Americans find so fascinating.

The prophet describes a rich class that lives like King David himself – in luxurious houses, overeating, drinking wine by the bowlful, and generally ignoring “the collapse of Joseph,” i.e. the poverty of their country’s most destitute. For that, Amos says, the rich will ultimately suffer. All their wealth will be confiscated and they will be driven into shameful exile.

In railing against the rich and defending the poor, Amos was calling Judah back to the worship of Yahweh whose attributes are described in today’s responsorial psalm. There God is depicted as loving the just and thwarting the ways of the wicked. The psalm describes Yahweh as securing justice for the oppressed, giving food to the hungry, and setting captives free. He gives sight to the blind and protects resident aliens, single mothers and their children.

Then today’s excerpt from 1st Timothy outlines the characteristics of those who worship that God by following in Jesus’ footsteps. They keep the commandment which is to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

According to St. Paul, that means pursuing justice and living with devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.

Finally, the gospel selection from Luke chapter 16 dramatizes the sinful relationship between rich and poor and the destinies awaiting both. Luke tells the story of the rich man and “St. Lazarus” who is honored by the poor throughout Latin America.

It is significant that Lazarus is given a name in Jesus’ parable. Usually we know the names of the rich, while it is the poor that remain anonymous. Here matters are reversed. To remedy this anomaly, tradition has assigned the wealthy man a name. He’s called Dives, which is simply the Latin word for rich man.

For his part, Lazarus is quintessentially poor, hungry, and lacking medical care. His sores are open and the only attention they receive are from dogs that lick his wounds. Meanwhile, Dives seems completely unaware of Lazarus’ presence, though the beggar is standing at his very doorstep. Within the sight of Lazarus, the wealthy one stuffs himself with food to such a degree that the scraps falling from his table would be enough to nourish the poor beggar. But not even those crumbs are shared. How could Dives share? He doesn’t even know that Lazarus exists.

So, the two men die, and things are evened out. The rich man goes to hell. We’re not told why. Within the limits of the story, it seems simply for the crime of being rich and unconsciously blind to the presence of the poor. For his part, Lazarus goes to the “bosom of Abraham,” the original Hebrew patriarch.

Lazarus is rewarded. Again, we’re not told why. Within the story, it seems simply because he was poor and Yahweh is partial to the poor, just as he was to the slaves God intervened to save when they were starving in Egypt.

Seated with Abraham, Lazarus feasts and feasts at the eternal banquet hungry people imagine heaven to be. Dives however is consumed by flame in the afterlife. Fire, of course, is the traditional symbol of God’s presence, or purification, and of punishment. This seems to suggest that after death, both Dives and Lazarus find themselves in the presence of God. However what Lazarus experiences as joyful, Dives experiences as tormenting.

And why? Simply, it seems, because Dives was rich, and Lazarus was poor.

Does the parable tell us that what awaits us all after death is a reversal of the economic conditions in which we now find ourselves? The first will be last; the last first. The rich will be poor, and the poor will be rich. That in itself is highly thought-provoking.

In any case, Yahweh is presented as champion of the poor in this parable, just as in the reading from Amos, in today’s responsorial psalm, and in Paul’s letter to Timothy. And according to liberation theologians, that’s the central characteristic of God throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. God is on the side of the poor and hates obscene wealth disparity.

You can well imagine how such insight inspired the poor and oppressed throughout the world when it emerged as “liberation theology” following the Second Vatican Council. Poor people everywhere (and especially in Latin America) took courage and were inspired to demand social justice from the rich who had been ignoring them in the New World since the arrival of Columbus 500 years earlier. In fact, Liberation theology motivated social movements more powerfully than any thought current since the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848.

And that’s why the reigning empire, the United States of America took action against liberation theology. It initiated what Noam Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century.” It was a war of the United States against the Catholic Church in Latin America – yes against the Catholic Church. The war killed hundreds of thousands of priests, nuns, lay catechists, social workers, union organizers, students, teachers, and journalists along with ordinary farmers and workers.

Today’s liturgy of the word reminds us not to let the United States have the final word. We are called to divest ourselves of our wealth and to take notice of St. Lazarus at our gates. God is on the side of the poor, not of the rich.

The Canonization of George H.W. and the Elevation of the Bush Crime Family

Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent: BAR 5:1-9; PS 126: 1-6; PHIL 1:4-6, 8-11; LK 3:1-6

It all made me very sad. I’m referring to this week’s post-mortem celebration of George H.W. Bush. I was saddened not only because of a family’s loss, but because of what the event said about our country’s amnesia concerning Mr. Bush’s crimes.

Absent that forgetfulness, I saw the funeral as the transformation of a deplorable mass murderer into some kind of Christian saint. It demonstrated what’s wrong with our country and with its supporting Christian ideology.

I’m emboldened to make such irreverent observations because the readings for this Second Sunday of Advent. They reintroduce us to the great prophet, John the Baptist who got himself martyred because of his own irreverent criticism of the royal family of his day. And the Bushes, who occupied the very highest offices in our country for 20 years [8 as vice-president + 4 as president (Bush 41) + 8 as president (Bush 43)] come as close to royalty as our country will allow. So, consider these remarks as coming from John’s voice in the wilderness. They may get me in trouble too.

In any case, I watched H.W.’s celebratory funeral unfold, I couldn’t help thinking of the other side of the story that I and my students at Berea College had learned about the man back in 1990. That’s when participants in my Freshman Seminar section researched Bush’s Desert Shield and Desert Storm disasters as they developed. We produced a book on it all: Eye on the Storm: Berea College Students Examine the First Gulf War.

The book was finally published in 2002 as Mr. Bush’s disgraced son prepared for the even more disastrous Second Gulf War. Here’s how the book-jacket blurb described our work:

“This book shows how the Gulf War was motivated by greed for oil, how it violated elementary ethical principles, and even more elementary human rights. Additionally, this study indicates how such motivations and violations were papered over by a basically uncritical, cheerleading press.

But not all Americans joined in the cheers. There was significant opposition to the war throughout the United States. That opposition surfaced strongly at Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky. There, teach-ins and rallies were held regularly; many students traveled to Washington to join the national protest; General Studies courses focused on understanding the war. One student, whose essay appears in this volume, spent days encamped in front of Berea College’s administration building to make his dissenting voice heard.

That voice and the others appearing in this volume, deserve to be heard. So do dissenting voices today, at Berea and throughout the country. For the Bush war on our immediate horizon threatens not simply to repeat the history of twelve years ago, but to make its horror seem benign.”

Right now, all of that seems eerily prophetic – especially in the light of Bush 43’s indirect creation of ISIS, the absolute devastation of Iraq, and the more-than-one-million deaths caused by his war of aggression.

But before I get to what I and my students learned about W’s father, think of the contrasting story we heard and witnessed about the patriarch last week. 

“He was such a good and noble man,” all the mainstream commentators seemed to whisper in hushed and reverent chorale refrain. “A class act,” Ms. Clinton said. “I so admire his family – so dignified even in mourning,”others gushed. “He was so unlike the present occupant of the White House.” “There’ll never be another like him – such a statesman. “A wonderful father,” Mr. Bush’s son (the greatest war criminal of the 21st century) proclaimed from a pulpit of all places!

That’s what we heard. What we saw was even worse.

All the surviving war-criminal heads of American Empire had come together in Washington’s National Cathedral to normalize a mafia don and invoke God in doing so. There they were: Carter, Clinton, George W., Obama, and Donald Trump. As Chomsky has said, they’re all war lords and mass murderers, every one of them.  

But each had his church game-face on as if they themselves were followers rather than enemies of the non-violent Jesus who was ironically a victim of imperialists exactly like themselves. That’s right: Jesus was tortured and executed in an imperialized province – his own day’s equivalent of our oligarchs’ killing fields in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

But there they all sat solemnly honoring one of their own – a rich patrician, a CIA spook, an inveterate racist, a bald-faced liar, and contemptible war criminal. So, we heard the prayers (I’m not sure addressed to whom); we witnessed the crime- boss’ canonization, and our hearts went out to the members of the Bush crime family.

And yes, we all listened in respectful silence. Instead, all of us should have been shouting “Shame! Shame!”

And that returns me to my students’ research. What we discovered was eye-opening. We found out that:

  • George H.W. Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, did business with the Nazis during World War II. In other words, President Bush came from a right-wing Nazi-sympathizer family. (Can you imagine the dinner-table-conversations young George overheard and participated in?)
  • Bush was a racist and misogynist. He pioneered dog-whistle campaign tactics to become POTUS through his infamous Willie Horton campaign ad. He opposed Anita Hill in her testimony against his SCOTUS appointee, Clarence Thomas. (We later learned that Mr. Bush was a serial groper as well.)
  • H.W. was the first ex-CIA Director (1976-’77) to become U.S. president – having served as Vice-President during Ronald Reagan’s genocidal war of terror in Central America which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras. In those official capacities, and contradicting the hypocritical “war on drugs,” Bush employed the drug cartel boss, Manuel Noriega, as a CIA asset. He looked the other way as Noriega dealt drugs that eventually ended up in the veins of U.S. citizens.
  • Then just before leaving office, Mr. Bush pardoned his Iran-Contra co-conspirators — the ones responsible for all those Central American deaths.   
  • After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bush invaded Panama to arrest Noriega (1989) when the Panamanian leader got too independent for his own good. In the process Bush oversaw the killing of anywhere from 3000 to 10,000 impoverished and unarmed Panamanians in the country’s poorest neighborhood. He destroyed the Panamanian Army so that the U.S. would have reason to stay on after a recently-signed treaty turned over ownership of the Panama Canal to local authorities. 
  • According to a long-standing goal articulated in 1988 by Miles Ignotus, the real reason for Bush’s First Persian Gulf War (1990-’91) was to “Seize Arab Oil.”
  • To that end, Bush induced former CIA asset, Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait by allowing his ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, to mislead Saddam into believing that the Bush administration would not interfere with his invasion of Kuwait.
  • Bush also manipulated U.S. public opinion by using a 15-year-old “eye-witness” from Iraq to falsely allege that Iraqi soldiers tore infants from incubators and left them to die on hospital floors. Bush’s lies swung national opinion in favor of his war.  
  • In the first Gulf War, Bush oversaw the slaughter of retreating Iraqi soldiers, shooting untold (literally!) thousands of them in the back in what perpetrators described as a “turkey shoot.”
  • In a clear effort to dispel the “Vietnam Syndrome,” Mr. Bush elevated the concept of “fake news” to an entirely new level by strictly controlling reporters’ access to combat zones in Panama and Iraq.

That last point deserves special notice, because of my daughter Maggie’s contribution to my class’ study of the Persian Gulf War. At the time of our work, Maggie was in the 6th grade at our local Berea Community School (BCS). For her science project that year, we decided to study the war’s coverage by our local Lexington Herald-Leader.

Together, we collected and examined all editions of the paper from day-one to the war’s official end. We categorized its news accounts, editorials, and cartoons as pro-war, anti-war, or simply descriptive. We counted words and measured column inches.

As you might expect, Maggie found that Bush’s implementation of his “embedded journalist” strategy proved completely successful in his prescient creation of fake news and alternative facts. Words criticizing the war were few and far between. But Maggie’s project ended up achieving recognition beyond BCS. It got her into a regional competition for best science project. As a result, she was exposed to the concept of fake, state-controlled news long before Donald Trump. So were the judges who reviewed her work.

It was all so ironic, isn’t it — transforming a war criminal into a noble saint?  It’s a complete distortion of American history – not to mention of God, Jesus, and Christianity itself.

But what else can we expect in a nation whose entire people have been systematically taught to ignore what all our leaders have done without exception at least since World War II. None of them deserve our admiration.

Our “Christian” leaders are not much better. They’ve wedded themselves to blood-thirsty, deceptive regimes. They’ve sent the authentic story of Jesus of Nazareth down Orwell’s memory hole. In his place they would have us worship as our saviors the rich white patricians who rob us blind while terrorizing and exterminating poor red, yellow, brown and black people across the globe?

As John the Baptist might say, “Shame! Shame!”

On the Brink of Apocalypse: Lock Him Up (and Obama & Hillary too)

Readings for 1st Sunday ofAdvent: Jer. 33:14-16; Ps. 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thes. 3: 12-4:2; Lk. 21:25-28, 34-35 

We’re standing on the brink of Apocalypse. I don’t mean the end of the world. I’m talking about the end of empire.

That’s the point I tried to make here two weeks ago, when our Sunday liturgies began featuring apocalyptic readings from both the Jewish and Christian Testaments. That’s what the biblical literary form “Apocalypse” is about– not the end of the world, but the end of empire.

Apocalypse is resistance literature, written in code during times of extreme persecution by powerful imperial forces like Greece and Rome. The code was understandable to “insiders” familiar with Jewish scripture. It was impenetrable to “outsiders” like the persecutors of the authors’ people.

In our own case, all the provocations of apocalyptic rebellion are there. Our country is following faithfully in the footsteps of the biblical empires against which apocalypse was written: Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, Babylon, Greece, and Rome.

To say it unambiguously: Our government is headed by gangsters pure and simple. It’s as if Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Nero, Caligula, Domitian –or Al Capone – were in charge. All of them (Trump, Obama, the Clintons, and the Bushes) should be in jail. In fact, as Chomsky has pointed out every single post-WWII U.S. president from Truman and Eisenhower to Carter, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and Donald Trump has been guilty of crimes that contradict the Nuremberg Principles. The only policy difference between Donald Trump and his immediate predecessors is that he’s blatantly shameless in owning his criminalities.

Here’s what Chomsky has said:

To clarify Chomsky’s point, here’s a short list of our current president’s most recent atrocities. He has the country:

  • Fighting perpetual and internationally illegal wars against at least five sovereign nations. Count them: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen . . . without any sign of ending. (The genocidal war in Yemen has caused a cholera epidemic and will soon have 14 million people starving to death. Can anyone tell me why we’re in Yemen??)
  • Refusing to recognize the validity of a CIA report identifying Mohammed bin Salman as the Mafia Don who ordered the beheading and dismembering of a correspondent for a major U.S. newspaper.
  • Similarly soft-pedaling the climate-change findings of the government’s own scientific panel predicting the devastating effects of climate change for our economy, country, and species including, of course, our children and grandchildren.
  • Spending billions modernizing a nuclear weapons arsenal, while our cities’ bridges, roads, and other infrastructure disintegrate before our eyes.
  • Insisting on wasting billions building a wall along our southern border instead of sea-walls, dykes and levies along our country’s coasts.
  • Following Obama and Hillary Clinton by backing a narco-government in Honduras that has become a street gang making huge profits from the addictions of U.S. citizens while directly producing the immigrants and refugees Trump identifies as our enemies.
  • Using chemical weapons against the resulting caravan of women and children seeking refuge at our southern border and justifying it in a way that would be trumpeted as a casus belli were the perpetrator’s name Bashar al-Assad instead of Donald J. Trump.  

All of that is relevant to today’s liturgical reading, because (as I’ve said) this is the third week in a row that the lectionary has given us readings from apocalyptic literature.

As I indicated, apocalypse differs from ordinary prophecy in that it addresses periods of deep crisis, when the whole world appears to be falling apart. Neither prophets nor apocalyptics were fortunetellers. Instead, they were their days’ social critics. They warned of the disastrous consequences that inevitably follow from national policies that deviate from God’s will – i.e. from policies that harm God’s favorites: widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor – and (we might add) the planet itself.

When Luke was writing his gospel around the year 85 of the Common Era, Jerusalem had been completely destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish War (64-70 CE). The Romans had brutally razed the city and the temple that had been rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile. For Jews that was something like the Death of God, for the Holy City and its Temple were considered God’s dwelling place. The event was apocalyptic.

In today’s gospel, Luke has Jesus predicting that destruction using specifically apocalyptic language. Luke’s Jesus says “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

What can such apocalyptic message mean in our own day faced as we are with a false crisis stemming from U.S. policies in Central America in general and in Honduras in particular that identify the poorest people in the world as the causes of our problems instead of climate chaos and narco-kleptocrats?

Yes, the immigrant crisis is a mere distraction – a completely human and remediable fabrication caused by U.S. policy. Meanwhile, the real threat to our planet is the threat of nuclear war and the environmental cliff that our “leaders” refuse to address. And who’s responsible for that crisis?

Prominent religious leaders would have us believe it’s God. He (sic) is punishing us for opening borders to the poor, for Roe v. Wade, for legalizing same sex marriages, or for allowing women access to contraception. Let’s face it: that’s nonsense. It turns Jesus’ embodiment of the God of love on its head. It turns God into a pathological killer – a cruel punishing father like too many of our own dads.

The real culprit preventing us from addressing climate change is our government. Our elected politicians are truly in the pockets of Big Oil, the Banksters, narco-criminals and other fiscal behemoths whose eyes are fixed firmly on short-term gains, even if it means their own children and grandchildren will experience environmental apocalypse.

What I’m saying is that this government has no validity. How dare a small group of climate-change Philistines take it upon themselves to decide the fate of the entire planet in the face of overwhelming evidence contradicting their stupidity?

It all has me wondering when our fellow peasants who don’t share Jesus’ commitment to non-violence will get out their pitchforks and storm the White House and other seats of government.

Remember: It was Thomas Jefferson who advised periodic revolution. He said: “What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. . . The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

Three Unspeakable Descriptors of California’s Omni-Fire

FIRE

California is on fire. Its 17 unprecedented conflagrations are predicted to rage out-of-control till at least the end of this month.

Despite such disaster, there are three terms Americans will scarcely hear mentioned in media reporting of the catastrophe. The first two are “climate change” and “profit.” The third is a person, “Pope Francis.”

Begin by considering the silence of our leaders and media about “climate change.” The term hardly crosses the lips of commentators covering the wild fires across an area larger than the sprawling city of L.A.

That’s because virtually alone in the world, the United States (and its media enablers) stand in aggressive denial of the obvious fact that the “American” economy and way of life remain the major causes of such disasters. (Even the Chinese contribution to climate chaos is largely induced by U.S. factories relocated there.) So, you don’t hear much these days connecting wild fires and climate change.

And that brings me to the second culturally unpronounceable word: “profit.” In fact, as Noam Chomsky points out, that word is so unspeakable that it must now be pronounced and spelled as j-o-b-s.

Nevertheless, we all know, the real reason for climate denial is not jobs, but money. It’s greed that drives corporations such as Exxon to accept destruction of the planet over appropriate response to the climate impacts of their products that their own research uncovered decades ago.

Pope Francis has recognized the hypocrisy of it all. And that’s why his name is unmentionable in connection with California’s omni-fire. In fact, more than three years ago, Francis wrote an entire encyclical addressing the problem. (Encyclicals are the most solemn form of official teaching a pope can produce.)

Yet, Francis’ dire warnings in Laudato Si’ (LS) remain largely ignored even by “devout Catholic” leaders like Paul Ryan.

Worse still, the pope’s words generally go unreferenced by pastors in their Sunday homilies.

Yet, the pope’s words are powerfully relevant to not only to wild fires, but to the record temperatures, droughts and increasingly violent hurricanes now happening in real time. For instance, in section 161 of Laudato Si’ Francis says:

“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain . . . The pace of consumption, waste, and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only . . . be reduced by our decisive action here and now”

And what are the “here and now” “decisive actions” the pope called for? Chief among them is the necessity for all nations of the world to submit to international bodies with binding legislative powers to protect rainforests, oceans and endangered species, as well as to promote sustainable agriculture (LS 53, 173-175). That, of course, is exactly what the Exxons of the world fear most. Their rationale? Such submission threatens profits.

But realities much more important than unspeakable profits are at stake here. We’re talking about the survival of human life as we know it.

This is a matter of faith and morality.

In fact, the California fires and the other climate disasters I’ve just mentioned remind us of the most dreadful papal observation of all. “God always forgives,” Pope Francis said. “Human beings sometimes forgive. But nature never forgives.”

The California omni-fires demonstrate that truth.

The question is: why aren’t people of faith listening? Why are we not electing public servants who will simply recognize and respond appropriately to the disasters unfolding before our very eyes?

Only God Can Save Us from Nature’s 2025 Deadline: Listen to Pope Francis on Climate Change

Last batter

I recently came across a powerful but profoundly misleading video about climate change. In the name of progressiveness, compassion and love, it waves a white flag before anthropogenic climate change and invites its viewers to blissfully coast through to their inevitable evolutionary demise.

The film’s resigned surrender contrasts sharply with the more hopeful, clear-eyed vision of Pope Francis and the faith-inspired program he suggests in his all-but-ignored eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’.

The stark difference between the two approaches illustrates the impotence of the secularized left before the world’s most pressing problems. It also shows the potential power of Francis’ faith perspective, which progressives ignore at their own (and the planet’s) peril.

First of all, consider the film in question. The eight-minute piece is called “Edge of Extinction.” It was produced and narrated by Guy McPherson, an evolutionary biologist whose webpage slogan is “Nature bats last. Passionately pursue a life of excellence.”

McPherson’s thesis is that “humanity is behaving exactly in accordance with its evolved genetic imperatives to survive, thrive and multiply today, regardless of the consequences tomorrow.”

In other words, humanity is like other animal species. Its evolutionary short-sightedness has it rushing headlong towards its own inevitable extinction whose ultimate cause is “industrial civilization, the most violent set of living arrangements ever devised.”

According to McPherson, this preordained inevitability means that we should all set aside anger and bitterness about human-caused climate change, replacing such unproductive emotions with “compassion and tolerance” presumably for climate change deniers. This, in turn, will confer peace of mind and a resultant “general happiness” as we glide towards extinction which, Mr. McPherson says will occur in 2025.

None of this is to say that it will be easy, the film continues. We’ll witness the cataclysmic death of 7.5 million people. We’ll run out of food, water, and fuel. The soil will become completely unproductive. The world’s abandoned nuclear facilities will melt down catastrophically. Hospitals will be shuttered; disease will run rampant. There will be no first responders to rescue us. Many will commit suicide. Others will be murdered by the last remnants of the privileged still hanging on to their dwindling resources in their sweltering radiated bunkers.

Is that pessimistic enough for you?

It needn’t be for three reasons: First of all, “humanity” has not actually made the decision in question. Secondly, as signaled by Pope Francis, there are clear alternatives. Third, while climate change deniers might deserve our compassion, they emphatically do not merit tolerance.

To begin with, “humanity” has certainly not decided “to survive, thrive and multiply today, regardless of the consequences tomorrow.” In fact, only a sliver of the human race has done so; the rest are in complete resistance.

The sliver in question is a small part of the planet’s richest 1% most of whom happen to live in the United States whose population comprises only 5% of the world’s inhabitants. To put a finer point on it: the criminals in question have coalesced in the United States and in the Republican Party, identified by Noam Chomsky as the most dangerous organization in the history of the world. Republicans can be removed from office. (Remember that next November!)

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has other ideas as signaled in the nascent reforms of the Paris Climate Accord endorsed by nearly everyone in the world excluding the Republican leadership. Moreover, polls show that 61% of Americans—including 43 percent of Republicans—say climate change is a problem the government needs to tackle.

Secondly, there are simple, common-sense alternatives to the looming catastrophe. They have been outlined most compellingly by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ (LS). They include on the one hand, acts on the parts of individuals such as “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or carpooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights. . .” as well as reducing the use of air conditioning (LS 55, 212).

On the other hand, Francis says that dealing with climate chaos requires action which national governments alone are capable of performing (38, 129). These include weening national populations from dependence on fossil fuels (165) as well as investment in high-speed railways, and renewable energy sources. National governments must also strictly regulate transnational corporate activity (38).

According to Laudato Si’, changing paradigms additionally includes the submission of national governments to an international body with legislative authority to protect rainforests, oceans and endangered species, as well as to promote sustainable agriculture (53, 173, 174, 175). (BTW, the U.S. already submits to international legislative authorities such as, for instance, the World Trade Organization which has the power of overturning United States law.)

So, all of this is doable. And, as Francis insists, the Judeo-Christian tradition about stewardship and care for God’s creation can be invoked to persuade the 83% of Americans who identify themselves as Christian to save the planet.

Ironically, Republicans have effectively invoked the biblical tradition to support their ecocide. Few on the left have followed Pope Francis in the opposite direction. Progressive church leaders need to make climate change the absolute center of their ministries. 2025 is fast approaching.

Finally, like other criminals, Donald Trump and his Republican cohorts in the Congress certainly deserve our compassion. Perhaps, they’ve been corrupted by gilded childhoods, limited experience of the life’s hardships, and by an overriding love of money, profit, pleasure, power, and prestige.

But no matter how sorry we might feel for them, we must recognize that they are criminals. This sliver of 1% have taken it upon themselves to condemn all of us, our children and grandchildren to the fate so accurately described in “The Edge of Extinction.”

We cannot allow them to do that. Citizens’ arrests are in order, not to mention non-violent revolution – stimulated by recognition of shared humanity and even faith.

That’s the path Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ suggests.

Think Critically about Syria, Skripal, and Building # 7 Before It’s Too Late: Apply “The 9/11 Principle”

Syria Crisis

What level of evidence of an opponent’s criminal state activity justifies sanctions, diplomatic expulsions, retaliatory bombings, conventional war or even the risk of nuclear war? The question finds urgent relevance amid unsubstantiated charges of chemical weapons use by the Assad government in Syria and in the light of wild accusations against Vladimir Putin of Russian responsibility for the poisoning of double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

In my new book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking: seeing through alternative fact and fake news, I offer a whole series of criteria for answering questions of evidence and judgment of guilt.

“Magic Glasses” is a term coined by the late comedian and social activist, Dick Gregory for habitual critical perspective that refuses to go along with group-think imposed by American oligarchs and propagated by the mainstream media (MSM). For Gregory, critical thinking was like donning a pair of spectacles that reveal things as they truly are, not as the oligarchs and their publicists would have us see them.

Magic Glasses Cover

Chief among the criteria I offer in my own Magic Glasses is what might be called the “9/11 Principle.” It enjoys new relevance in the light of a recently-filed petition for a grand jury hearing about the true causes of the destruction of the 3 World Trade Center buildings on 9/11/01. The 54-page petition with 57 exhibits was submitted on April 8th by the Lawyers’ Committee for 9/11 Inquiry. The principle states that:

Since 9/11/01, any evidence for enemy-state wrongdoing (such as use of chemical weapons or alleged assassinations) must surpass the level of the evidence routinely dismissed by the U.S. government indicating that the World Trade Center destruction of 9/11/01 was the result of controlled demolition rather than of fires caused by planes crashing into the structures.

My 9/11 Principle and its implied relationship to Assad, Skripal and the attack on the World Trade Center is found in the final chapter of The Magic Glasses. There I attempt to appropriate Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model of mainstream media (MSM) which identifies its function as not that of seeking truth, but of defending government policy despite the facts.

In the case of designated enemies, Chomsky explains, merely circumstantial evidence, hearsay, and the work of discredited intelligence agencies is all that’s required to establish guilt and justify retaliation. Moreover, responsibility for the alleged misconduct will be attributed to the highest level possible.

This syndrome finds its most recent expression in the just mentioned cases of alleged Syrian use of chemical weapons, and in the Skripal poisonings. In both cases, long before the dust had settled, the Trump administration on the one hand, and Theresa May on the other quickly drew conclusions condemnatory of designated enemies (Syria in Trump’s case, and Russia in May’s) before standard criminal investigations were allowed to unfold. In each case, guilt was linked directly and immediately to the relevant head of state – Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin.

Contrast such premature judgment with MSM coverage of alleged U.S. crimes. There smoking guns are always demanded. And then if the “gun” is found, responsibility for its use is routinely assigned to the lowest official available. Abu Ghraib represents a case in point. Crimes that were later traced to the oval office itself were originally presented as the work of a few low-ranking bad apples.

More to the point, consider the official story of 9/11. That Washington-sanctioned account has carried the day for more than 16 years despite problematic evidence ignored or dismissed by government investigators. That’s the evidence undergirding the case submitted by the Lawyers Committee for 9/11 Inquiry. It includes:

* The historical facts that no steel-framed building in the history of the world has ever fallen as the result of even the most intense fires burning in some cases for days on end.
” Yet three such buildings fell on a single day after a few hours of localized conflagration.
” World Trade Center Building #7 was not struck by aircraft; yet it too fell into its footprint like Building #1 and Building #2 in fewer than 10 seconds after a relatively few hours of fire.
” Larry Silverstein, the owner of WTC Building #7 is heard on tape admitting that he and an unnamed NYC fire official decided to issue the order to “pull” the building in question. Using the language of demolition engineers, where to “pull it” means to initiate the final demolition process, Silverstein says,

“I remember getting a call from the fire department commander telling me they were not sure they would be able to contain the fire. I said, ‘You know, we’ve had such terrible loss of life, maybe the smartest thing to do is just to pull it. And they made that decision to pull. Then we watched the building collapse.'”

* The scientific fact that Jet fuel (the medium responsible for ignition of the fires in question) cannot produce fires whose temperatures can cause steel to melt.
* The evidentiary fact that widespread traces of thermite explosives were found amid the wreckage of the collapsed WTC buildings.
* The procedural fact that thorough investigation of the WTC debris was prevented by an inexplicably hastened and immediate removal of crime scene evidence following the buildings’ destruction.

In the light of the differences between government and MSM treatment of alleged crimes of the U.S. government on the one hand and of designated enemies on the other, let me repeat my 9/11 principle. It states:

Since 9/11/01, any evidence for enemy-state wrongdoing (such as use of chemical weapons or alleged assassinations) must surpass the level of the evidence routinely dismissed by the U.S. government indicating that the World Trade Center destruction of 9/11/01 was the result of controlled demolition rather than of fires caused by planes crashing into the structures.

Please note that the principle does not take a position on the question of responsibility for the dastardly events of 9/11. Instead, it merely:

* Suggests that for the sake of fairness, balance, logic, and consistency, the same standards of behavior must be applied to designated enemies as that applied by U.S. officials to their own conduct. (This is Chomsky’s Principle of Universality that any child can understand.)
* Underlines the high bar set by authors of the official 9/11 story and of their disinterest in answering the still-open questions surrounding the event.
* Implies that no retaliation in the form of sanctions, bombings or (much less) declarations of war should ever take place in response to alleged crimes of designated enemies unless evidence exceeds that denied or rejected out of hand (as conspiracy theories) by proponents of the official story of the September 11th attacks.
* Means that belligerent responses to recent chemical weapons attacks or to alleged assassinations are virtually impossible to justify.
* Consequentially renders the question of war effectively moot.

In fact, no war justifications since the Second Inter-Capitalist War have met the standard set by the 9/11 principle. And even if the opponents of renewed 9/11 inquiry should block the initiative of the Lawyers Committee for 9/11 Inquiry, their very act of denial will only raise the bar the principle sets even higher.

By offering its Ten Rules similar to the 9/11 Principle, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking attempts to clarify issues such as those inspired by the Assad accusations and the Skripal case. It also is meant to spur practical conclusions including:

* Extreme skepticism of any governmental claims based on circumstantial evidence.
* Absolute refusal to endorse any retaliation towards Russia without an incontrovertible “smoking gun” established by an independent agency conducting thorough investigation and presenting its findings to the United Nations.
* Insistence that the evidence in question be concrete, undeniable, and as easy to recognize as a building falling into its own footprint in fewer than 10 seconds.
* Massive street demonstrations against the American and British oligarchs, “intelligence” agencies, and arms manufacturers whose financial interests are recklessly rushing the world towards nuclear annihilation.

I and my book are desperately appealing to the American public to put on Gregory’s magic glasses and see the fall of Building #7 as the prescient image of what the oligarchy is about to inflict on our homes, offices, schools, factories, businesses, hospitals, and churches.

Following Dick Gregory, we must see things as they are – and act accordingly before it’s too late.

Scrap Thomas’ Denialism Before It’s Too Late: We’re in a Situation Worse than Nazi Germany

Hitler bishops

Readings for 1st Sunday after Easter: ACTS 4:32-35; PS 118L 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1JN 5: 1-6; JN 20: 19-31

Last Sunday, which was both Easter and April Fools’ Day, I published my monthly column in the Lexington Herald-Leader. It pulled no punches. As a matter of fact, I was surprised that the Leader’s editors decided to print it.

My column contrasted the fact that fully 70-75% of Americans claim to be followers of Christ. They say they believe in Jesus’ resurrection – in the triumph of life over death. And yet, as a culture, we remain necrophobic, necrophilic, and entirely denying the direction of history announced in Jesus’ resurrection.

On the one hand, we’re overwhelmingly afraid of death. Despite the words of our national anthem, ours is not the home of the brave. Quite the opposite. Even our police officers are granted unrestricted license to kill if they simply allege, “I feared for my life.” Evidently, they’re all dreadful necrophobes.

On the other hand, we Americans love death and killing. The movies we patronize are about almost nothing else. Our constant solution to almost any problem you care to name is “Arm them!” “Fight them!” “Kill them!” “Nuke ’em!”

Yet, face it: Jesus could endorse none of that. He was completely non-violent and courageous in facing death. Along with every spiritual genius I can think of, he said we should treat others exactly the way we would want to be treated – because they are us. In effect, he taught that killing another person amounts to suicide.

So, Jesus refused to take up arms to save himself, his friends, or his family. If you live by the sword, he promised, you will die by that same instrument. Jesus prayed for his executioners. He said we should love our enemies, not kill them.

As a collective faith community, Christians are sadly in denial about the clear political meaning of those facts. No follower of Jesus should ever take up arms. The irony is that accepting that reality alone has the power to save our species and planet.

My column went further. Echoing Noam Chomsky, it alleged that the U.S. has been taken over by the most dangerous organization in the history of the world – viz. by the Republican Party. Despite its Christian pretensions, its positions on climate change and nuclear war make it worse, I said, than the forces of Attila the Hun, worse than ISIS, the Taliban, or Hitler’s Nazis.

The Republicans and supporting conservative Democrats place greed for money over the lives of our children and grandchildren. How dare they! Who gave those greedy few the authority to decide for 7 billion people? Why aren’t we all up in arms – precisely in Jesus’ name?

Usually when I publish such thoughts in the Leader, readers’ responses are quite vehemently negative. But do you know what happened this time? Not a single negative comment. Instead I received a whole series of supportive e-mails and word-of-mouth comments completely agreeing with my sentiments.

“You really let it all hang out there, Mike,” was a typical remark, “but I agree with every word you wrote.”

What can that mean, I wonder. If so many of us believe that our country has been taken over by forces more insidious than Hitler’s, and if Jesus is who his words and actions say he is, how can we stand by idly and watch it happen? Are we, the people, about to rebel? Are we approaching a tipping point? Have we gone beyond the denial that is no longer tenable?

Such questions are relevant in the light of the Gospel reading for this First Sunday after Easter. It’s about a man in denial about Jesus’ identity. The man meets the risen Christ (the champion of life over death), recognizes God in him, and changes profoundly as a result.

Of course, I’m referring to the original doubting Thomas. His nickname was “the twin” perhaps because he’s our twin in cowardice and hopefully in faith. Recall his story. Pray that it can be ours as well. If not, our “Christian”-dominated culture is beyond redemption.

The disciples are there in the Upper Room where they had so recently broken bread with Yeshua the night before he died. And they are all afraid. John says they are afraid of “the Jews.” However, it seems, like us, they fear death more than anything else. They dread it because they are convinced that death spells the end of everything they hold dear – their ego-selves, families, friends, culture, and their small pleasures. Besides that, they are afraid of the pain that will accompany arrest – the isolation cells, the beatings, torture, the unending pain, and the final blow that will bring it all to a close. Surely, they were questioning their stupidity in following that failed radical from Galilee.

So, they lock the doors, huddle together and turn in on themselves.

Nevertheless, the very fears of the disciples and recent experience make them rehearse the events of their past few days. They recall the details: how Yeshua so bravely faced up to death and refused to divulge their names even after undergoing “the third degree” – beatings followed by the dreaded thorn crown, and finally by crucifixion. All the while, he remained silent refusing to name the names his Roman interrogators were looking for. He died protecting his friends. Yeshua was brave and loyal.

His students are overwhelmingly grateful for such a Teacher. . .

Then suddenly, the tortured one materializes there in their midst. Locks and fears were powerless to keep him out. They all see him. They speak with him. He addresses their fears directly. “Peace be with you,” he repeats three times. Yeshua eats with them just as he had the previous week. Suddenly his friends realize that death was not the end for the Teacher. He makes them understand that it is not the end for them either – nor for anyone else who risks life and limb for the kingdom of God. No doubt everyone present is overwhelmed with relief and intense joy.

“Too bad Thomas is missing this,” they must have said to one another.

Later on, Thomas arrives – our fraternal double in fear and disbelief. His absence remains unexplained. Something had evidently called him away when the others evoked Jesus’ presence by their prayer, recollections, and sharing of bread and wine. Like us, he hasn’t met the risen Lord.

“Jesus is alive,” they tell our twin. “He’s alive in the realm of God. He took us all with him to that space for just a moment, and it was wonderful. Too bad you missed it, Thomas. None of the rules of this world apply where Yeshua took us. It was just like it was before he died. Don’t you remember? Yeshua brought us to a realm full of life and joy. Fear no longer seems as reasonable as it once did. He was here with us!”

However, Thomas remains unmoved. Like so many of us, he’s is a literalist, a downer. He’s an empiricist looking for the certainty of physical proof. Thomas is also a fatalist; he evidently believes that what you see is what you get. And for him there has been no indication that life can be any different from what his senses have always told him. Life is tragic. Death is stronger than life; it ends everything. And that means that Yeshua is gone forever. Who could be so naïve as to deny that?

Our twin in unfaith protests, “In the absence of physical proof to the contrary, I simply cannot bring myself to share your faith that another way of life is possible. And make no mistake: Yeshua’s enemies haven’t yet completed their bloody work. They’re after us too.”

Can’t you see Thomas glancing nervously behind him? “Are you sure those doors are locked?”

Then lightning strikes again. Yeshua suddenly materializes a second time in the same place. Locks and bolts, fear and terror – death itself – again prove powerless before him.

Yeshua is smiling. “Thomas, I missed you,” he says. “Look at my wounds. It’s me!”

Thomas’ face is bright red. Everyone’s looking at him. “My God, it is you,” he blurts out. “I’m so sorry I doubted.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Yeshua assures. “You’re only human, and I know what that’s like, believe me. I too knew overwhelming doubt. Faith is hard. On death row, my senses told me that my Abba had abandoned me too. I almost gave up hope. It’s like I’m your twin.

“But then I decided to surrender. And I’m happy I did. My heart goes out to you, Thomas. My heart goes out to all doubters. I’ve been there.

“However, it’s those who can commit themselves to God’s promised future in the absence of physical proof that truly amaze and delight me. Imagine trusting life’s goodness and an unseen future characterized by non-violence! Imagine trusting my word that much, when I almost caved in myself? That’s what I really admire!

“My prayer for you, Thomas, and for everyone else is that you’ll someday experience the joy that kind of faith brings. Working for God’s peace – for fullness of life for everyone – even in the face of contrary evidence – that’s what faith is all about. May it be yours.”

My point in writing that Easter Sunday article was something similar.

If 70-75% of us truly followed Jesus and left behind both our necrophobia and necrophilia, we’d get out in the streets and bring down the arrogant impostors who have seized power in this country. None of them would be able to resist such numbers in revolt.

Pray that Thomas’ transformation and faith might be ours as well, and that a tipping point has been reached or is on the way. The future of our world literally depends on it.

We need to overcome the faithless denial our love of violence and death suggests. That’s the call of today’s Gospel.