Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Monday, May 29, 2017
How Much Longer Are We Going to Tolerate This?
By Pastor Paul J. Bern
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I have always strongly believed that it's not possible to be an effective Christian without taking a stand against social and economic injustice, and against government corruption in all its forms (such as lobbyists at the federal and state levels who give out bribe money like Halloween candy). In fact, I have been a proponent for radical change for a number of years now, and I have written and published 3 books on this very topic. Where shall I begin? In God-blessed America, the land of the free where everyone is an economic slave, our Founding Fathers' sacred idea of a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" has become but a cruel joke. Former president George W. Bush has notoriously (for both Christian and secular people) called our Constitution – our supreme law of the land – "that (uses God's name in vain) piece of paper". The federal government is currently spending at least $60 billion per month on military excursions in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and northern and western Africa – not including operating between 800 and 1,000 (depending on who you believe) foreign military bases all over the world. Our country's over-used flying drone aircraft kills hundreds daily overseas, many of whom are only innocent bystanders.
Our political and court systems are openly rigged against the best interests of the American people, particularly those of color. A massive market mechanism is securely entrenched in our political system where political influence is openly bought and sold. Tens of thousands of highly-paid middlemen called "lobbyists" facilitate the legal transfer of billions between moneyed special interests and our so-called "representatives" in Congress. This very lucrative business of buying and selling political influence has become the driving engine of our government. Our so-called "representatives" in Congress vie for millions in legalized bribes in return for delivering billions of our tax dollars to moneyed special interests. It's pure folly to think our current political system could possibly look out for the best interests of the American people.
Just ponder what our government has done, not for us but to us, in the last ten years alone. It's utterly mind boggling! The installation of Donald Trump to the US presidency is only the latest insult. Not because it's Trump, but because he promised to “drain the swamp”! Instead, Trump bought it and is now remaking it in his own best interest. The best interests of the American people have been sacrificed to moneyed special interests time and time again. Hopefully this time the American electorate has learned their lesson. The Wall Street bankers paid millions in bribes for a legal license to steal hundreds of billions of dollars from the American people. When greed got them in trouble, our so-called "representatives" gave them billions more of our money, American tax dollars, to bail them out in October of 2008. In the last ten years, our so-called "representatives" shared nearly a billion dollars in bribes from the "defense" industry alone. In return, they doubled our (2016) defense budget to $700 billion (equal to all other countries combined!) and lied us into unnecessary, endless, expanding wars that will ultimately cost us trillions.
This is aside from the extreme human costs of war with multiple consecutive deployments. For example, 1 in 5 returning veterans from US occupations overseas have permanent psychiatric disabilities so severe that they will never work again. Speaking as a minister and lifelong peace activist, I find this to be utterly reprehensible on the part of the US military! Be all you can be? Yeah, but it's all for them and none for us except for some vague talk about 'battlefield honor'. I've got some new information for all those people. There is no honor in killing other human beings, especially for religious or ideological reasons, and particularly for financial gain, which the US military is notorious for!
Our so-called "representatives" are slashing social spending for senior citizens and the poor just when far too many American people need it most. Yet they continue to spend hundreds of billions on weapons of mass destruction to protect us from our “enemies”. But most of our "enemies" are purposely created by our government's blatantly unjust foreign policies (that openly support oppressive military regimes for the most rigid internal control possible), and by our violent military operations within their homelands. Without a perpetual supply of "enemies", 'defense industry' profits would plummet, and Washington's wealthy paymasters will never have any of that! If that weren't enough, our so-called "representatives" have worked hard to keep America the number one weapons merchant on earth. Our so-called "representatives" continue to support the sale of billions in weapons to oppressive dictatorships around the world, which creates still more "enemies", which creates more special interests profits, etc. So we can fight wars, but we can't have a robust space program? We can fight wars, but we can't update and upgrade America's dilapidated power grid? We can fight wars, but America can't replace its crumbling infrastructure? We can fight wars, but we can't afford to make public colleges and universities free? America can't forgive $1.3 trillion (as of the end of the 2017 school year) in student loan debt so those of the millennial generation can get on their feet and start families and buy cars and houses? We can fight wars, but middle and lower income families can't afford school lunches for their kids? This is utter insanity!
Our current political system guarantees our so-called "representatives" will continue to pass and sustain legislation that transfers billions of our hard-earned tax dollars to moneyed special interests. That's because members of Congress who oppose moneyed special interests are promptly punished, ostracized, or replaced (if their offense is great enough). President Kennedy paid the ultimate price for opposing the elitists, but he achieved martyrdom among the American people. Because of the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Rev. Dr. King, Jr., our current political system guarantees moneyed special interests and our "representatives" must participate in this influence-peddling scam against the American people. It's mainly because they're being coerced by the implied threat of assassination, but also because it's so lucrative they'd be stupid not to.
Big corporations could be at a competitive disadvantage (and would likely resort to cheating their shareholders to replace lost profits) if they refused to buy political influence. Likewise, our so-called "representatives" would be at a competitive disadvantage getting elected or staying in office if they refused to broker political influence. Another “problem” as these elites as I see it is that, if corporate influence were to decline, it would open up windows of opportunity for start-up businesses and entrepreneurs, and there's no way Wall Street will tolerate that. Anything that puts money into the hands of ordinary folks – such as owning a business no matter how small – is seen as a potential threat and gets treated as such. Just ask any of the American merchants who lost their businesses because they couldn't compete with Wal Mart. I should know, I used to be one myself up until around the year 2000 or so.
The rigged national elections in 2016 were merely melodrama for the masses. Our 'choices' had all been chosen for us in advance by moneyed special interests pumping millions of dollars into the process. Besides, whoever “wins” will be forced to play by established political rules that guarantee moneyed special interests will always come ahead of the American people's best interests. After all, the money special interests own the American electoral process outright, like a company owning an asset. For months before the elections, the complicit mainstream media, using colorful pundits who talk smart and know little, entertain us with political melodrama and often-intolerable rhetorical bull-crap. They arouse us by pitting one segment of the American people against another. They make millions bombarding us with empty, emotional, 15-to-30-second TV ads that are little more than name-calling or patriotic platitudes. Congressional elections have devolved into a herd of sheep fighting among themselves for their favorite wolves. Congressional elections merely determine which segment of the America people gets screwed the most by which moneyed special interests group.
Trying to reform our current political system using that same corrupt system is just an exercise in futility. It's like trying to fix your broken arms using your broken arms. It's like trying to start a car that is out of gas or has a dead battery. Our current political system is designed to be reform proof, although that's not how it started out, as those who have read the US Constitution well know. The Constitution has well-established checks and balances to protect and maintain the country and the American people from tyranny from within and without. That's why "campaign finance reform" and all other such efforts to "reform" our current political system from within are doomed to either fail outright or be so watered-down as to be nearly useless. All these outrageous government actions are exactly what we should expect from a government openly for sale to the highest bidder. “We the people” are just government-controlled fodder and political afterthoughts for the moneyed special interests. Moneyed special interests paid for these outrageous government actions, and they got what they paid for. How much longer are we going to tolerate this? We, the people, got screwed while corporate America and Wall St. received obscenely huge bonuses and golden parachutes! I have the solution to this problem, and it can be found in any English dictionary.
rev-o-lu-tion (Dictionary.com) 1. an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.
Our country's elections amount to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We can't vote our government back to us. It was deliberately taken away from us, so we will deliberately take it back. A peaceful, people's revolution is the preferable way we can take back our government. But, like a now-deceased colleague of mine used to say, “Use your first amendment rights and protest! If that doesn't work, use your second amendment rights!” The trillion dollar business of buying and selling political influence (currently the driving engine of our government) must be overthrown, repudiated and thoroughly replaced if democracy is to survive in America. This massive influence-peddling scam must become our number one political issue because it underlies and thus greatly affects all other issues. If we don't get all the dirty money out of our politics, our democracy and our standard of living will continue to decline and surely America will take the rest of the world down with us. That doesn't sound like the kind of legacy I'd like to leave at all. The prophet David's son, King Solomon of Jerusalem, wrote near the end of the Book of Proverbs something which still holds true over 3,000 years later, and I quote: “Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” proverbs 31: 8-9) And again it is written, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14: 31)
We can't afford to sit by like sheep or stand around like cattle meekly waiting to be slaughtered! We must find ways to hinder and harass the corporate state at every turn, and to control the violent tendencies of the police who protect them. Nothing will change unless we, the people, begin to organize radical acts of civil disobedience to disrupt our current political system, upping the ante until this massive influence-peddling scam is thoroughly exposed and eliminated (search: 'overturn Citizens United'). For example, in Iceland in 2012 when the entire country went completely bust (you know, like the USA is about to) the people – not the government, but the PEOPLE!) – had arrested and jailed over 100 bankers after throwing the old government out of office – peacefully but evidently very effectively. The citizens stood in the streets and banged on pots and pans, and they didn't stop until they got what they wanted. Nobody worked, and no children went to school for the first part of this national strike. Then they (the people, not the government!) wrote a new constitution and passed it into law. It was reported all over the European press but largely censored here in the US. Is it any wonder? If there were enough people inspired by what happened in Iceland, it could happen here next. Indeed, it well should! Well, what do the elite capitalists want? They can either allow what happened over there to happen here, in which case America will turn into another Greece, Spain, Ireland, Italy or Portugal. Or maybe even another Egypt, Yemen or Syria. Or they can declare martial law and simply seize absolute control. The only way to prevent this from occurring here in America is that “we the people” must take back our government by peaceful revolution because it will never be given back voluntarily. So get your pots and pans and your biggest serving spoon ready, and brush up on the US Constitution and all 27 of the amendments! Remember what President John F. Kennedy said: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."One final thought. “Rich and poor have this in common: God is maker of them all.” (Proverbs 22: 2)
Friday, May 26, 2017
Sunday, May 21, 2017
The USA Is Becoming A Failed State:
Seven Simple Steps to Turn It Around
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
As I look around me today, I see the United States of America as a failing country. There are just too many things going wrong with America today all at once! Failing to adequately tackle the inherent problems in our economic system: Failing to reflect on the deep flaws in our system of government: Failing to repair our image abroad: Failing in education, in health care, in human rights, and in religious tolerance. In fact, we look a lot like the USSR in 1990 – except with a lot more big-screen TV’s. And so I have composed this week's commentary listing what I view as our worst problems, followed by some helpful suggestions for solutions to the mess that we Americans find ourselves in today.
First, a quick word about president Trump. I have already written at length about my feelings regarding Donald Trump's handling – or mishandling, depending on your point of view, of his still-new presidency. But there is another side to all the hub-bub about president Trump, and that is the fact that he is a Washington outsider. Trump came into Washington, DC last January to shake things up, and he has run into a mountain of resistance from the existing political establishment. Instead of “draining the swamp”, the swamp has nearly swallowed up president Trump! But at the end of the day, much of the storm of controversy about the Trump presidency has been generated by the press, and at least as much as the Democrats, if not more.
Some people may well take issue with my contention that the political and governmental systems are broken, including the courts and penal systems, or even that we have a great health care system. I respect anyone's 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. Allow me to try and substantiate my claims first, before suggesting a few possible solutions. First, let's take a look at the economy: in 2009 alone, 131 banks failed. That number had dropped to 5 in 2016, and there have been 5 more so far in 2017 with more than 6 months to go. The 2008 bailout granted 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. Meanwhile, the median family income is less today than it was in 1970.
Our government, meanwhile, is no longer run by competing ideologies but by corporate interests (I include both parties in this category since both are moneymaking enterprises disguised as political parties). 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 and pay later' approach to finance. But since they are beholden to their version of a higher power – corporate America, Wall St. and the almighty dollar – they have convinced themselves to vote with their wallets, not with their conscience. At the Federal level, AT&T and Goldman Sachs combined have contributed over $75M over the last 20 years to both political parties, and the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, plus the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, aren't far behind.
Across the world America's reputation is tarnished, perhaps irrevocably, and yet we find our President – in the words of former vice-president Dick Cheney – following the 'Bush Doctrine' of a surge in forces occupying a foreign country with seemingly little chance of categorical success. 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, and import cheap goods from countries we know to exploit child labor. We are, to much of the world, intolerable hypocrites. About this Jesus said, “....you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11: 46) Isn't this exactly where we find ourselves in 21st century America?
Apologists for the American health care system, not to mention “Obama-care” or so-called “Trump-care”, will continue to defend those systems at all costs, claiming that so-called 'socialist' states such as England, France and Sweden (which, incidentally, is actually a constitutional monarchy governed by a center-right coalition) kill their citizens at will in order to save money, or make you wait thirty years for a kidney transplant. Deflecting (especially with such utter garbage) doesn't make our system any better, and it's always bad business practice to spend too much time putting down the competition. When our own kids can't get health care because mom and dad have no money to pay, something is terribly wrong. Any anthropologist will tell you that we took better care of our young when we were Neanderthals – so what's changed? For one in six of our citizens to remain uninsured is a national disgrace. We deny basic human rights to our own people! Whom you choose to marry is not a matter for the government to decide, it is a matter for the individual (“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord”). So it is for what religion to follow, if any (although I will continue to vigorously preach pure Christianity as the only true way to eternal salvation). Some may not like our choices, but they are inalienable rights and you should be free to exercise them as you will. Our US Constitution says you can (search: First Amendment).
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 2016 hate crimes against homosexuals had increased 10% from 2015, and those motivated by religion had risen by 12%. This is outrageous in the extreme as far as I am concerned. The track we have taken over the last fifty years has been the wrong one, and America is way past due for a serious course correction. 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 several fairly radical ideas. I'm sure you have some of your own, and I welcome them in the comments below. 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.
1. Immediately and totally stop all corporations from giving money to political parties. Reverse Citizens United and make our elections publicly funded!
2. Make a promise to our children: you will be well-educated, and you will be treated with dignity and respect when you are sick.
3. Change the game. Capitalism is broken and must be replaced, and the smoothest transition I have found is that of a resource-based instead of a debt-based economic system. Any time you have less than 1% of America's population controlling the upper 99% of the cash flow, some legislated redistribution is clearly called for (or maybe an executive order to that effect). We can start with worker owned businesses instead of shareholder ownership. Public business ownership will still exist, but smaller – such as a cooperative – will be much better in many cases.
4. Take a page out of the Bible and just treat everyone else with some genuine respect and unconditional love. If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for you. About this the apostle John wrote, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us, so we ought to love one another” (1st John 4, verses 10-11). True love for each other means unconditional love with no strings attached! Respect others and yourself as well. Leave the gays alone. Leave the blacks alone. Leave the immigrants alone whether you think they're here legally or not. Leave the Muslims or the Christians alone, too. Even the atheists, despite the fact that they're all totally lost! Pray for them instead! When respect departs, enmity is the next train along.
5. 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 for the darned thing! And the same goes for government. You want health care? Pay for it. More troops? Pay for them. Tax breaks for corporations? Not a chance, they have way too many of those already.
6. 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 than you think you are.
7. Buy American 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 goods are always equal to the best even though they are 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. We're in a really big mess, but if enough people commit to working together to solve our problems, we can do anything we set our minds to!
Sunday, May 14, 2017
A Microcosm of the USA and Christianity
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
The events of this past week have left the office of the American presidency in shambles, made the US the laughingstock of the world, and I – for one – am appalled at the state of my country. President Donald Trump – or at least so long as he remains president – has left all of Washington in disarray from the presidency on down. He is also proving once again, as president George W. Bush did after September 2001 and especially after March 2003, that those who vote straight conservative every election have very short memories. It is the Republican party who, prior to Bush 43, brought us endless wars, the 1995 government shutdown, Iran Contra, the Drug War, president Nixon and Watergate, and the Vietnam War and the phony “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” that started that war. They are also indirectly responsible for the assassinations of Rev. Dr. King and the Kennedy brothers, which makes them accessories to murder.
President Donald Trump is a microcosm of America because he represents what America represents, and as such is someone who is admired by many. Donald Trump represents the American dream of becoming wealthy from a capitalist economic system that allegedly gives everyone a fair shot at becoming a rich businessman or real estate tycoon like Donald Trump. But president Trump is finding out the hard way that being president of the United States is nothing at all like running a real estate empire! When he ran for election last year, he wanted a job that he wasn't prepared to take on. Worse yet, he failed to appreciate the difficulty and long hours of being the US president. His assumption of the office of the President was poorly planned and is still being poorly executed. When it comes to the presidency, it appears that Donald Trump is a fish out of water. Our country, therefore, is in serious trouble, and this situation is serious enough to warrant our undivided attention.
So president Trump is more than a microcosm of America, he represents a microcosm of capitalism. As such, Trump represents everything that is wrong with America, and everything that is wrong with capitalism. The ugly truth is that Donald Trump didn't become a mega-billionaire because he is an exceptionally shrewd individual, or because he has some kind of inside track in the business world. Donald Trump got rich by screwing people every chance he got. Since Donald Trump has been elected president, he has been sued 134 times, according to the Boston Globe. He has reportedly filed bankruptcy at least 4 times since the 1980's, evidently for the sole express purpose of stiffing his creditors while short-selling the property(s) in question. Donald Trump is a human shark, and a big, menacing “great white” at that! He reveals capitalism for the essentially predatory economic system that it truly is. Trump is also a perfect example of the fact that, in a capitalist economy where everything is organized in a hierarchical manner, there are only a handful who end up at the top of the heap, just like Donald Trump. Everyone else winds up underneath, where many of them get financially crushed without mercy.
Moreover, Donald Trump represents all that is corrupt with Washington, D.C. Washington is overburdened with corruption from within, and crushing debt from without. In fact, Washington is so heavily laden with debt and corruption that it is slowly sinking into the soil it sits on. Not only that, but the entire District of Columbia is literally sinking, according to the US Geological Survey named in a 2015 article from CNN.com:
Washington, D.C. Has a 'Fore-bulge' ProblemBy Jareen Imam, CNN, Updated Sat. August 1, 2015
(CNN) “Washington, D.C., where the powers that reign over the United States reside, is sinking into the ocean.
Scientists predict that the land underneath the nation's capital will drop more than 6 inches in the next 100 years, according to new research from the University of Vermont and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Surprisingly though, Washington's sinking land is an entirely independent phenomenon from the rising sea levels, which scientists have attributed to climate change in the past.
For this study, researchers examined the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most rapidly subsiding and lowest-elevation surfaces, which borders the Chesapeake Bay.
The area is going through what geologists call a "fore-bulge collapse," also known as the reason for many of Washington's foreseeable geological woes. During the last ice age, a mile-high ice sheet pushed the land under the Chesapeake Bay region up. When the ice sheet melted 20,000 years ago, the bulging land began to settle back down.
"It's a bit like sitting on one side of a water bed filled with very thick honey... when you stand, the bulge comes down again," said former USGS geologist Ben DeJong, one of the lead authors on the study, who conducted the research at University of Vermont's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.”
President Trump is also a microcosm of the current state of mainstream Christianity, whether denominational or otherwise. In spite of doing all the things I already wrote about, president Trump is a regular churchgoer. President Trump, like much of the rest of America, seems to think he can do whatever is expedient for himself and his family real estate empire, and he undoubtedly calls himself 'blessed' because of it all. Well-to-do mainstream Christians are filled with people just like that every Sunday morning, believing God has blessed them when all they really did was to help themselves to all they could carry away from the 'negotiating table'. Or sometimes, whatever they can take by force, it happens every day. They go to church every Sunday as a token of acknowledging their sinful natures and professing their devout beliefs, but then they go back to doing the same things the following week! Jesus had something to say about this issue, and I quote: “Looking at his disciples he said, 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you who hunger, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” (Luke chapter 6, verses 20-22)
But then Jesus continues: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6, verses 24-26) So based on this quote from our Lord and Savior, those who think they are richly blessed by God are actually on their way to hell! These are the people who think life is all about accumulating as much as we can, when in fact life is all about the legacy we leave behind. Instead of being focused on ourselves, we're supposed to be focused on Christ and the blood he shed for us all! But what are today's churches focused on? The bottom line, which is propelled by church membership and the money those members donate! Christianity isn't about Christ at all; Jesus is more of an afterthought than anything else, and this is wrong!
Pulitzer prize winning author Chris Hedges was asked about corruption in churches during a forum with Mr. Robert Scheer, who said of Mr. Hedges, “There’s a complexity to your view. You come out of the mainstream Protestant Church. Your father, who is a minister, is a man you had enormous respect for, championed gay rights, civil rights when it was not popular. And I just wonder, and I know you resent when I say you have a prophetic voice, since I know nothing about scripture I probably don’t know anything about prophetic voices, but nonetheless it does seem to me your strength and clarity comes out of your Christian background.”
Chris Hedges responded, “Yeah, without question. And what I’m willing to do, which the mainstream church is not, is to denounce the Christian right as Christian heretics [applause]. You don’t have to, as I did, spend three years at Harvard Divinity School to realize that Jesus didn’t come to make us rich [laughter]. And he certainly didn’t come to make Pat Robertson and Joel Osteen rich. And what they have done is acculturate the worst aspects of American imperialism, capitalism, chauvinism, violence and bigotry into the Christian religion. And again let’s go back to Wiemar and the rise of Nazism. We saw the same thing in the so-called German Christian Church, which fused the iconography and language of Christianity with Nazism. It’s not a new phenomenon. It was the minority within that church, Bonhoeffer, Niemoller, Karl Barth, Schweizer who created the underground Confessing Church. And my great mentor at Harvard Divinity School, James Luther Adams [applause], was at the University of Heidelberg in 1935 and 1936 and dropped out and joined the Confessing Church. And when I had him in the early ’80s at Harvard, he used to tell us that when we were his age we would all be fighting the Christian fascists. Because, he understood that the Weimarization of the American working class, essentially pushing (America's) working population into utter despair and hopelessness, coupled with a religious movement that fused national and religious symbols, was a recipe for fascism. And I think the great failure of the liberal tradition that I come out of is they were too frightened and too timid to stand up. I don’t know why they spent all the years in seminary if they didn’t realize that when they walked out the door they were going to have to fight for it. And they didn’t fight for it.”
Jesus said it, the apostle Paul wrote it, and I still believe it: There will be no cowards in heaven. Period, end of story! We as Christians have a moral obligation to stand up to tyranny, and to oppose greed and materialism as being the very antithesis of what it truly means to be an authentic follower of Jesus Christ, the Son of God! Moreover, the Bible has a few other things to say about rich people who are obsessed with obtaining even more wealth, just like president Trump, and I quote just a few of the many examples in the Bible:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.Matthew 6:19-21
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Luke 12:33-34
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.1 Timothy 6:17-19
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
As you all can see, the above quotes, combined with the farcical nature of the Trump presidency and the corrupt nature of America's political and economic systems, are a microcosm of what is wrong with America, capitalism and Christianity. I'm trying to sound the alarm about this because I see danger ahead, and we had better begin preparing for it now while we still have a little time left. Better hurry, too, or it will be too late.
Friday, May 12, 2017
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Which Does the Bible Say Is Better? Helping the Rich Distribute to the Poor, or Helping the Poor Directly?
By Pastor Paul J. Bern
The events of this past week inside the Beltway in Washington, DC have been a reminder to us all that the super-rich have taken over our country in a bloodless coup. The first step has been taken to repeal the national health insurance passed by the previous presidential administration known as “Obama-care”. In actuality, had both the presidential candidates in last year's election endorsed Bernie Sanders' idea of simply putting the whole country on Medicare, this entire discussion, not to mention this past week's legislation of “Trump-care”, would be unnecessary. But sadly, that is not the case. So, what has occurred this week is that roughly 38 million people will lose their health care coverage while corporate America and the Wall Street billionaires get a $500,000,000.00 tax break.
President Trump, a man whose own qualifications to be president are becoming increasingly open to question, is the one who has spearheaded this entire series of events while conservative white Americans have been cheering at Trump's every move. This, my dear readers, is what America has devolved into – an all-Caucasian oligarchy! Slavery may have been abolished in 1865, but starvation wages still prevail. If “Trump-care“ passes into law, the bottom 20% of wage earners in America will lose their health care coverage, but not so much for everyone else. This is the reason the “Occupy” Movement has remained so popular, except that it has evolved into Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, S.D. and the fight for a $15.00 per hour minimum wage, among other things. And why is it that the rich have taken over the whole country while the remaining 99% of us languish in poverty? I can sum it up in one word – debt! The rich have buried the remainder of us under a mountain of debt. Today's American consumers are faced with being forced to borrow just to pay their bills. We have upside-down mortgages, upside-down car loans, never-ending student loans, usurious title pawn loans, payday loans and a whole host of other predatory practices that are fundamentally unfair.
So I got to wondering what the Bible has to say about this topic. After considerable thought, prayer, study and meditation God has shown me which Scriptures to use for today. So let's go back in the Old Testament to the Book of Nehemiah chapter 5 (for you newer readers, Nehemiah is between Ezra and Esther). I will start at verse 1, but I'm going to break this passage up into a couple of parts so that I may do the best job I can at breaking this down for everyone. “Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. So were saying, 'We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.' Others are saying, 'We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.' Still others are saying, 'We have had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and vineyards belong to others.'” (Nehemiah 5, verses 1-5)
The people during Nehemiah's time were experiencing a severe food shortage, and whatever food was available was priced so far out of the reach of the working people and the farmers that they were having to mortgage everything just to feed their families. As you can see, government assistance during hard times was nonexistent during this time, and people were really suffering as a result. “Others are saying, 'We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.' Still others are saying, 'We have had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards.” In today's terms, credit cards, student loans and 30-year mortgages – combined with stagnant wages that are stuck at 1960's levels – are the new famines and new insurmountable debts of the 21st century.
“....we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and vineyards belong to others.” Show me a people who have had their economic power taken away by debt, and I will show you a people who have lost their political clout as well. Plus, the slavery back then for the daughters and at least a few of the young men was sex slavery, of that you can be sure. God will never be pleased with us as long as this we allow this kind of bad behavior among humankind! It's up to us to take charge of this situation and turn it around! What are we waiting for? And now let's move on to the next few verses, starting at verse 6.
“When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, 'You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!' So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said, 'As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!' They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. So I continued, 'What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them – the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.'” (Nehemiah 5, verses 6-11)
Just like in verse 6, when I see people having to file bankruptcy because of unpaid medical bills, or becoming homeless because of that, or maybe a job loss, I too get angry. It is fundamentally unfair to be living on the streets, or in your cars if you are lucky enough to still own one at that point. But let's put this into its historical context for a moment. The sentences, “As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!' They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say....”, are referring to the then-recent release of the Israelites of old from the Babylonian Empire, where they had been held captive for the previous 70 years by King Artaxerxes before being released so they could rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem. All this was done at Nehemiah's request, which he formally made to the king, not unlike a modern-day petition to the government. The request was granted (see chapter 1 of Nehemiah), the Israelites – who had just spent the previous 70 years in Babylonian captivity – went back to what was left of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple there. So this entire conversation is actually taking place long after everyone has returned, but before the first crop has matured enough to be harvested. Nehemiah is giving those in charge of the rebuilding a stern lecture on fairness.
“What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them.” I could modernize those first 2 verses by writing, “You're charging too much interest, and it financially cripples the entire population! This is grossly immoral! And so now, in the interest of fairness and ethics, you must give back all the properties, cars and trucks you have forcibly taken even though the debtors were making serious efforts to make good on those debts. This is a 'cease and desist' order to stop this unethical practice immediately!” This also includes credit cards, which people often must use to pay for groceries, clothing, medical bills and utility bills. People should not have to pay interest just to be able to feed their children and pay their power and phone bills! And now let me conclude today's message, beginning at verse 12.
“'We will give it back', they said. 'And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.' Then I summoned the priests and and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, 'In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!' At this the whole assembly said, 'Amen!', and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.” (Nehemiah 5, verses 12-13).
This is exactly what the Big Five banks and Wall St. investors need to do, and the same goes for the IRS. Let go of the strangle hold, Washington and Wall Street, that you currently have the American people locked into! Not just a head-lock, mind you, but a stranglehold! That's felony assault and battery the last time I checked. If any of us were to do any such thing to an individual, we'd be in jail for assault. If any of us were to do that to a business or other financial institution, we'd be charged with extortion. But if the government does that to any of us, then it's called “taxation”. The warning from God is clear here. The governmental and financial systems must start treating the population – and each other – fairly, or we will find ourselves judged and will be found wanting in the presence of God. Trust me, you don't want to go there, that's for sure! So the lesson for today is only this: Stop mistreating each other for profit! And governments, starting with America's, enact better laws to protect working people so that the problem of economic inequality can be permanently solved. If none of these things are done, and if things are allowed to continue on for much longer, the whole country is going to turn into a powder keg. Then again, maybe that's the only choice the American people have left if we're going to be able to take back our country.