Sunday, April 24, 2016
Five Biblical Concepts Our Political
Leaders Just Don’t Understand
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
Right-wing Evangelical Fundamentalism, as well as much of America's conservative political leadership, claims to return to the roots of Christianity. Few of these fundamentalists care much about the early church, the four Gospels, the apostle Paul's letters, or St. Augustine. Rather, they blend Southern Conservatism, bastardized Protestantism, Aryan heresies, gross nationalism and a heavy dose of naive anti-intellectualism for a peculiar American strain of what I will tactfully call spiritual sophistry. As a pastor by the name of Reverend Cornell West has noted, “the fundamentalist Christians want to be fundamental about everything, except ‘love thy neighbor.'” I couldn't agree more. So, I decided to make that this week's commentary (I never liked the word 'sermon', it seems too stiff and formal to me). Here are some verses we liberal Christians wish they would get more “fundamentalist” about:
1. Immigration: The verse: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” - Leviticus 19:33-34, KJV.
Bogus 'Christians' hate this verse because fundamentalists are almost universally xenophobic. The truth of the matter is religious fundamentalism is only a reaction to the multiculturalism of a liberal democracy, and particularly in multicultural churches. Rather than seeking a “brotherhood of man,” religious fundamentalism longs for a colonial community, without the necessary friction from those with foreign beliefs, cultures and customs, and especially with different skin colors. We are called to discern among “sojourners”. The original meaning of this word in this context is 'those who move about from place to place'. This looks to me like a euphemism for what some call 'illegal immigrants'. People looking for a home have been around ever since humankind began to explore the earth. (the New International version translates 'sojourners' as “aliens”, which has a more familiar right to it) There are currently 11 million illegal immigrants who want to become citizens, with likely an additional 20 million family members as new citizens within about a decade. What does God say about those who hate without cause and mistreat foreigners? “I will be a swift witness against… those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against … those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:5., KJV
2. Poverty: The Verses: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” - Matthew 19:24, NIV.
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” James 5: 1-6, NIV
To myself, at least, one of the most absolutely hilarious aspects of modern-day, far-right Christianity is its reverence of capitalism. That’s because Christ could be considered anti-capitalist, as well as Moses (see Exodus 22: 25-27, in any Biblical version you like). Consider that there is some version of the story of the rich man approaching Jesus that appears in every Gospel. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells the rich man, “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Mark 10:21) The story of Lazarus should similarly terrify modern day fundamentalists. Lazarus is a beggar who waits outside of a rich man’s house and begs for scraps. When both Lazarus and the rich man die, Lazarus ends up in heaven, while the rich man ends up in hell. When the rich man begs for water, Abraham says, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” Luke 19:25.
So-called “conservative Christians” (the very term is an oxymoron) hate these verses because the only thing fundamentalists dislike more than immigrants is poor people. Seriously. A former Tea Party congressman once said he thought the government should cut food stamps entirely, “The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.” Former congressional representative Michelle Bachmann has also made a similar statement. The entire Tea Party movement is based on the idea that a huge portion of Americans are “takers” who suck the lifeblood out of the economy. Never mind the fact that the reason all those people aren't working is because their jobs got exported overseas for pennies on the dollar, leaving them destitute. The majority of Christian “fundamentalists” insist that poverty be explained in terms of a personal moral failure, or even mass incompetence. They therefore hold that success should be described in terms of morality, when in fact the Bible says quite the opposite: “In the last days many will compare godliness with gain”. The poor are considered culpable so that they can be punished – like today’s cuts to food stamps or the public shaming of those on disability, welfare or unemployment.
3: The Environment The Verses: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:27-28
“By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16-17
Why do so many fundamentalists twist and distort these verses? In Genesis, man is given stewardship of the Earth, God’s creation. Stewardship in the Christian tradition implies protection. Man should exist in harmony with the earth, not work against it. Jesus Christ once told his followers: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” - Luke 16:13. Increasingly, the religious right (which is neither, by the way) is trying to do exactly that, intertwining Evangelical fundamentalism with unfettered capitalism — with disastrous results for the earth's environment and the US job market. Thus, American political life is increasingly dominated by Christians from the extreme right who reject the religious ethos in favor of capitalist ethos. It is these same Christian right wing nuts who seeks to discredit the threat of global warming. It also claims the threat of climate change is “alarmist” and fears that efforts to clamp down on emissions will hurt the poor (read: Fortune 500 corporations). In reality, climate change will have its greatest effect on people living on less than a dollar a day who can not adapt to higher temperatures. Conservative Evangelicals are not concerned with dwindling biodiversity, the destruction of ecosystem, rampant pollution, global warming and the numerous other environmental challenges we face. Rather they, with the business community, are only concerned with the bottom line. The future is irrelevant (unless we’re talking about government debt). Thus, the Biblical command to protect the environment is quietly swept under the rug.
4. War The Verses: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” - Matthew 5: 38-42, NIV “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” - Matthew 5: 43–45.
As a religious and political movement, fundamentalists have defined themselves as a party of opposition, rather than of love, grace and mercy. Some scholars are erroneously calling this a “third great awakening”, even though it is different from the other two. This one is full of contempt disguised as piety toward those whose understanding of religion fails to meet their lofty standards. While past “Great Awakenings” have looked inward, seeing sin within the conflicted self, this new awakening looks outward, seeing sin in the wider culture. The culture, which is secular, is evil, while the church is sacred. This is why modern religious fundamentalism gravitates towards xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, etc. Fear and disgust are its motivating factors. This fundamentalism inclines some religious people toward a preemptive “war of religion” and a strong disgust (that sometimes culminates in violence) toward Muslims and gay people. Oddly enough, the Christian tradition has developed a theory of “Just War” (developed by Thomas Aquinas) which condemns war except when all other options have been exhausted and there is just treatment of prisoners (with a specific condemnation of torture). If only one of the past two “Christian” presidents had listened.
5. Women The Verse: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” - Galatians 3:28
Although the right often claims the Bible supports their absurd ideas about gender roles, such sexist claims have been thoroughly debunked by theologians. Generally, when you’ll hear an explanation of why women belong in the home, it’ll rely on a misreading of one of Paul’s doctrines. In contrast to Paul, Christ rarely concerned himself with sexual mores, although he clearly was against divorce. He was far more concerned with fighting oppression and injustice. Fundamentalists want to keep women submissive and subservient, but Jesus won’t let them. In Luke, for instance, Jesus is blessed by a priestess named Anna. He praises a woman who stands up to a judge and demands justice. It’s worth noting that in a time when women could not testify in a court of law, all four resurrection stories have women arriving first to Jesus’ tomb. Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman at a well even though Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans, and he praises Mary Magdalene for listening to his words (see Luke 10:38-42). These verses are powerful and I believe that they should be carefully considered.
I'm becoming increasingly concerned that Christianity and religion in general is represented by its most ultra-conservative, fundamentalist elements. Remember that Karl Marx drew his inspiration for the famous quote “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” from the example of the early church (Acts 4:32-35). But once the moral potshots are finished, we all have to face the fundamental and aching deprivation of having been born. We can continue to have a fun time berating those who believe the Bible explains science. The Christian message doesn’t contradict science, and nor is it concerned with American politics. Ultimately, Christianity is about transcending politics and fighting for social and economic justice. Think of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Malcolm X – all of whom were influenced by their religion to change the world. Jesus saw how oppression and oppressors consumed the world. He has, as always, sided with the oppressed. This Johnny-come-lately of skewed fundamentalism I'm writing about is radically new and far removed from true Christianity. True Christianity offers us a far superior doctrine — one of social justice, love and equality. When we practice all of these, we are following Christ regardless of religious denomination.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
Monday, April 18, 2016
Sunday, April 17, 2016
The US Is Becoming A Failed State:
How Do We Turn This Around?
By Rev. Paul J. Bern
The United States of America, if I may risk pointing out the obvious, is failing. Failing to adequately tackle the systemic problems in our economic system. Failing to reflect on the deep flaws in our system of government. Failing to repair our damaged image abroad. Failing to adequately protect its citizens from violence at home (the plague of murders by rogue police officers across the US is only one example of many). Failing in education, in health care, in human rights, in religious tolerance, and even with regard to incarceration of its citizens, as the overcrowded and dangerous US prison system attests to. In fact, we look a lot like the USSR in 1990 – except with a lot more big-screen TV’s. And we all know what happened to the USSR during the 1990's.
Of course, you may well take issue with my central contention. You may say that we are prosperous because our GDP is so large, or because America is the richest country in the world. Or that our government works properly (pardon me for a second while I LOL), or even that we have a great health care system (laughing even harder), and that since most of us are Christians anyway, who do we have to tolerate? I respect your right to those opinions – freedom of expression is one of the few things our country hasn't managed to screw up in the last couple of hundred years. But in every case, the data backs me up. I will try and substantiate my claims first, before putting forth a few solutions of my own.
The first problem is the economy. For example, in 2009 alone 131 banks failed. The 2008 TARP bailout granted hundreds of billions of dollars – with strings attached – to private companies who then used the money to short-sell the market, make countless billions more, hand the government back its money (removing the strings) and pay out lavish bonuses while Americans lost their jobs, savings, houses and cars. America's national debt threatens to exceed one year's Gross Domestic Product. While this is occurring, a record number of laid off workers are leaving the US workforce forever due to a complete lack of opportunity to better themselves. One in four US workers who are long-term unemployed and over age 50 will never work again. I know this to be true from personal experience because I was one of those most unfortunate individuals. To this day people find themselves struggling financially to keep their heads above water. Meanwhile, the median family income is less today than it was a decade ago. Our government, as everybody knows, is no longer run by competing ideologies but by corporate interests (I include both parties in this category since both are moneymaking enterprises). There are good Republicans who would prefer that your cancer-stricken child had health insurance. There are responsible Democrats who are horrified by our country's spend-now pay-later approach to finance. But since they are beholden to a higher power – money – they have to vote with their wallets, not with their hearts. At the Federal level, AT&T and Goldman Sachs have contributed over $75M over the last 20 years, and the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, plus the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers aren't far behind.
Across the world our reputation is tarnished, perhaps irrevocably. We are seen as an economic and religious bully, and we don't seem to care. We vilify our political enemies for their human rights records while we import cheap goods from countries that we know exploits child labor, while America has more people incarcerated than all the other countries of the world combined. We are, to much of the world, intolerable hypocrites! Is it any wonder that they see us this way? When it comes to medical care, health care apologists will continue to defend our system at all costs, claiming that so-called “socialist” states such as England, France and Sweden kill their citizens at will in order to save money, or they may make you wait up to thirty years for a kidney transplant. When our kids can't even get health care, that should be a major 'red flag' indicating that something is terribly wrong. Any anthropologist will tell you that we took care of our young much better when we were Neanderthals – so what's changed? For one in four kids to be dependent on food stamps at some point in their formative years – and 25% of them are – is a social injustice of the highest order to the point that it foments much outrage. As such I think that this issue should have people out in the streets protesting and being disruptive against the whole darn system! Why it isn't happening hardly at all is a complete mystery to me. Is everyone asleep or drunk? Wake up already and smell the coffee! Revolution is in the air, can't you feel it? The Bernie Sanders presidential campaign is only the tip of the iceberg, my dear readers. I am so glad that those exciting but perilous days of insurrection will soon be upon us. I can't tell anyone exactly when, but it will happen in the near future, you can count on it. Violence in the streets will be a sure bet if both outsider candidates get forced out at the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer and the American people are only left with the status quo.
Why do I think so? We deny basic human rights to our own people, and Americans of good conscience everywhere are fed up to their eyeballs about it. Women still make 79 cents for every dollar a man earns in the workplace. The overwhelming majority of those who are incarcerated are people of color. Moreover, whom anyone chooses to marry is not a matter for the government, it is a matter for the individual as well as for the churches. Speaking as a mature Christian man and Web evangelist, although I am not in favor of gay marriage personally, I adamantly refuse to judge same-sex couples for getting married (that's between them and God, or it had better be). Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian doctrine, and it is central to the self-identity of every true believer. As to what religion to follow, since I am a full-time ambassador for Jesus Christ, I will lead any and all toward Christ who want to go, and often with plenty of encouragement along the way. Although some may not like or agree with the choices others make, they are inalienable rights of choice, and you should be free to exercise them as you will because that is the law of the land (see the 1st Amendment in the US Constitution).
As far back as 2005, statistics showed that hate crimes against Muslims were increasing 50% year-on-year. Even so, the FBI reported that in 2015 hate crimes against homosexuals had increased 9% from 2014, and those motivated by religion had risen by 12%. This is discouraging to say the least. The track we have taken over the last fifty years has been the wrong one. We have let corruption, greed, fame, intolerance and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge our problems almost ruin our nation. We are failing to live the American Dream, and if we don't start now our children will never even know what it was.
I have eight common-sense but fairly radical ideas, and I'm sure you have some of your own. I have chosen not to expound on what I personally think the consequences of these actions would be, as I would be diving headlong into speculation that could easily (and should be) challenged.
. Immediately and totally stop all corporations from giving money to political parties.
. Acknowledge that, when it comes to government, politics and religion do not mix.
. Make a promise to our children: you will be well-educated, and you will be well-treated when you are sick.
. Change the game. Capitalism is a debt-based economic system combined with a federal republic system of government. It is a system that has run its course for all practical intents and purposes. So much debt has accumulated throughout the world that there isn't anywhere nearly enough money in the entire world – all the combined world economies – to pay it off. At some point in the near future, more and more countries are going to find themselves insolvent. When no one can pay back their debts, the whole thing comes crashing down, and that includes the USA. Are you prepared?
. Take a leaf out of the Bible and just treat everyone else with dignity and respect. “Love your neighbor as yourself”. If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for you. Leave the gays alone because you're a sinner too, you just commit different sexual sins than they do. Leave the Blacks and Latinos alone, because racism has no place in church, and because equality is scriptural. Leave the Muslims, the Jews and the Christians alone. When respect departs, lawlessness is the next train along.
. Pay for it. Child labor is inexcusable. If it costs an extra ten bucks, or extra hundred bucks, to buy something that was made by willing workers, pay it. And the same goes for government. You want health care? Pay for it. More troops? Pay for them. Tax breaks for corporations? Ditto. If you have to raise taxes to pay for it, raise taxes. Stop acting like giddy schoolkids with mom's credit card, and pay for what you consume!
. Form coalitions based on issues, not parties. Not every NRA member is anti-abortion. Not every tree-hugging hippie thinks that owning a gun is wrong. When a party tells you how you should think, and what issues should be thrown together into what bucket, you're a lot closer to communism or fascism than you think you are.
. Buy American products whenever possible. From what I can tell, the great empires of yore – from Egypt to Rome to England – were 'first-to-market' with some manufacturing innovation or other, that led to more innovations, and greater strides, that in turn led to them becoming the largest producers of goods in their region. This happened to the USA from the dawn of the twentieth century until the 'fifties. Then we began to transform into a service economy, just as those others did. Producing goods is what is making China become a world powerhouse, and if we are to compete, we must produce our own. American isn't always the best, and it's almost never the cheapest, but if we are to reinstate our status as the world's greatest country, we need to start by supporting our own businesses and workers. To refuse to do so is to commit an injustice. Enough said!
Friday, April 15, 2016
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Saturday, April 9, 2016
Occupy Homeless Journeys: Independence: Can a person live without depending on a community? Must a group of people depend on others? Why must I depend on a group of people m...
As the world continues to decentralize, people will become less
dependent on the System, as this blogger so accurately depicts.....
As the world continues to decentralize, people will become less
dependent on the System, as this blogger so accurately depicts.....