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Topic: Liberation Theology
The Cynical Use of Religion by Economic Elites
2/23/2012 3:28:59 PM
Something happened at the Republican presidential debate last night, and Sarah Palin made a comment about the race, which make clear for anybody with eyes to see what has been going on within the politics of the country for some three decades now. Economic elites have been using religion to get their own candidates elected, candidates who could not otherwise win elections if they just articulated their policy preferences which favor the interests of those elites. They are able to get elected by voters following the dictates of religious leaders who themselves profit immensely from their involvement in politics. It's all become a money game, and religion is a tool of the economic elites.
First, the Republican debate. The moderator read a question submitted by email about birth control. As the question was read the members of the audience started to groan loudly. The debate was sponsored by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona so we can assume this was the party elite at the debate. They groaned because they did not want to hear a question about birth control; right now there is widespread discussion about contraception due to the House hearing on this topic and reports of the many efforts of state legislatures to pass restrictions on abortion. The Republicans want the debate to be about freedom of religion as the Catholic bishops have phrased the issue rather than birth control.
But the groaning was also because these elites don't want to actually have to discuss birth control, they just want to ride the wave of opposition to it of the religious right and the Catholic bishops. In fact, these elites don't even want to admit that the base of the Republican Party itself is now composed almost entirely of religious right believers who have been organizing now for a long time to take over the Republican Party. They have been so successful that opinion polls show that the more voters attend church the more they are Republican and the less they are Democratic. So the conceptual framework is set up in the minds of journalists and others of a "religious secular" divide. If you are Christian you vote Republican, Democrats are the secularists, church haters, atheistic socialists. Now, a moment's reflection makes this framework ridiculous, but when it comes to politics reflection is not what most folks do.
Republicans have been using abortion and anti-gay hatred to get elected for some time, they have been using religion for their own political purposes, and the religious right has allowed itself to be so used even when Republicans, like Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, did almost nothing to actually promote the religious right agenda. George W. Bush did more for that agenda, and state legislators are now pushing anti-abortion meansures, but social issues are not popular among the party's elites. They have another agenda, to continue to control economic institutions for their own benefit and keep government from doing anything that challenges their dominance of both the economic and political system.
This became clear in a comment yesterday by Sarah Palin when she was asked whether she would be available if a brokered Republican convention would turn to her as a presidential candidate. She said the party "establishment" would never allow that. Palin is a religious conservative, her choice as a vice-presidential running mate was meant to excite the religious right in the 2008 campaign. She has learned her lesson. She now knows that the party elite don't really want to elect a social conservative. They groan at even the mention of birth control. Most of the Republican economic elites could care less about these issues except as a means to elect their politicians. The parade of candidates in this Republican primary demonstrates that only the businessman Romney is acceptable to the elites even if so many religious conservatives don't like his Morman religion. The elites are scared of the outright religious rhetoric of a person like Rick Santorum who is convinced evil is overtaking America. Talk about evil might turn to the evils of greed and inequality.
Let me tell a story on the personal level about this mindset of the economic elites. Just a few years ago my wife and I invited many extended family members to a meal on Easter Sunday. After the meal a person who is a very successful small business person engaged me in conversation. He asked, "Ed, what do those people in the religious right teach?" I said, well, they are against public schools now and he said, "I don't believe that." And I said, they want prayer in schools and don't want to teach evolution and he said, "I don't believe that." I said they want government to ban abortion and he again said "I don't believe that" and I began to see where this is going and prepared my punchline. I said the religious right folks are opposed to the rights of gay and lesbian persons and he said "I don't believe that." Finally I said that the religious right wants to Christianize the nation, to govern based on their understanding of the bible and doctrine, and he said, "I sure don't believe that."
So I was ready with my punchline. I said I appreciated that he was asking me about the religious right to demonstrate that he and I agreed on many things. But I said the religious right had taken over the Republican Party in the state of Washington, where we lived at the time. So I asked him, "Why would you vote for a party that promotes what you don't believe in?" That's when he stood up to talk with somebody else and the conversation was over.
Now this fellow is a very amiable and good person, I like him. He respects religion but doesn't go to church. But my little story, which actually happened, demonstrates something important in understanding current politics. I'm sure there are lots and lots of Republicans just like him. They vote Republican for their own economic reasons, and chuckle to themseles that they are so lucky to have so many religious believers who support them.
Think about this. There are now two major presidential candidates, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who have been able to stay in the race to this point only because they have a couple billionaires giving them millions of dollars. Both of these candidates use religious talk explicitly to get the religious right to vote for them. Both of them have no hesitancy in saying that they believe God is on their side and that President Obama is engaging in a war on religion and question his faith and the church where he came to faith in Chicago. They attack his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and what was preached in that church, liberation theology, and associate it with all that is evil. Santorum even says Obama has a "phony theology" and believes in radical environmentalism. So billionaires are supporting this explicit religious right talk to get religious believers to vote for that which is best for the economic elites. But Santorum says that it is Obama who is the elite who should be resented for "forcing" his views on others.
It is incredible to me that such talk is going on, the use of religion for the purpose of making sure that the economic elites can rule. And yet, it is an old, old story, those in power using religion to get their way. And the church has gone along, siding with the wealthy who made the big contributions or give money to foundations or charities supporting religious work.
Now the politics has become very nasty, however. Christian faith should not be up to majority vote, the faith is being debased by politics these days. In many and various ways we at this website are trying to expose this misuse of religion. True Christianity preaches the love and justice of God, it is critical of oppressive power, it is on the side of the powerless. Just read the bible where all of this is put forward clearly for those with the eyes to see.
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Bottom-up History: The Commoners of Atwood
12/13/2010 3:46:32 PM
I have begun to make a comment, when appropriate in conversation with friends, to characterize culture in the U.S. not as a melting pot, and not as a "salad" (as multi-culturalists like to say) but, using an expression of the Amish for all those outside their community, "the English". The most obvious reason for this is, of course, that the English language is dominant in this country, and those who call themselves conservatve these days sometimes become quite extreme in claiming that everyone should be forced to use English. And it is true that the American revolution was not against some generalized authority but a particular king of a particular country, England. And it is also true that the most important philosophical source for thinking about both culture and political theory of the U.S. constitution is the English philosopher John Locke who theorized in favor of the rights of private property over against commoners or those dependent on public not private property. The culture, history, and background of other peoples than the English simply are not as important in this country, the English continue to be dominant. The more radical traditions of social, economic, and political thought in the history of places such as Germany or the Nordic nations are considered by many as foreign and of no relevence to us here in the United States. And it is both the English and the Americans who have actually thought it possible to refer to themselves as exceptional and superior nations with a divine mandate to conquer and dominate other nations of the globe. Such thinking continues to be loudly expressed in conservative rhetoric these days. Such folks like to glorify the history of war and lift up those who have conducted them as military heroes. They like history from the top, a history of the winners of wars.
Over the past decades there has also developed, however, another sort of history, a bottom-up or social history, which examines the lives and experience of common folks, often the "losers" in the big battles internal and external to political boundaries. I am thinking about all this right now because I just read a piece by a practitioner of social history, Peter Linebaugh, who gives us an account of the commoners of Atwood entitled Enclosers from the Bottom Up. I encourage readers to take a look at this. It demonstrates that there are resources from within English history itself opposed to what we tend to assume as dominant themes of English culture. It informs us about the battles over the welfare state still going on in this country, whether the commoners, the folks without property, have a right to eat or to participate in the life of the community, whether all property must be private and controlled only by private over-against public persons and agencies. The article includes reference to Anglican clerics who were also economics professors who theorized against the rights of commoners to sustain themselves by access to "the commons". It mentions that the idea of wealth accumulation should play the same role in economic beliefs as does original sin in theology.
So, if English history and culture is so important for the identity and belief system of the United States, it should be remembered that that history includes resources for resistance to what in this country has become the overwhelming dominating power of private property not only in economic but also political life. Those who look to the bible as a source of truth should realize that it is an example of bottom up history, the record of a group of slaves liberated from economic oppression, the story of a carpenter's son put to death on a political cross, the account of a new egalitarian community called the church which dared to invite all to participate in a new creation in the world without divisions and hierarchies.
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The Liberation Theology of Abraham Lincoln
10/12/2010 11:01:21 PM
This evening I watched the second of the PBS series on "God in America." (The third is tomorrow night.) The focus of the first part of the program was how slavery divided religious denominations, such as Methodists. Southern Methodists broke away from the northern church.
But what struck me most about the program had to do with Abraham Lincoln. My prime image of Lincoln has been his agony as he was faced with believers from north and south each of which believed God was on their side. But Lincoln is here presented as having come to the conclusion that God was on the side of the slaves and therefore he proclaimed the Emancipation Proclamation.
This idea, that the God of the bible is on the side of the oppressed of any society, is, of course, a central teaching of what is called "liberation theology," which I believe has become the primary underlying faith understanding within the primary Protestant denominations, in one form or another. The future of ecumenism in the country depends on coming to see how this is true.
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The Political Cross at Xmas
12/23/2009 4:47:16 PM
Conservative Christians don't like when people use the shorthand "Xmas" because they say it takes Christ out of Christmas. But I use it not only because it is quick to write but because it puts the cross into Xmas. It's so easy to romanticize the season as a time a peace and nice family gatherings. But the little baby in a manger gets nailed to a political cross in the end to stop what the Romans thought was an insurrection movement challenging the authority of the state. If you take the words of the mother of Jesus seriously, "the rich will be sent away empty," this infant is destined to certainly have something to do with an insurrection, with turning power upside down, with opening a space in the world for something other than the violence of law and oppression.
And this was good news to lowly shepherds even if it was bad news indeed for the kings of the day who sought to slaughter male infants to protect their power from any challenge. The nostalgia surrounding Xmas these days completely misses the main political message of both Christmas and the Cross.
The Cross was an instrument of political terror, a reminder that behind the law of the state is the power of violence. People accused of breaking the law were hanged in public places to demonstrate the terrifying power of the state. The fact that Jesus rose from that cross reveals that the power of this law-violence has been broken, the church of believers goes on to open a space in the world for a belief in something other than this violence, where people can gather in peace and justice in the power of another Spirit other than the terrifying spirit of violence.
Xmas should be a time to remember this political meaning of the Cross. I was happy to see that PBS presented a rebroadcast of its outstanding program called "From Jesus to Christ" which clearly presents the political meanings of Jesus in the four gospels and the Apostle Paul. It can be viewed at the PBS website.
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Historical Jesus Theories: Bringing on the Reign of God
5/20/2009 7:47:10 PM
Peter Kirby has put together a reasonably helpful webpage on the scholars and theories of the historical Jesus. Among the scholars listed is Richard Horsely whose view of Jesus is quoted (from Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, pp. 207-208):
The focal concern of the kingdom of God in Jesus' preaching and practice, however, is the liberation and welfare of the people. Jesus' understanding of the "kingdom of God" is similar in its broader perspective to the confident hopes expressed in then-contemporary Jewish apocalyptic literature. That is, he had utter confidence that God was restoring the life of the society, and that this would mean judgment for those who oppressed the people and vindication for those who faithfully adhered to God's will and responded to the kingdom. That is, God was imminently and presently effecting a historical transformation. In modern parlance that would be labeled a "revolution." The principal thrust of Jesus' practice and preaching, however, was to manifest and mediate the presence of the kingdom of God. In the gospel traditoins of Jesus' words and deeds, we can observe the kingdom present in the experience of the people in distinctive ways. Jesus and his followers celebrated the joys of the kingdom present in festive banqueting. In the healings and forgiveness of sins and in the exorcisms, individual persons experienced the liberation from disease and oppressive forces and the new life effected by God's action. Jesus' interpretation of the exorcisms, moreover, points to the broader implications of God's present action among the people. That is, since the exorcisms are obviously being effected by God, it is clear that the rule of Satan has been broken. But that meant also that the oppressive established order maintained by the power of Satan (according to the apocalyptic dualistic view of reality that was shared by Jesus and his contemporaries) was also under judgment. The old order was in fact being replaced by a new social-political order, that is, the "kingdom of God," which Jesus was inviting the people to "enter."
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Seeing the Truth about God and Economy
4/2/2009 3:45:56 PM
I have just placed an article on the site with the title Prophetic Disruption. It uses the metaphor of "seeing the mountain" from different perspectives. Mount Rainier, near Tacoma, Washington, where I live, looks different depending on the perspective from which you are looking. So you don't really "know" the mountain unless you go around it to see it from all directions. I have come to believe that truth is something we "see" more than something we simply "know" in our minds.
I am now reading a book called Theology the Lutheran Way by Oswald Bayer. He tells me Aristotle viewed God as pure thought, thought thinking itself as thought. It's the perfect image of God for a philosopher, I suppose. But along with this idea of God comes the further idea that this God is not connected with anything outside of itself, so that those influenced by Greek philosophy at the time (or nowadays too) have a hard time conceiving of God as understood in the Hebrew and Christian bibles, a God that created the natural world, a God who entered into actual human flesh, a God who listens and sees. This is not a disconnected God who doesn't see but only thinks.
The way the human mind works is not just through thought but through seeing. Our minds are not just oriented internally to our own thoughts, but they are oriented to what we see out there in the world, to the material world and the social worlds in which we participate. We are able to see through windows in our minds, windows that we can open up to see the reality of what is beyond us. These "windows" are our beliefs and concepts, we see that which we already believe. Learning to know the truth is a process of seeing with ever bigger picture windows what is out there.
If in our effort to be modern we may tell ourselves that we don't believe in God of any kind, what that means is that we decide to see the world through a much smaller window than may be true otherwise, we refuse to see the vast expanse of history representing by the bible, for example, and its many peoples and experiences in the ancient world, these peoples who saw themselves in relation to what they believed to be "God". Sometimes people say that religion narrows a person's perspective and that is certainly true with some religious orientations, but my sense is that it does the opposite, it opens one's mind to see the tremendous width and breadth of the glory of God in all creation and among all peoples. Seeing the truth in this way is a rather mind-blowing experience.
To the contrary, modern analytic methods of knowing the truth are the actual way that the mind is narrowed. Take economics. The field of economics claims to "know" how everything works in financial, commercial and industrial worlds. Yet that is only part of reality, seeing from only one side of the mountain, there are also social and political worlds, there is the real material world itself which is filtered out by categories of economic thinking. The environmental impacts of economic activity are called "externalities" by economists, external to their way of thought. So they do not even "see" the negative imacts of economic activity on the material world, the very world in which human beings must live (or die) together.
So also the economists like to say they are "objective" and not taking values into account or making moral assumptions. So they do not take into account the justice of economic activity. So their minds cannot even "see" when injustice is taking place. The business professionals working in our economic life are trained NOT to consider the justice effects of their decisions, simply the profits of the company. If you read the bible you will see that it has a broad, expansive vision of justice for all political and economic activity. But modern, enlightened economic experts filter out their ability to be able to even see the people who are being hurt by their activity, the poor, the folks having to work two or three jobs to make enough to feed their families, the surplus populations around the globe moving to cities which cannot sustain them because there simply are not enough jobs to go around.
The modern economic system, the people working in it and the experts who philosophize about it are not connected to the reality of the material and social life of the world or the local community. All they see is numbers calculated through very narrow concepts which can in no way envision or "see" the whole of what they are doing. They become like blind men not able to see. The little windows in their minds are only able to help them see a narrow slice of the world. The fact that they also may say they don't believe in the God of the bible is just another proof that they have closed the eyes of their minds to the whole reality of the material world as well as to the justice that God requires in human affairs. They become like Aristotle's God, thought thinking itself, numbers piled up on top of one another whose meanings are determined only within a very narrow concept of what makes for significance in human life. The fact that such thinking and such people are now in the the most important positions of power in this society is the main reason for the total collapse of the financial system, it was spinning off in mathematical calculations which could not be connected to anything real, at least really human in any full sense of the term. These financial speculators could only see themselves and their profits; their minds did not have the big picture windows by which to see the whole of the world; they disconnected themselves from any responsibility to anything or anyone other than themselves.
Big picture reality has now hit hard even though most of the experts could not "see" it coming. Belief systems, such as economics and free market business creeds, are like that. They seem to make sense as long as there are a lot of believers. But when the belief system is as narrow as that of neoliberal economics, disconnected from reality and floating by itself in mathematical abstractions, unable to see the fullness of truth but with power to work its will in the world, then bad stuff is bound to happen for us mortal creatures. Now with this economic crash there are a lot fewer believers, thank goodness.
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