Sunday, November 24, 2013

Reject materialism this holiday season, starting with black Friday

Please Join Me in Observing
Buy Nothing Day on Black Friday

Is there a tradition any more backward or disgusting practiced across America today than that of Black Friday? Hordes of consumers mob stores for frivolous deals on ridiculously overpriced "goods" like flat screen TVs, Playstations, Xboxes, the latest gadget from Apple, boatloads of useless trinkets of dubious quality made in China and other countries you may have never heard of, or clothes manufactured by Chinese, Southeast Asian or Central American children in dangerous sweatshops. The top 1% of America's wealthy have exported our jobs to the third world for pennies on the dollar, and they're laughing at the rest of us as more and more formerly middle class Americans wind up homeless and with no job prospects.

We're in an insanely messed up place politically and environmentally. Multinational corporations and financial firms pretty much own the US government, they control Wall Street, they set the retail price people pay for anything from groceries to cars, and they are making real sure that nobody from the bottom 99% – which is us – gets their hands on any of “their” money. The use of fossil fuels is rapidly ruining our one and only planet Earth, while the development of clean-burning power plants, cars and trucks that run on electric or natural gas power, and alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, is being deliberately held back in its development by the same mega-oil companies that profit from fossil fuel use. As a result, global warming is not only a real and present danger, but it is rapidly accelerating. There is a plastic "raft" in the Pacific Ocean bigger than Texas – that's how badly polluted the world's oceans truly are. And as people we're constantly being taken advantage of to make this situation last longer so that corporate profits and bonuses can climb even higher than they are now.

The strong link between these two things – our society's consumerism and the terrible political, social, environmental, and economic situations we're in – demands action. By buying things from these corporations and feeding into this model of an economy, we only encourage it while enriching only a select few at the expense of the many. So I'm asking you: please join me in buying nothing this Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. I can't say it any better than this: this November 29th and 30th, I and many others like me are calling for a Wildcat General Strike. We're asking tens of millions of people around the world to bring the capitalist consumption machine to a grinding – if only momentary – halt. I want you to not only stop buying for 48 hours, but to shut off your lights, televisions and other nonessential appliances. We want you to park your car, turn off your phones and log off of your computer for the day. We're calling for a Day of Atonement-like fast. From sunrise to sunset we'll abstain en masse, not only from holiday shopping, but from all the temptations of our materialistic lifestyles. Those who are healthy enough are encouraged to go on a 24-hour hunger strike on Black Friday as well.

You know what they say: a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. You feel that things are falling apart – the temperature rising, the oceans churning, the global economy heaving – why not do something? Take just one small step toward a more just and sustainable future. Make a pact with yourself: go on a consumer fast. Lock up your credit cards, put away your cash and opt out of the capitalist spectacle. It's all rigged anyway, so why bother with it? Some people may find that it's harder than they think, that the impulse to buy is more ingrained in us than you ever realized. But you will persist and you will transcend – perhaps reaching the kind of epiphany that can change the world.

Ideally, everyone will shut off their electricity for the day and just enjoy some time with their family or friends or both. If you can't do that, at least refrain from the Black Friday madness. Don't go to a store for some kind of deal. Don't shop at the big box stores - in fact, don't shop anywhere. Just take a break for one day. If you must use your electricity, then to avoid the barrage of advertisements we are exposed to constantly, don't watch television. Stream videos from the Internet instead, there's tons of free stuff you can watch. This is what I do instead of subscribing to cable TV, and it saves me nearly $100.00 per month just by doing this simple thing.

Some might criticize me for publicizing this idea during such tough economic times. "We need people to consume in order to drive the economy!" It is an established fact that 70% of America's economy is dependent on consumer spending – retail sales of products and services. Since American wages continue to wither and dry up, this is obviously unsustainable. To that I say this: it's not good if we need people to buy useless crap in order to maintain our economy. That needs to fundamentally change. And the only way towards fundamental change is to stop buying useless crap. So will you join me? Will you take the plunge and break the chord from your normal consumerist ways? Liberate yourself this holiday season!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

To all those spiritual people who don't attend church, this one's for you.

The 'Spiritual Not Religious' Gospel of
Progressive Christianity Continues to Spread

They are called “unaffiliated,” as in a recent Pew poll, or “nones” – or even just “not very religious.” A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute divides these groups further into “unattached,” “atheists”, “agnostics,” and “seculars.” One thing is for sure; this ever-growing cohort of non-churched Americans made up, at 23 percent, the single largest segment of Barack Obama’s “religious coalition” that helped him win reelection in 2012 (compared to the 37 percent of white evangelicals who supported Mitt Romney). As a result of this, the unaffiliated clearly had their moment. Media analysis, however, did not go very deep – there was a story that went beyond names and numbers.

I first published this website after I began to understand who the current crop of unaffiliated people are and what they do and believe in. Yet we have precious little historical understanding of this critical and growing demographic. What are their roots? What religious, cultural, economic, demographic, and political processes shaped their sensibilities, habits, and makeup? In order to understand these still-believing “nones,” we need to understand that much of the religious dynamism in the United States happens outside the church walls, and has for some time now. The “rise of the nones” is but the latest phase in the long transformation of religion into what we now commonly call “spirituality.” In my case and that of my peers, it is Christianity and the strongly held belief in Jesus Christ, not as a distant and mysterious god, but the Son of God who we can develop a relationship with on a personal level. So if you want to get closer to God, just get one-on-one with Jesus. By the same token, spirituality can mean many things to many people. The language of spirituality is used by traditional religious adherents as well as the religiously unaffiliated. But only the “nones” have made it into a cliché: “spiritual but not religious.”

The history of American spirituality reveals that our commonplace understanding of spirituality — as the individual, experiential dimension of human encounter with the sacred — arose from the clash of American Protestantism with the forces of modern life in the nineteenth century. While religious conservatives fought to stem the tide, giving rise to fundamentalism, religious liberals like myself have adapted their faith to modernity, often by discarding orthodoxies (such as my strict Catholic upbringing) in favor of evolution, psychology, and meditation. It looks to me like the majority of today’s religious “nones” – those who claim no religion but still embrace some form of spirituality (here in the US it's mainly Christianity) – are engaged in the same task of renovating their faith for a new historical moment. I am convinced that this moment has in fact arrived in the form of the debacle over the shut-down of our country because of disagreement about the debt ceiling, among other things. Because this has occurred, and particularly since it was the neo-con Tea Party and their ultra-conservative friends who were the instigators, right-wing conservativism and the religious right have been dealt a blow from which it will take them a long time to recover, if ever. The liberals, or more properly Progressive Christians as I have been calling folks like us for years, have been given the proverbial football. It's up to us to score, so let's get started.

Today’s unaffiliated, like the liberals of previous generations, typically shun dogma and creed in favor of a faith that is truthful, genuine, practical, psychologically attuned, ecumenical and ethically oriented. This liberal spirituality, or Progressive Christianity as it has evolved over time, has become entwined with media-oriented consumerism. Of course Americans of all religious varieties have allowed themselves to be deeply influenced by consumerism, but media and markets have particularly shaped the religious lives of those without formal institutional or community ties. The religiously unaffiliated might not attend services, but they “do” their religion in many other ways: they watch religion on TV and listen to it on the radio; find inspiration on the web; attend retreats, seminars, workshops, and classes; buy candles and statues, bumper stickers and yoga pants; take spiritually motivated trips; and, perhaps most significantly, buy and read books. Books have been the most important conduit for spreading the “spiritual but not religious” gospel.

This dependency on the consumer marketplace, and especially books, has had significant consequences for the religious lives of all Americans, especially the unaffiliated. First, it has enhanced the tendencies within American religion toward a therapeutic understanding of the spiritual life. The profit-oriented commercial presses that came to dominate religious publishing naturally pursued the largest market possible for their goods, and seized on the non-creedal, nonsectarian, and psychologically modern forms of faith advanced by religious liberals as a common American religious vernacular. These trends have only accelerated from the 1920s to the present, such that now the line between religion and self-help sometimes disappears in the spirituality section of Amazon. Second, spiritual consumerism has fostered books that allow some readers entry into religious worlds to which they have not been previously exposed. Since the invention of the printing press, the lines of denomination and tradition have gradually mattered less and less. The political and moral imperatives of World War II provided the greatest stimulus to such interfaith reading, and before long even the Protestant-Catholic-Jew formulation of the era could not contain American readers. What matters to the unaffiliated is not imprimatur but inspiration.

Progressive Christianity's rise and liberal Protestantism’s organizational decline has been accompanied by and is in part arguably the consequence of the fact that liberal Protestantism has won a decisive, larger cultural victory. The cultural victory happened not because more Americans joined liberal churches, in other words, but because liberal religious values and sensibilities became more and more culturally normative. And no single cultural force has been more significant to this profound religious shift than the unabashed consumerism of the religious book business in the twentieth and 21st centuries. Even as religious affiliations decline, religious books sales continue to rise, as they have steadily for more than a half century. In this ultimate spiritual marketplace, American religion displays its full shape-shifting vitality.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The politicians who shut down our country have torpedoed their own careers

Right-Wing Evangelicals Like the Ones Who Shut Down Our Country Had Better Start Seeing the Light

I have known a few evangelical pastors and far more Christian ultraconservatives in my 57 years on this great planet Earth. They were all sure they were right and that every other person not of their faith was going to burn in hell forever. They teach that we as Christians should take this nation back, but I have long since concluded that we never really had it to begin with (one example of that would be the electoral college). After decades of teaching their homophobic, divisive message that has driven away so many millions of the same people whose souls they should have been winning over to Christ, I have similarly come to the conclusion that some of the “religious” people need to think of something else to do with their lives. Let the truly committed and dedicated people do the works of faith and perseverance in spreading the Gospel of Jesus. Instead, maybe they could try selling cars, especially since some TV evangelists have only slightly more credibility than that. Or better yet, they could become truck drivers – you know, see America and all that jazz.

I once did something like that back in 2008. I left Atlanta, where I had been living for the past 25 years, for a job in Texas. Since Atlanta and Odessa, Texas are 1,500 miles apart, I did get to see some of America. But the country I saw was very different from the one I was taught about in Catholic school as a kid and from my mentors in early adulthood. What I found instead was that this nation is filled with people from all walks of life, and from every different culture. To me – and I'm speaking from experience – I have met thousands of people of widely divergent faiths, and I found that these folks are not the wicked sinners I was taught about. They are just good-hearted Americans from all faiths and cultural backgrounds, trying to pay their bills, care for their families and have a few good times with their friends and lovers. I also began to notice a change in me and my perspective as well. I gradually came to the realization that all the Latino immigrants I saw in Texas (the population there was about 30% Hispanic) weren't invading hordes of so-called “illegal aliens” from south of America's border. In point of fact I have since concluded that there is no such thing as an illegal human being. Every man, woman and child on the entire earth has a right to be here because we are all made in the image and likeness of the same Lord God ever since Adam and Eve. But the Latinos were economic refugees from the third world who apparently working furiously to better themselves. And that, dear readers, is why I have admiration rather than prejudice for Latinos the world over.

Texas wasn't a particularly good experience for me, but it was a great second education. After four months I decided to return to Atlanta and work to help all of the people I could by warning them and taking affirmative measures for protecting them from the oppression of right-wing conservatism. I created this website for that very purpose, and that's why I call it “progressive Christian”. Progressive Christianity means it is focused sharply on Jesus Christ without all the added dogmas of religious denominations, without condemning any faith or group of people whether Christ-based or not. That leaves a lot of maneuvering room for me as far as how my web site's content is presented. I want everyone to know that the Christian fundamentalist political movement is the beginning of a cultural revolution that will take our nation to a very dark place. You have to understand that this has been methodically planned and is being carried out with the utmost vigilance. In accordance with their world view, conservatives do not in the least care about what anybody else thinks. They are against democracy, they are in the process of turning our country into one big minimum-wage sweatshop, and those who comprise this top 1% of America's economic pie are seeking to end the rule of the majority in our great country. When they are finished, they will own all the property that is left in the US and we will all be paupers.

They truly believe that those who have not been “saved” are living under a curse. Due to this curse of theirs, they expect us to believe that we are incapable of knowing what is best for ourselves, and that because of this we are in need of supervision by more enlightened people. You should also know they do not believe that even centuries-old Christian communities (Catholics, Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, etc.) are “saved,” only those who think like they do. I've seen this first hand, and it's not pretty. You might be thinking that a minority fundamentalist group of zealots can’t really take over the direction of a society, right? Well, just look at the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, that's exactly what the Communists did. They pulled it off with just a few thousand soldiers and some other mercenaries. In modern times, look at Iran or the countless other places (until recently Hugo Chavez's Venezuela) where people have allowed this to happen. Are you all really going to sit back and watch this occur without wanting to jump up and do something about it? I should think not! They have already begun to attack all sources of accurate information. That's the reason former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura fled the United States and now resides in Mexico. Public radio was first, next will be museums then school textbooks. Just listen to them argue against the scientific facts about the peril our planet is facing, because it does not fit in with their ideas. They represent a clear and present danger to our union.

If I told you that the Amish in Pennsylvania were running for public office in record numbers with the intention of outlawing electricity and forcing others to act, dress and think like them, you would not believe it. Well, that is exactly what is happening in America, only it is not the Amish, it is the Christian fundamentalists. It is not outlawing electricity, it’s placing limits on being a human with free will. Enjoying art and music, loving the person of your choice, dancing – the things that fundamentalists call “sins” – are a big part of what it means to be a human.

The good news is that we are witnessing the beginning of a new era in human existence. While we watch the revolutions across the Middle East such as the civil war in Syria, the riots in Greece and in Spain last year, and the growing exasperation and anger of the American people we are seeing a great truth: that people have within them the natural desire to be free. It is so sad that as the people of the world are fighting for freedom, we here in the United States are going in the opposite direction. The far right, under the control of Christian fundamentalists, is declaring an all-out war on human progress. We absolutely, positively must fight back. After all, the consequences of not acting are very serious. We are not just fighting for ourselves. We are struggling to protect the future generations of Americans who will suffer from these ruthless actions of the far right. We are speaking out against the measures being taken against those in our community who can least afford to be marginalized. This system of enforced inequality is going to fall one way or the other because it is unsustainable. As the late President John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable”.