Richard Falk on War, Water and The Wolf of Wall Street

Our guest today is Richard Falk – an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years.Switzerland-UN-Rights_Horo-e1370966495239

Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

His books include:

(Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (Global Horizons) by Richard Falk

Predatory Globalization: A Critique by Richard Falk (Oct 25, 1999)

You can read his blog http://richardfalk.wordpress.com
*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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Maybe the Mayans Weren’t Wrong

In all of the hub-bub surrounding the Mayan apocalypse that came and went without incident, it was tough to resist the funny one-liner on Facebook and Twitter. We have become so calloused against the doomsday predictions that have fueled the religious airwaves, TV broadcasts and book sales of the last 30 years.

I get that. I came to faith during the cold-war in the heyday of characters like Hal Lidsay, Harold Camping and the Left-Behind phenomenon. Y2K was a bust and everyone was holding on for the December 2012 end of the Mayan calendar.  But I’m afraid that in our hurry to make funny quips we may have missed something important:

This actually could be the end of time.

It is similar the snark-fest regarding the Hostess bankruptcy and the end of Ding-Dongs and Twinkies.  Lost in all of the jokes was the reality of unjust labor practices by the cooperate execs of Hostess who, even at the end when massive layoffs could have been averted, continued to pay themselves ridiculous salaries and bonuses.

Hostess stole money from it’s workers pensions to use for things like operations – the whole while paying millions of dollars in bonuses to it’s 19 executives who were leading it into bankruptcy.

We didn’t address the illegal, and unjust practices of the mis-management, I suspect, because  there were just too many jokes to be made about Twinkies.

It appears that a similar scenario has blinded us to the reality of the Mayan calendar.

Never mind that the Mayans didn’t predict an end-of-the-world on the actual day – only that the calendar ended. 
Never mind how the ancient people may have conceived of the cyclical nature of time.
Never mind the odd fascination that descendants of European colonist have with indigenous artifacts from a genocidally exterminated people.

Jokes about the Mayans provided too many punchlines.

The Mayans were made a joke. 

But, like the Hostess bankruptcy, I wonder if a much bigger issue was ignored in the flurry of Facebook snark and apocalyptic themed parties.

What was lost in all the end-of-the-world banter was a sobering look at the realties that we face as humanity and that, if one had ears to hear, would sound an alarming warning signal that the world as we know is in real crisis.

I fear that like the proverbial frog in a kettle, that we have slowly adjusted and grown comfortable in rising temperature of the water and have failed to acknowledge that things might soon boil over.

Just take three areas

  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Military Tensions

Long ago, I left-behind the reading of Revelation that causes so many to live in fear of an impending catastrophe. But I’m not sure that people of faith can afford to grow comfortable thinking that the world we see is in it’s final form. Capitalism, Democracy and Nation-States are assumed to be the as-is realties on the planet.

 Zizek is oft-quoted as saying Christians are fascinated with the end of the world because it is easier to imagine life ceasing to exist on planet earth than it is for Christians to imagine an economy after capitalism.

 Global capitalism has bankrupted itself. The European Union (with countries like Greece and Spain) is in real trouble. The American economy is being exposed with its massive debts and downgraded dollar. China has mixed capitalism in with a form of communism – and a massive population – in a way that leaves most experts baffled.

 The environment is being degridated. It is conceivable that our ground water could be toxified, our warming oceans could cause extinction of the seafood we eat, and our thirst for easy energy (what the Frack are we doing?) could have repercussions that would make the planet uninhabitable for the human species.*

 That is all before nuclear fallout. Tensions is the middle east, America’s admittedly endless war on terror, and desperate global disparity are now more consequential than ever.**

It one takes the failing global economy, the toxification of the environment and the realities of perpetual war – maybe the Mayans weren’t wrong after all.

Maybe we have moved into the end of time.

_________________

* The practice of ‘mountian-top’ removal in places like West Virginia coal is instructive about environmental impacts.
** The Isreal-Palestine conflict and America’s role are especially illuminating.

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When did America become like God? or Who would die for their country?

Charles Taylor, in his book Modern Social Imaginaries,  utilizes the term ‘social imaginary’ to refer to god-like capacity described by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities.  The term encompasses a threefold meaning:

  • First is the way that ordinary people “imagine” their surroundings in images, stories, and legends.
  • Second is the general acceptance and participation in the imaginary by a population and not simply the theories dominated by a small elite.
  • Third is empowerment provided from the imaginary for widely shared practices – and a sense of legitimization.[1]

One impact of this capacity to conceptualize national identity and belonging is in answer to the question “what would make someone be willing to die for their country?”

Anderson proposes a model of historic drift where sovereignty, which had previously been located in either religion or king (or both), has shifted decisively to the Nation in recent centuries. This is a dramatic innovation and recognizing nationality as a valid location for sovereignty has significantly altered matters related to loyalty, sacrifice and belonging.

Anderson proposes a definition of the nation as “an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” The distinction as imagined comes because “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them”.

Communities are limited because there must be some distinguishing demarcation outside of which are other communities (nations), which provide both competition and opportunities for cooperation. This distinction provides a vital function as classifications for the project of establishing communities.

Communities are imagined as sovereignbecause the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm.” [2]
The dissolving social order of caste and class provided more level (if desperately unequal in reality) conception of both membership and participation for the mass of the population. This perceived leveling and opening gave rise to a new capacity for sacrifice on behalf of the imagined entity – an entity that was not solely and externally located in eternity or beyond, but in an ideal which one was associated (belonged) and participated and was thus responsible. To die for a religion (God) or a King was to reinforce that social order which established the hierarchical strata. Locating sovereignty within the conception of Nation – however dispersed and elusive – was a profound change.

In 1922 Carl Schmitt wrote his famous work Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty and claims  that

“all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”[3]

In 2011 Paul Kahn wrote an engagement of Schmitt’s work with four new chapters on the same subject where he says that the capacity for the state to ask for this kind of sacrifices, the power to pardon – which is a remnant of Kingly authority, and the symbolic notion of a flag that needed to be defended are all remnants of a religious notion. The very word sovereign is borrowed from religious vocabulary.  Kahn explains:

Political theology today is best thought of as an effort to describe the social imaginary … (arguing) that secularization, as the displacement of the sacred from the world of experience, never won, even though the church may have lost. The politics of the modern nation-state indeed rejected the church but simultaneously offered a new site of sacred experience.[4]

You can begin to see why the constitution is often thought of and talked about as an inspired document (sacred text) and why those who were responsible for it’s creation (founding fathers) are celebrated at patriarchs.[5]  If Schmitt is right – even partially – then all of these similarities are neither trivial nor inconsequential.

The power of the state to ask for death in order to preserve itself and the capacity of people to willingly offer their lives in defense of that conception is profound. The notion of the sovereign holding the power of exception goes all the way from the individual being pardoned (as referenced earlier) to modern realities impacting all of humanity. The President has the ability to launch nuclear weapons if the President was to view that the national interest was in jeopardy.

Kahn uses this to illustrate his point. What are we saying about the nation that we are willing to jeopardize human heath, the planet, and subsequent generations for its defense? What could possibly be above human health and planetary environmental conditions? The answer is ‘only something that is of ultimate concern’. 
The modern conception of the state is thus a result of religious conceptions and has replaced (in some sense) religion as the location of sovereignty one is willing to ultimately sacrifice and die for. Nation is a construct of transcendent meaning found in an imagined community.[6]

Now this is where it gets really interesting! 

Arjun Appadurai, in Modernity at Large interacts with Anderson and observes that:

Modern nationalisms involve communities of citizens in the territorially defined nation-state who share collective experience, not of face-to-face contact or common subordination to a royal person, but of reading texts together.[8]

Much of the rhetorical energies of the ruling powers are used in order to urge “their subjects to give up … primordial loyalties – to family, tribe, caste, and region” for the “fragile abstractions” called nations which are often “multiethnic … tenuous collective projects”.[9]

Only within the power of national imaginaries can one see the possibility of such a monument as a tomb left intentionally empty or holding the remains of an unidentified combatant. Anderson points out the absurdity of “a Tomb of the Unknown Marxist or a cenotaph for fallen Liberals.”[10]  There is no reserve of belonging that would justify such a display. It would hold little value outside the context of national identity.

And that is how the sausage called nationalism is made!  I would love to hear your thoughts.  



[1] Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 23.

[2] Anderson, Imagined Communities, 8.

[3] Paul W. Kahn, Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, location 37.

[4] Ibid., 360.

[5] CBC Ideas podcast  ‘The Myth of Secularism’ part 5

[6] It is not difficult within this framing to view contemporary movements such as the Tea Party as merely an extreme example of a group calling for a romanticized notion of an imagined past or legacy.

[7] Anderson, Imagined Communities, 8.

[8] Arjun Appadurai, Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, 161.

[9] Ibid., 162.

[10] Anderson, Imagined Communities, 10.

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I Might Vote For The First Time Next Month

I’m thinking about voting for the first time next month.  I mean, seriously thinking about it.  But I’m not sure I want to break the seal – cross that threshold – and break my long string of abstaining.

 Here is the background on why I have never voted: 

  • In High-school my family moved from the Chicagoland area to Saskatchewan, Canada. After High-school I stayed in Canada to play football when my family moved to NY and I became a dual citizen.

When you come of age outside your culture of origin, you see some stuff within that culture a little differently. Voting (and politics in general) was one of them. I didn’t see its impact locally like I would have if I was a farmer or a school teacher, I saw it through the media circus. Loyalty and responsibility take on a different meaning when you have dual belonging.

  • When I got filled with Holy Spirit and called to ministry I was initiated in a very dualistic form of evangelical charismatic christianity. It was spiritual in contrast to physical. Church in contrast to world. Supernatural in contrast to natural.

I was a zealous young man and so I took it further than most. Many would quote the verse “we are in the world but not of the world”. I would take it further and quote 2 Timothy 2:4 “”No good soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”  I followed the Lutheran idea of ‘two kingdoms’ (kingdom of God and kingdom of this world) all the way down.

  • When I became Ordained I not only opted out of Social Security (which ministers are allowed to do in their first two years of filing taxes) but I registered with the Government as an objector.

I am a registered objector. I indicated that what remaining taxes I did pay, I did not want them going to pay for wars … and this was before W was in office (!). I would tell people “I am not political. I am focused on the spiritual realm not the physical. The government takes care of people in this way, I take care of people in a different way. Plus, I don’t want my loyalties in the natural realm to limit my ministry to people in the supernatural.”  It actually worked quite well for me for a time. I was very vocal about my opting out of the system and in my congregation was a eclectic mix of New England Democrats and pre- Fox News Republicans.

Why I am thinking about voting for the first time: 

  •  I no longer subscribe to the dualism of natural – supernatural, physical – spiritual, or church – world. I have shed my understanding of Luther’s two kingdoms.  I read Jesus’ admonition about “In the world but not of the world” differently now … and all it took was an introduction to Biblical scholarship and some Roman political history. 
  • Randy Woodley was my mentor in seminary and he would ask me to explain my politics to him and then challenge me that it was incoherent and inconsistent. I play my conversations with him over and over in my head. Once you study colonial history (or even 20th century history) you realize that to be silent in the face of systemic oppression and repressive legislation is to become complicit with the injustice and suffering that the God you claim to serve is so opposed to.
  • I read Martin Luther Kings “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”  and realized that I was one of those white ministers he was talking about being disappointed in and let down by.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; …Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

  •  The attacks on September 11, 2001 and the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld (and Halliburton) parley into two wars under the false guise of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ haunts me when I think of how a different administration might have proceeded differently.
  • As one getting their PhD in Religious Education I have become all too aware of the impact of economic and bureaucratic decisions on children’s education. I don’t see how you can know what I know now and not do something so little that can make such a big change for so many.
  • I live in California where we don’t just vote for candidates (which I am still not sure I can do) but we also vote on propositions. Some of these propositions directly impact school budgets and it would be gross neglect to stay silent on them when our public schools are in such desperate shape.
  • The Paul Ryan budget is immoral and unimaginable. I was still siting on the fence about voting – even with the whole Tea Party and Occupy movement thing – until Romney’s selection for his Vice Presidential running mate. I have watched the union stuggles in Wisconsin and Chicago, I have listened to the disgusting rhetoric of this latest financial crisis and continueing bailouts of Wall Street and too-big-fail banks… but when Romney picked Ryan … and I had just recorded that interview with Randy Woodley … I was horrified.

 Why I am still hesitating: 

I read Chris Hedges ‘Death of the Liberal Class’ and can not shake the nauseating reality of just how broken our democratic system is. Both candidates are owned by big business and the election (thanks to the Citizens United decision) is a sham.

It seems to me that to participate in a process this corrupt is to somehow be complicit with the immorality and to sanction or validate these compromised actors.

I have gone this long and there is just something in my identity, something about the way that I imagine myself and tell my story that can not conceive of crossing that line – of breaking the seal and entering into this realm. It is the strangest thing to think about.

 In the end: 

Smiley and West is my second favorite podcast in the world (next to the one I am on). No, President Obama did not do so many things that he said he would do the first time (like close Guantanamo) but … he also did some stuff (like health care reform) that was much needed (although I question the for-profit nature of our insurance companies).

I’m not sure how I feel about endorsing professional politicians, but in the end I just don’t know how I can have learned what I have learned about education in the country and not do something that would so greatly impact the young people – and disproportionately young people of color.

After all, I would hate to have the problem of Christopher Reeve that I spoke so harshly against.

 I am interested if you have any thoughts on my journey.  Comments? Questions?  

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The Pornography of Fundamentalism

- by Bo Sanders

Normally I try to be as generous, welcoming and irenic as possible. One of my favorite slogans actually comes from my venerable partner Tripp Fuller at Big Tent 1 when he said that the ‘tent’ should be big enough for every former incarnation of ourself … but I was never a fundamentalist. I flirted with being one in Bible College but never converted.

This past week I was flying back across the country after visiting my family and I was rummaging through my Ipod to see if anything caught my attention. I stumbled on an old Slavo Zizek lecture. As with all Zizek lectures he wandered through almost every topic under the sun – but two caught my attention: pornography and fundamentalism. I want to try and connect them here.

In a pornographic movie, the dialogue is secondary. It is merely window dressing. Think back to your younger years – before you were a christian. The dialogue is a thinly veiled, contrived scenario to get the actors into the same space. It is little more.

 A handyman comes over to a lonely women’s apartment to fix a hole in the wall. She says something about another hole that needs attention.

You get the idea. The dialogue is superfluous to the real intention. It is poorly written and even more poorly delivered. The dialogue is a facade, it is merely intended to set up the main activity. [added laterIt allows for the suspension of suspicion so that one can enter into the fantasy. 

 Dialogue performs the same function for Christian Fundamentalists.

Don’t misunderstand me – I am not saying that the verbiage of fundamentalists is insincere or disingenuous. It is not. Fundamentalist believe it with all their heart. What I am saying is that the words in church perform the same function as dialogue in porn. The words that are spoken are secondary to the main activities: nationalism, militarism and capitalism.

When I was in Bible College I use to set my VCR to record TV preachers while I was at school. I loved listening to preachers. I wanted to be one and I modeled myself on the famous ones. I even sent money to folks like Chuck Swindoll so I could get their tapes and listen to them over and over.

The more I read the Bible, however, the more I realized that something was wrong. At my evangelical college we studied the historical context of the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East. We even touched on some Roman legal stuff for the New Testament –  while avoiding things like Empire for the most part. [Jesus’ message was spiritual after all, not political.]

I started getting a pit in my stomach when pastors would shoe-horn modern issues between the lines of scripture. It made me nervous when they would draw a direct line from ancient Israel to modern America. My fallout actually came in two parts:

  • Step one was simply (but quietly) objecting to the lack of translation or conversion between Old Testament Israel  which was a theocracy and America which was democracy … and a pluralistic one at that.
  • Step two was the vehement (nearly venomous) push-back I got when broached the subject.

It was in the vicious rebuffs that something grotesque was exposed. The words that were spoken – while important and delivered with conviction – were secondary to the real driving influence and aim. The real engine is nationalism, militarism and capitalism. Those are the real gods of American fundamentalists. The christian verbiage is the fiberglass body. It is important, visible and gets most of the attention but it is not what is driving the machine.

Like dialogue in porn, it is only utilized to get the players into proximity with each other. It is only used to set up the main (real) activity.

Ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Why are voices raised, fists shaken, and teeth gritted when fundamentalists talk about God pouring out love for us in Christ and salvation being found in ‘the way, the truth, and the life’? Why doesn’t the medium match the message?
  2. Why is there unquestioned support for modern Israel regardless of their atrocities and unjust behaviors?
  3. Why is it permissible to be so aggressive with people who disagree with you on issues like who is allowed to be married (a civil union) by the state?

The reason that the medium doesn’t match the message is because the real message is not found in the words. Like dialogue in porn, it is only meant to set up the scenario for the real activity. Spend all the time you want on analyzing it or the logic behind it, but it is like capturing fog. It is a temporary holder for the main event. In fundamentalism’s case, that is nationalism, militarism and capitalism. Don’t get distracted by the christian verbiage or the message of Jesus – you will only be frustrated and baffled. No, there is something else driving this machine.  Just ask questions, even quietly, and you will hear where the real priorities are.

 

Why this matter so much is cover in part 3: It’s a Sign.  

 

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Waiting for Superman: the problem with Christopher Reeve

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine about Christopher Reeve. As you may remember the rich movie star, famous for his role as Superman, was tossed from his show horse and broke his neck resulting in paralysis. He soon began a campaign to bring awareness for the cause of such things as paralysis.

I was talking to this friend of mine who subscribes to the idea that everything is in God’s hands and everything happens for a reason (since God is in control). I was making the point that since Mr. Reeve did not care about such things as paralysis before he fell off a horse, it calls into question whether he is doing his now benevolent work for an ego-centric reason since he is campaigning for the very condition from which he suffers. ?
My point was that it would have been remarkable if some superstar or famous person cared about something before it impacted them personally. It intrigues me to see someone standing up for something that wasn’t just their back yard.
My friend thought that this was ridiculous. And said that there is a divine plan in such matters and that the proud will be humbled so that they can do this kind of work. I think that there is a great danger in the kind of thinking.

1. We are not only to care about things that directly impact us. One of the major points of Jesus‘ teaching was to care for those who couldn’t or didn’t return the favor. If we only love those who love us, what have we done? Everyone does that. If we invite to dinner only those who will reciprocate, what good is that? Even the pharisees do that. If we keep our energy and influence within a circle of economy that ultimately benefits us and ours, what value is there? Even the pagans do that.

We are supposed to be a people who look outside ourselves. Who reach out to those just beyond our natural reach. To work for those who don’t (and maybe can’t) pay us back. To folks who circles of economy don’t immediately overlap with our wealth of influence and credibility.

2. Unless we are going to adopt (or wholesale buy into) a form of divine ordination of things like the myth of progressive society, manifest destiny, social darwinism or historic inevitability – then we are on thin ice with this kind of thinking.

When I was a Sr. Pastor my wife was the director of Rape Crisis for the county which was a part of the Domestic Violence hotline. I have heard so many times over the past 20 years of being in ministry some configuration of ‘God allowed this to happen so that the victim can now help other victims/ work on the problem’. This both terrifies me (about our view of God) and infuriates me (double wounding the victim).

I get wanting to say that God was not absent from care in the situation. I do. But because we concede the omnipotence idea initially we run into that overly simple binary that if God is loving why didn’t then ‘he’ is not all-powerful and if God is all-powerful then ‘he’ is not loving. This will never get us anywhere.
We need to have a real theology of sin and a real anthropology. It is not enough to simply quote watered down clichés of something Europeans held to in the 17th and 18th centuries.

3. We are fools if we don’t think that things outside our backyard don’t effect us. There is no such thing as an individual. Every time we say ‘individual’ we must say ‘an individual in community’. There is no individual. It is an enlightenment fraud. You were born into a family, socialized into a society, you don’t speak a private language and you are intimately tied to those around you and the earth that upholds you.

So much of our short-sighted thinking acts as if we are not inter-connected in a web of relationships. Communities, cultures, economies, environments, and families are both related and in some way impacted by each other. To think otherwise is not simply foolish but sheer fantasy. What happens over there impacts us over here.

In fact, I would expand it one ring further: I need the other. I am missing something that they can supply and God has designed-called us into a mutuality and partnership that strengthens us all. I am in as much need of what they have as they are of what I bring. We need each other.

The old saying is lacking. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is impossible – it can’t be done. You can not have someone else’s experience. The best we can do is to build a friendship of trust, where someone tells me their story – shares with me the truth of their experience and I believe them.

When it comes to matters of race, gender and sexuality I think that we should admit that we all have something at stake in the conversation. Matters of race and color are not only important to non-whites. Gender isn’t something that only women should care about. Sexuality is not just a conversation about same-sex attraction. By not addressing issues of privilege and the fantasy of individualism we are stunting the conversation and the scope of our impact.

To summarize:

  • Jesus both modeled and taught that we are to care about more than just things that impact us directly.
  • Unless we think that this world is how God wants it to be, we need to revisit some really bad ideas we have inherited.
  • We are fooling ourselves if we think that what happens over there does not impact us over here. We are all in this together – and in fact, we need each other. God designed it that way.

Let me give you three examples:

  1. In the documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’, public education and problems with our school systems are detailed. It is a heartbreaking situation. If you don’t think that in our lifetime, that will not impact everyone of us …
  2. We have a problem in our prisons. What some call the Prison Industrial Complex and what Michelle Alexander calls the New Jim Crow is at epidemic proportions. We have a higher percentage of black men in prison in the US than South Africa had during apartheid. Half of all inmates are black. One-quarter of all African American males in their 20’s are in prison, on probation, on parole, or awaiting trial. You think that doesn’t affect us all?
  3. Domestic violence against women is the leading cause of injury – resulting in more emergency room visits than car crashes, muggings and rapes combined. What is said from our pulpits about this?

Here is why I bring this up:  if the christian gospel is supposed to be the solution – the antidote to the sin-sickness that ails us – but it continues to conceptualize the issues the way it does and participate in the culture wars the way it is … then we have a problem. The thing that is supposed to help make us well is actually contributing to the disease of ‘me and mine’. If that is the case, then what hope is there? At that point, we would no longer have the power of the gospel, we would have some odd mutation or amalgamation of some civil religion with vaguely christian veneer.

May it never be. What happens over there impacts us over here. We need each other. God designed us this way and Jesus both taught and modeled this way for us. If I only care about those things that impact me or only reach out to those who can profit me – what have I really done. Even the pharisees do that. We are to have an eye toward a kin-dom that doesn’t work the way this world does.

 

[tomorrow in part 2 I'll explain why fundamentalism is pornography] 

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I am not a pacifist nor am I non-violent

In anticipation of recording a TNT (Theology Nerd Throw-Down) tomorrow afternoon in which Tripp and I will deal with J.R. Daniel Kirk’s blog post about violence and the gospel, I thought it would be good to put all my cards on the table.

Kirk is one of our favorite New Testament scholars and one of our favorite bloggers. He is a masterful HomeBrewer and an Academic of renown. This week he had the opportunity to catch up on his podcasts and one our TNT was one his selected listens.

He had concerns about some of the content and in his post he said:

“What about those passages that make Jesus himself look more “violent” than selections in the Sermon might? E.g., what about the Jesus of the narrow way and crashing house from the end of the Sermon? But then there is also the question of what comes before and what comes after. There is judgment. In the OT there is war and destruction. In Revelation there is a lake of fire.”

I thought it would be good to put forward my thoughts 24 hours ahead of our recording to see what the deacons had to say.

I am not a pacifist. That label has come to mean ‘passive’ and my reading of the gospel does not allow for one to be passive in their engagement in the world.

I am not into non-violence. While I appreciate that long and astounding history of those who promote non-violence, I do not subscribe to the theory of non-violence. As a post-Colonial scholar I reserve the right of oppressed minorities to both defend themselves and to aggressively pursue their own liberation and freedom.

I do not believe that God is violent. I am resigned to the fact that humans are violent and that humans project the validation for their violence on their deity – whoever who he or she might be. Jesus shows us a different way.

So there are three ideas presented in the negative. Here are my three convictions in the positive.

  • I am under the impression that Jesus is the highest revelation of God. As a Christian, I hold that God was uniquely present in Jesus and that Jesus shows us what God is really like (image of the invisible God and all that).

 

  • I am a radical peace maker. I take the sermon on the mount very seriously and I am under the impression that we should be aggressive in our pursuit of peace, reconciliation and restoration.

 

  • I am convicted that violence begets more violence. While I am not a pacifist nor into non-violence (per se) I am deeply convinced that the problem with violence is that it begets more violence. This is why contemporary debates about war and American foreign policy are nothing more than drivel and posturing. Violence begets more violence. [ I don’t have enough time to go into how both Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden are products of US foreign creation}

With that in mind, I would like to acknowledge an issue raised by Dr. Kirk’s.

Jesus flipped over tables. To quote the late Chris Farley “well ladi freakin’ da!” So what? Is that what you want to do? Flip over tables at church? Well go ahead – with my blessing! But let’s be honest – Jesus turning over tables opens the door for you to justify invading foreign counties and dropping bombs on civilians who might be enemy-combatants. Seems like a leap eh? Listen to christian radio, christian TV, or Fox News. Apparently it is not that big of a jump. If all you wanted to do (with God’s blessing) is to flip over tables at church – this would be a non-issue.

Yes, the story of Joshua is a violent one. Tomorrow on TNT we will address the issue that God told the Israelites to invade Canaan and kill all the inhabitants – as well as that that damned Lake of Fire in the New Testament.

I’m looking forward to having that conversation.

______

On a different note …

I have been having the conversation for almost 20 years. It almost always goes the exact same way.

Me: Jesus told us to love one another and to turn the other cheek. He also modeled it when he was ‘led like a lamb to slaughter’.

Guy: Are you telling my that if somebody broke into your house you would just let him rape your wife?

(I’m not kidding, that it almost always the first objection)

Me: No. I would not stand by and let someone rape my wife.

Guy: I thought you were a pacifist.

Me: That doesn’t mean being passive. There are many ways to resist, restrain and deter that kind of violence.

Guy: I would kill him. I would shoot him in the face.

Me: … I think there are alternatives beside killing.

Guy: You are lying if you say that you would not kill him too. And if the Americans didn’t get involved in WWII then we would all be speaking German right now!

(Hitler is almost always the second objection)

___

In the end, I am not a pacifist because it is an ideology that one subscribes to that takes options off the table. I am not into non-violence because it limits the response of oppressed communities. I also am not a big fan of defining yourself in the negative.

What I am into into is aggressive peacemaking. I am against preemptive war and I believe that violence begets more violence.

I would love your thoughts as we prepare for tomorrow’s show.

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Violence in the Hunger Games

Writing a paper on Globalization calls for a serious study break and tonight I headed to the opening day of the Hunger Games. There are three things that you should know about my movie going experience:

  1. My theater is one block from UCLA and I appeared to be the oldest person in the theatre.
  2. LA is wonderful for diversity. This was the most eclectic group of folks I have watched an opening night movie with since I watched the Waterboy in New York  (1998)
  3. I have intentionally not watched a single preview or read anything about the movie whatsoever. I hate how previews ruin the narrative experience for me.

In short I will simply say this for the movie:

  • It was better than advertised.
  • The DeColonial themes in the first half of the movie were incredible (I will write more about this next week).
  • If you are contemplating going, you should go.

That being said, I left the theatre with three quotes running though my head. The first relates to a scene where a young person (on the badteam) is killed and the crowd I was with … cheered. Now, up to that point violence had been a very bad thing and an unwanted/inevitable element of oppression and Imperial spectacle. I’m not even focusing on the violence against women angle here – just the violence alone. Chris Hedges talk of war movies the same way:

“They turn war into porn. Soldiers and Marines, especially those who have never seen war, buy cases of beer and watch movies like Platoon, movies meant to denounce war, and as they do, they revel in the destructive power of weaponry. The reality of violence is different. Everything formed by violence is senseless and useless. It exists without a future. It leaves behind nothing but death, grief, and destruction.” –  Death of the Liberal Class (p. 55).

As a Christian I am always amazed by an ever-present paradox.Often in my circles, folks who have air-tight orthodoxy cred and are in complete alignment with the Creedal formulations … have an openness to violence and a willingness for militarism the betrays the very story of the Jesus that they so passionately proclaim.  Then they run into somebody like John Caputo who’s orthodoxy & ontology are surely suspect by who gets Jesus right:

 “The kingdom of God is the rule of weak forces like patience and forgiveness, which, instead of forcibly exacting payment for an offense, release and let go. The kingdom is found whenever war and aggression are met with an offer of peace. The kingdom is a way of living, not in eternity, but in time, a way of living without why, living for the day, like the lilies of the field – figures of weak forces – as opposed to mastering and programming time, calculating the future, containing and managing risk. The kingdom reigns wherever the least and most undesirable are favored while the best and most powerful are put on the defensive. The powerless power of the kingdom prevails whenever the one is preferred to the ninety-nine, whenever one loves one’s enemies and hates one’s father and mother while the world, which believes in power, counsels us to fend off our enemies and keep the circle of kin and kind, of family and friends, fortified and tightly drawn.” -The Weakness of God, p. 15

I think I would rather be with Caputo and get Jesus right than to have the right Christology and miss the whole point with Jesus. The final quote comes from Franz Fannon in the Wretched of the Earth:

 “The starving peasant, outside the class system, is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonization and decolonization are simply a question of relative strength. The exploited man sees that his liberation implies the use of all means, and that of force first and foremost … (it) will only yield when confronted with greater violence.” (48)

I watched the movie tonight and drove home with these three quotes in my head. What do we do with movies meant to expose the Imperial spectacle of violence and end up glorifying it? Is this a case where the medium is the message and if violence is on a screen it can not communicate the badness of violence but exalts all violence? How do we as Christians navigate the spectacle of violence from our friends watching MMA to our congregants applauding war, electric chairs, drone attacks and torture? What if they have better Christology, Ontololgy, and Creedal subscription than we do … but get the violence question wrong and miss the whole point of Jesus’ life and death? And how do we who occupy the privileged place, the place of power, and the dominant  narrative recognize that violence in support of the hegemonic status quo is not the same as violence against and in revolt of it?  That what is good for the goose is not necessarily what is good for the gander if the goose is the only one armed to the teeth?

 

Post Script: I loved this conversation and am so grateful for the insightful and sincere responses. I am thankful for intelligent exchange without disrespectful or snarky dismissiveness.  As I have watched the conversation evolve, it has become clear that something else is needed in the post. So I want to add it for future clarity.

Empire is a particular formation of government and power and, given its pretence to be global, generates a ‘collective spirit’, an anthropological construction, that allows and approves of certain behaviours, reactions, feelings, and attitudes of the social and political actors, that shapes a certain logic and way of conceiving life, and that imposes and translates itself into values and a hegemonic Weltanschauung (ethos).[1]


[1] Néstor Míguez, Joerg Rieger, and Jung Mo Sung, Beyond the Spirit of Empire: Theology and Politics in a New Key ( 2009), Kindle Locations 204–207.

 

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The Death of the Liberals is killing us

In chapter 1 of his book Death of Liberal Class, Chris Hedges sketches both the height of the Liberal era in the 19th century and its cataclysmic implosion with the arrival of World War in the 20th. The disillusionment of human evil, aggression, and suffering deflated the optimism of innate human goodness and inevitable progress that Liberalism is founded upon.

To understand the profound impact of Liberalism’s demise, it helps to make sure one understands the difference between Classical Liberalism and it’s contemporary milquetoast descent that slinks around in straw-man form on our 24 hours news cycle.

Hedges explains (pp. 6-7) “Classical liberalism was formulated largely as a response to the dissolution of feudalism and church authoritarianism. … (It) has, the philosopher John Gray writes, four principle features, or perspectives, which give it a recognizable identity. It is :

  • individualist, in that it asserts the moral primacy of the person against any collectivity;
  • egalitarian, in that it confers on all human beings the same basic moral status;
  • universalist, affirming the moral unity of the species;
  • and meliorist, in that it asserts the openended improvability, by use of critical reason, of human life

Both John Cobb (Mainline)  and Clayton Crockett (Radical Political Theology) use very similar formulations in their recent Homebrewed  podcasts. Cobb, by focusing on the demise of the Mainline and Crocket, by focusing on the Evangelical and Religious Right, articulate the monumental shift in the religious-political landscape in the past century.

The Mainline denominations are in a collapse narrative and it makes perfect sense why when one examines both the way liberal thought partnered with power in the 20th Century and the way that conducted itself (largely) within the shifting landscape of post-war realities at home and globalization abroad.

“In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue. It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements, making the liberal class a useful component within the power elite. But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims…

The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.”  (pp. 9-10)

We talked yesterday about the fictitious nature of the supposed Left-Right spectrum.  For those of us who participate in christ centered communities and organizations, what does this mean?  While incomplete, here is my little experiment to come up with a game-plan for a start.

  1. We stop using the label ‘Liberal’ generically for anything that is not Conservative… especially to be dismissive.  Liberal is a very specific ethical  framework and it takes quite a commitment to liberal. It is not a default position.
  2. We disavow the left-right , conservative-liberal split as farcical. It doesn’t exist. Obama is a Centrist Democrat. Romney is a Centrist Republican. Any idea that Obama is a radical is ridiculous.* We repent of lazy language & thought.
  3. We wake up as the church that the role the Liberals used to play in the system does not function. There is no moderating or buffering presence to bring a corrective to the system. Thus, participating in the system as-it-now-exists will not fix the system. The corporate hold over every aspect of our political system is pervasive.
  4. We step up as the church in the revelation that government is not going to fulfill the expectation to
  • bring good news to the poor (Economy)
  • restore sight to the blind (Medical)
  • release to the captive  (Legal)
  • lift up the broken hearted (Compassion)

The church can do these things! We have deferred to the political system for too long. We have outsourced our responsibility to society but now live with the remains of the bloated carcass Christendom. With the death of the liberal class resistance to corporate rule and unchecked consumerism is impotent. The Citizen’s United ruling is just one step on long trail … but we know where it leads.

There are churches in every community and there may be no greater existing potential than us! **  I know it sounds dreamy, but in the rest of this series I want to flesh it out. By the end, it might not seem as far-fetched as it does right now.

– Bo Sanders

 

*Wall Street campaign funding, legalizing assassination, and Guantanamo Bay are your first 3 hints.
**  The danger of course is that we keep voting based on two issues while turning a blind eye to  corporate rule, environmental deregulation, and perpetual war.

  

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Merry Christmas! Peace on Earth… and all that good stuff

In Luke chapter 2 the Angel of the Lord says something really profound (v.14)

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom God is pleased”  (NAS)

It is beautiful in its simplicity.

I’m not trying to make this into a three point sermon, but it does seem to me that there are three interesting things said here:

God is pleased with us. That strikes me in a post ‘sinners in the hands of an angry god‘ era. Now, maybe someone wants to say that god was pleased with us before we killed his kid and rejected the gift… but that is not how I’m reading it here. Why is God pleased with us? Is it because god is gooder than we have been told? Probably. Is it because of something within God and maybe not within us? Possibly. But the bottom line is that God likes us and in Christ is well pleased with us! That is is a Christmas gift worth unwrapping.

Peace on Earth is God’s intention. God wants peace on earth. The angel said so. The sad part is that many Christians will argue with me about this. Fortunately, they probably disagree with part one (that God is pleased) as well … so you have take that as a whole package.

The Glory of God is peace on Earth. This is God’s house and we are God’s people. The state of your house and welfare of the people who live in it reflects something about you. The state of the earth and the welfare of the people who live in it reflects something about God. Now, people who emphasize the transcendence of God portray God as being so holy that God can have nothing to do with humanity’s sinfulness. The problem is that Luke 2 is about incarnation and God becoming one us. God is not just in the highest – as of Luke 2, God is also in the lowest.

So to you I say Merry Christmas! I join the Angel to say Peace on Earth! Goodwill to all mankind! For this is the Glory of God!

 

 

this was inspired by episode 34 with John Dominic Crossan and his book “the First Christmas”

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