The Two Spies Report

The "Minority Report" from J. Michael Bennett, Ph.D, Emeritus Producer of the Future Quake Radio Show, and Author of the soon-to-be-released book series The Holy War Chronicles – A Spiritual View of the War on Terror

Category: Human Rights

The REAL False Flag Operation, Part 4

In Part 4 of this series, we will review how an “Antifa apocalypse” hysteria wave had occurred as a precursor event a number of years ago, and how it was discovered to have come about, and who devised the scheme to exploit it. Read the rest of this entry »

The New “Lost Cause”: What Might Await Us – Part 1: The Historical Legacy of Perceived Betrayal and Vigilante/Guerilla “Justice”

A new blog series on a new “lost cause” that has gripped America in 2021, beginning with the history of the “lost cause” concept and mindset in America’s historical memory and that of the Western world in general, and its impact on our world today. Read the rest of this entry »

On The Biblical Defense of Looting

Let’s think this through, with a “heaven’s eye” view. Read the rest of this entry »

Christians Should Be The Ones Tearing Down Statues and Graven Images, Starting with Jonathan Edwards

 

In my last post a new blog friend, Brother Jim, posted a comment retort to another reader as to what is really going on in the protests and “tearing down” of slavery-associated figures and vandalism operations that are exaggerated and sensationalized on certain conservative media outlets here. They in turn blame any perceived negative act in the streets on the latest “boogeyman” Antifa, like the operators behind “Big Brother” in the novel 1984, who had similarly mythologized “Emmanuel Goldstein” as their source for all things anti-societal (totally disregarding the potential for the common occurrence of state-directed false flag operations, with many posting on some police-friendly vandals and provocateurs recently caught in the act, not to mention the supposed Antifa online “call to violence” that Twitter later confirmed as being connected to the white supremacist group Identity Evropa with connections to Russia, which Donald Trump Jr. passed on as “proof” that Antifa was a “terrorist organization”), to exhibit in their own daily “Two Minutes of Hate” (now we have “progressed” to 24-hour news outlets to extend the rage).

As old Future Quake listeners would know, the use of agents provocateur (often state-sponsored) to justify state-sponsored violence and restrictions on First Amendment protesting and other civil rights is a age-old technique. Think of the Reichstag fire, or Nero burning Rome (blaming it on the Christians then). The supposed Communist bombings in Italy by Operation Gladio NATO stay behind units post-war, the King David Hotel and Suez British and US army barracks bombings by the Israelis, the violent provoking of anti-war groups by embedded FBI agents in COINTELLPRO and even within the Black Panthers, the 9/11 bombings (oh wait – not supposed to go that far…). I remember an old Alex Jones video showing footage on the ground from I think the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, where a masked, armed dark-robed “protester” broke a lot of windows to get the crowd going, then discreetly went through the police lines, being patted on the back as he disappeared behind them and entered a police cruiser on his own, although for the life of me I cannot find the reference right now (although in the 1999 WTO protests it has been confirmed that some of the more heavily-armed protesters present were embedded Delta Force personnel deployed on U.S. soil). At the 2007 G20 meeting in Canada, protesters there found several highly-armed, highly protected fellow “protesters” in masks, armed with rocks in their hands, and tried to expose them then as police implants, which the police there refused to move on when exposed, and which the government denied until later, when the government officials admitted they had been implanted by them in the midst of the protesters. The Intercept has additional listings of such historic infiltrations. Recently, Denver police had confiscated assault rifles from the “Boogaloo Bois” right-wing anti-government group near the site of a protest. Other mysteries still remain about current events. Forbes and other outlets have written about a violent, enigmatic figure discovered at protests known as the “Umbrella Man”, a white man dressed in all black and an umbrella, staying away from other protesters and breaking windows, wearing an expensive, sophisticated gas mask, while those protesters around him asked if he was a police officer, and reportedly stumping officials. Asia Times notes that today’s protests are a confusing mess, in which some provocateurs are possibly connected to Antifa, as well as some nefarious Caucasian figures passing out bricks and weapons from trucks, and even some noble acts by legitimate protesters to protect police (such as some black men who surrounded a separated and stranded police person in Louisville to keep him from being attacked), and the Christian service history of George Floyd himself. I personally have heard reports on TV from law enforcement figures that they have been able to confirm that at least some of the roving looting groups are part of an interstate crime operation (I have seen them pull up to just-broken doorways of stores in their expensive vehicles and Escalades, send a few people out quickly to run in the store and grab some goods out and then drive away, letting another such expensive vehicle rapidly pull up behind them).

In the process of welcoming Brother Jim to the blog and bolstering his arguments, I went further (as I am wont to do) in my assertions from his point, which became lengthy enough to justify its own independent post (not an uncommon event).

My point was that, as of today, I would go further and suggest that if Bible-believing Christians ever decided that they should be a moral example of their society, they should provide leadership and publicly destroy the widespread graven images of that notorious life-long slave holder Jonathan EdwardsI volunteer to swing the sledge hammer first! God’s leaders have a long legacy of tearing down strongholds, images and idols, particularly when those items are connected to figures associated with Him while representing values He does not hold, including the golden calf, the brazen serpent on the Temple, the Asherah Poles, the statue of Dagon (the Ark of the Covenant gets credit for that one), the idols of Diana, and others come to mind, and centuries of Christian missionaries toppling over similar blasphemous figures. Why can’t we get in on the act?

The beloved “Brother Jonathan” Edwards owned a number of slaves during his life (at least seven, most of them teenage girls originally, as he originally bought them (like “Venus”) from the Newport slave traders at the docks as the new slave ships arrived), and even at the death of both of he and his wife’s life they refused to release their slaves, just directing that they be sold off to other slaveholders at their deaths, including possibly separating a married couple. At that time in the North in the mid-1700s, only the conspicuous ultra-wealthy indulged in expensive slaves to avoid their Puritan values of hard personal work, and Jonathan Edwards was known to be one of those super wealthy preachers, made from his excessive salary from the tithes of his church and his exorbitant lifestyle, prompting them to chase him out because of his financial exploitation. In 1741, the year he preached the famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” he wrote a treatise when his fellow wealthy preacher came under attack for owning slaves, which most of the laity and citizenry fought the clergy and other wealthy aristocrats about. However, he deftly and politically avoided directly condemning his own hypocrisy as a slave owner by merely condemning the overseas culling of Africans to be brought to Europe and elsewhere for sale (as he had bought his own), but did not condemn the keeping or buying of slaves already residing in America, or born into slavery here (obviously, the more slaves that were continuously brought in from Africa, the less valuable on the market his own slaves were – its simple supply and demand). Ironically, the clergyman at the center of his attack later freed his slave, while Edwards didn’t free his. His writings consistently featured a staunch and biblical defense of slavery, while the common folk knew better.

I think that this cognitive dissonance and rationalization of his hypocrisy was fueled by his central acceptance of Calvinism, and its assertion that God purposefully created the majority of humanity to unavoidably be sent to the Lake of Fire without their control, because it was God’s pleasure to do so (and thus why should we resist the hand of God and treat them any differently, as the Puritans earlier rationalized in immolating the Pequoit Indian women and children trapped within their walled community, the Puritan colonial leader even writing that their burning flesh was a “sweet savor before God”). Jonathan himself wrote about how we was originally repulsed about the blatant injustice of the Calvinist worldview, until he had a mysterious change of heart, writing in his Memoirs,

“From my childhood up, my mind has been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life; and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure. But I never could give an account of how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining of time, nor a long time after, there was any influence of God’s spirit in it; but only that I now saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, with respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the absolute sense, of God showing mercy to whom he will show mercy, and hardening whom he will. God’s absolute sovereignty and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes…The doctrine has very often appeared exceedingly pleasant, bright and sweet.”

This is why I see venerated religious figures like Jonathan Edwards as bringing, rather than “The Great Awakening,” the “Great Darkening,” as he and his Calvinist Puritan peers and descendants brought an exceptionalist, elite “elect” mindset that could attempt to justify the subjugation, extermination and slavery of Africans, Hispanics and others as “God’s will” for those beasts who were the God-commanded “depraved” from before birth. It is more than fitting that the Protestant Anglo-American Establishment plutocracy over our nation’s leadership for centuries, Yale’s Skull and Bones Society, built a dormitory for their aristocrats that later became part of Yale’s “Jonathan Edwards College.”

I wonder if the unrepentant Jonathan Edwards, after condemning countless others to Hell (with some reportedly committing suicide in his day after hearing his message on the certain condemnation of God, including his own uncle), eventually found himself as a “slaveholder in the hands of an Angry God,” and doomed not by a prenatal fate set by the hyper-sovereign Calvinist God, but rather by his own autonomous hands and self-election.

We here in Nashville should not gloat; until recently we have had here for years a seven foot-plus tall idol statue to Billy Graham, who called our anti-war youth “Communist sympathizers” and proposed to Nixon to drown North Vietnamese villagers by blowing up their dams (a war crime), and bragged of his closeness to Martin Luther King, yet never attended any civil rights marches, did not attend his funeral, heeded J. Edgar Hoover’s warnings to him about King, held whites-only crusades in the 1950s, claimed that segregation was just “a local problem,” telling the press he just followed “local customs” and that “the Bible has nothing to say about segregation,” belonged to a whites-only country club until 1991 (the club having kicked a black child out of its pool that was a guest of a member), said after King’s “I Have A Dream” speech that “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children,” in 1965 (right after passage of the Civil Rights Act) bragged in Alabama to the press there about the confederate flag flying from their capitol dome and that his grandfathers were Confederate soldiers, told the press that Rev. King and Negro marchers should “put on the brakes,” calling Dr. King “a good, personal friend” but also “hesitates to call himself a thorough-going integrationist” and “asked for a period of quietness in which moderation prevails,” all while Dr. King was rotting in the Birmingham jail, leading the later-released King to respond in a speech, “‘Well,’ they’re saying, ‘you need to put on brakes.’ The only answer that we can give to that is that the motor’s now cranked up and we’re moving up the highway of freedom toward the city of equality, and we can’t afford to stop now because our nation has a date with destiny.” King had stated in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written in jail while Graham was publicly reprimanding King (and almost prophetic as to the weeks we have recently experienced, and in response to the words of many white Christians today), that “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than justice.”

Where do you stand?

 

 

 

 

The Days of the Late, Great Will Grigg Have Arrived

 

As I watch Americans of all races and types fill the streets daily for weeks now (with even a handful of evangelicals!) in support of their brothers and sisters, and for accountability of State force when it is excessive and sometimes deadly without cause, and how it (like mass shootings) are normally quickly swept under the rug over days by the political and legal establishment and media as a perpetual mockery of justice, I see many of my Christian brethren bristle and defend the excessive force or divert attention to some other concocted conspiracy theory behind all of this, yet others have been uniquely pricked of heart for the first time, and realize we all have a responsibility in these matters, and not limited to lip service.

For me, however, these days of destiny remind me of the one who made me first care about police or institutional brutality of the common man, and from a Christian perspective – a man I considered the most brilliant man writing anywhere on the Internet, and was blessed to be a friend and have as a frequent guest on my old Future Quake radio show – the indomitable Will Grigg, host of the iconic Pro Libertate blog.

I loved every minute of reading his writings, even when his extreme positions of liberty and individualism and anti-statism were a bit too far for me – they always gave me significant uncomfortableness and food for thought, and in any case doubled my vocabulary, with the wickedest sense of humor since H. L. Mencken, Ambrose Bierce or Mark Twain. I never loved being reprimanded more, and he finally softened my heart.

Will was of mixed Mexican and other race heritage, was orphaned and then raised by a Mormon family, and later became a more mainstream Christian. However, he always was a voice crying in the wilderness. He became famous, of all things, as the star writer for the John Birch Society for their New American magazine, and they had big plans for him. However, he bravely wrote an article that encouraged a little bit of understanding of immigrants, which caused his prompt firing as being antithetical to the Society and their benefactors. Sadly, he then lost his health coverage simultaneously as his wife suffered a malady so severe that it forced him to stay at home to care for her and take care of the large number of children, and this brilliant man lived hand-to-mouth the rest of his days, as some of us tried to help where we could. To add to his burden, this strong-as-an-ox weightlifter and MMA-trained thespian fell victim to a simple infection and died at an early age, leaving a sick wife and many small children. As most pioneers in human rights or spiritual progress, his life was a lonely walk.

He wrote something that I brought up on my show that stuck with me more than anything that ever stuck with me. He said that if you are driving down the road, and you see a man in uniform beating a man on the ground on the side of the road, and your first instinct is, “Good thing that officer has that man under control,” then you are a statist; if your first instinct is, “What cause does that man have to be beating his fellow man?”, then you are an individualist.

I learned something with every post he did on the themes of the little guy being the victim of the State, which are all preserved on his Pro Libertate blog I recommend everyone read through, or his radio interviews with me preserved on my old Future Quake website; he showed me what being a real Christian and humanitarian was really about, and you could do it with pinache. I understand one of his many followers recently released a book of his unedited writings called, No Quarter: The Ravings of William Norman Grigg, which is available here on Amazon.

I would have loved for him to have seen this day, and white, brown and black common people marching together, and demanding that the State begin a purge of the “tough guys” in their ranks, and that a threat to one is a threat to all.

P.S. My book, Two Masters and Two Gospels, Volume 1 – The Teaching of Jesus Vs. the “Leaven of the Pharisees in Talk Radio and Cable News, is available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, with the latter also having a hard cover version and Nook ebook, and ebook versions also available at Kobo/Walmart and I-Books, and elsewhere. If you are an EBook reader and you buy the ebook at my BookBaby store site, linked here, you get Kindle MOBI and well as EPUB and pdf versions for one price, and if you leave your email address there at checkout to forward to me, I’ll find and send a pdf of some other writing I’ve done just to send to those brave souls. Thanks!

A Response To An Objection To My Recent Immigrants Post

Friends,

One of my old dear friends from my Future Quake days protested and disputed my positions expressed in my post on the recent immigrant caravan affair, and our American Christian attitudes in general on the subject.  She countered that a “gang kid” tried to break in to her house in California months ago after running from the police to evade them, and was eventually thrown in jail, referring to him as one of the “lost boys”, and connected the incident to the types of people in the caravan.  She referred to the caravan as a “Soros tactic”.  Earlier she had posted publicly in the comments section after the post that “You have gone off the deep end.  I can’t take you seriously anymore.  This is a paid for, well thought out plan of invasion”.  Since we had gone back so many years, and had weathered so many difficult spiritual issues together in debate, while praying for and encouraging each other, it was a particularly bitter rebuke to endure, much like I have experienced from some of my closest friends and family recently.

Since we have been dear Christian brothers and sisters to each other for a long time, I felt warranted to further clarify my views in a reply email, in an attempt to again acknowledge the realities of needing orderly and responsible immigration policies, while recognizing the glimpse of spiritual insights it provides into our own souls in terms of the spirit by which we address the issue.  My response is repeated below, with the intention of helping clarify my overall views to the greater readership, as inspired by the concerns expressed by her that may be at fault in part to my limited elaboration in my earlier post.  In response to this, she reiterated her strong support for President Trump and his policies, but in the interest of better understanding, I include my earlier emailed clarification as follows:

“Thank you for sharing more, sister – we go a way back and have been through a lot of sorting out together, and we deserve to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and understanding.  I also know that for a number of years I have been going through a transition in my thinking and pondering, and asking questions that make many (but not all) of my friends uncomfortable, and am often misunderstood as I begin a long-overdue process of critiquing the sacred conservative principles I have been spending my life following without question.  I know that at times my pendulum can swing too far the other way when I am trying to address some former strong holds in my life, and as I focus my limited time on perspectives that I feel aren’t taken seriously in my evangelical circles, I am afraid some people think that I do not think that it is only a missing perspective that needs to be added into consideration with other issues and positions we have already beat to death in our Christian circles.  Hence, the blog name “The Two Spies Report”.  I think it is healthy for Christians to intensely self-critique our views as citizens of the heavenly kingdom, and less so those of outsiders to it.  I am as committed as ever to seeking Christ and His positions as my “cornerstone” to square my positions on these difficult issues, and for me its as much a “hit or miss” art as a science.  My tone may come as extreme at times, but social media and talk radio have made Christian people dull to all but people yelling in their ear, and I make no apology for trying to shake people up and jarring them with uncomfortable perspectives (although I try to back it up with data and the Bible as I can), because when we are unsettled and borderline offended, is when we might grow, even if we don’t adopt all the views of those God uses as such, based on my experience.

I am so sorry for your recent experience, and I know the issue of perceiving crime as being an immigrant issue predominantly is even easier to occur from your neck of the woods (around here, race is also a common scapegoat).  Regarding immigration, I have no problem with thorough vetting of applicants, and an orderly processing process and one that screens out known criminals – neither have I met anyone else (including most liberals I know) who have problems with that as well.  What I and many people have problems with is the reckless manner, tone and technique of demonizing all immigrants as “rapists and murderers”, and tying them all to MS-13, and publicly and persistently painting a picture of all of them as criminals and “invaders”.  Any time you take a population pool large enough, particularly with a large element of poverty (which most immigrants have always come from), there inevitably be some component of desperate young people or those raised with no dads and from criminal neighborhoods where they are from for which that is all they know.  Most of these crowds of people are pitiful, as just as Republican governor and presidential candidate John Kasich said the other day, we should thank Jesus we are each not in their shoes, and as he says, it could just as easily be one of us in their position, and the Golden Rule is still applicable.  Strict immigration screening and a merciful and compassionate public positions and process are not mutually exclusive. If a ridiculously-expensive piece of masonry along the border could magically eliminate unapproved infiltration of our country it would be one thing, but world history has shown that walls never really work, and are naive; rather, this is a typical Trump “P.T. Barnum” simplistic medicine show sales pitches that is simplistic enough for the masses to make into a bumper sticker, like “Build that wall” and “Mexico will pay for it” (which Trump has since said he knew they would never do), or “lock her up!”.

The problems you just experienced, and elsewhere across the country, are much more complex and difficult than solved by a simple wall. It involves the breakdown of the nuclear family, poverty and crumbling communities, and the resultant breakdown in the nurturing of youth by male role models and community churches. Are our church communities doing enough, or are they mainly focused on “urgent” issues like gay marriage?  This is not just an immigrant phenomenon – there are the same types of crime and behaviors amongst our native-born population as well.  It is shown by the real crisis of abuse of reality-altering chemicals, including opioids and other prescription drugs, alcohol abuse, and suicide, which are three items that have now for the first time reduced the lifespan of 18-54 year old Americans. I feel that these things fuel crime and breakdown of communities, as well as the rampant undiagnosed mental health problems (which obviously also has a major spiritual component, and maybe even diet), and I surmise that these are at least partially the major “elephants in the room” of which the immigrant crisis is more of a symptom. As I said in the blog, the immigrant crisis also almost forces us to become “globalists” in my view, and try to intervene in a transparent fashion to raise the well being, stability and economic hopes of nations globally, even if it impacts our own standard of living, unless we just want to mow down untold numbers of desperate immigrants at our borders for generations, and as a Christian I cannot accept that as an option.

I hope that makes my view clearer, and I want to acknowledge that I know your experience “on the battlefield” versus my theoretical musings need to be considered, but we must come up with solutions together that do not violate the Golden Rule and are forward-thinking and with a holistic and long-term focus, and not just emotionally fed by demagogues, who really don’t care about the long-term problems anyway, and only seek to capitalize on our instinctive fears and weaknesses for their own benefit.

Love you sister!”

 

A Little Something to Inspire You to Resist the “Migrant Menace” Like a Good Christian

ThisIsTheArmy

On November 1 The Washington Post reported that by that time the exodus of Honduran and other refugees fleeing deadly civil war had comprised around 4,000 persons, of which a large portion are women and children; it is not known how many of these hungry people without shelter, food or medicine will make it all the way to the U.S. border.  Also, the Mexican government, far below the U.S. in wealth and standard of living, graciously offered asylum and jobs for many of them – maybe Mexico has a better claim to being a “Christian nation” than our own.  They also note that the assembly of the poor and largely affirmed would have to march non-stop, without sleep or rest, to make the remaining 870 mile journey in ten days.

Nevertheless, President Trump is rushing to send U.S. military forces to confront them (intentionally to publicly position them as a PR stunt before the Tuesday mid-term elections), whether it violates the fundamental Constitutional prohibition known as Posse Comitatus or not, and disregarding the preferred suitability of the National Guard, if not the Border Patrol.  They also report that late at night on Oct. 31 Trump told reporters that he may send as many as 15,000 U.S. Troops – each an “Army of One” and the most sophisticated, capable and deadly military force in the world.  The article as well as other sources note that the number of these troops would be roughly equal to the number of U.S. troops now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan – combined – the places we were told were the center of the War on Terror and threatened our very way of life.  In those places, we were previously told that overwhelming numbers of troops would guarantee a “quick and decisive victory”, leading President Bush to quickly declare “Mission Accomplished”; after almost two decades of heavy troop deployments and untold repeated tours by our soldiers – after seventeen years in Afghanistan and 14 years in Iraq, as of 2018 – we are still struggling to maintain some semblance of control, and regularly stamping out new insurgence movements like ISIS or the Taliban.  How much worse would it be if our “Christian nation” were not an overtly militant one in its identity, rivaled only historically by ancient Sparta.  According to the budget-hawk Peter G. Peterson Foundation, our current annual military budget is greater than that of the seven next biggest global military budgets combined, including those of China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom.  Meanwhile, wealthy industrialized Western nations like the Netherlands spend a relatively imperceptible part of their wealth on defense, yet they remain relatively peaceful and unmolested.

On November 1, it was reported that President Trump gave a speech in the White House directing the deployed soldiers as Commander-in-Chief that if “they [the children and other refugees] want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back”, and that if do throw rocks, “I say consider it a rifle”, and thus a justification of deadly force – not only a policy that Prime Minister of Netanyahu approves for addressing stone-throwing children in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, but also reminiscent of the American policy towards Indian refugees at Wounded Knee.  Like some other American and other leaders before him, Trump would love for such a confrontation to be triggered (much as what started the Mexican War previously), and it would be a political goldmine to energize his evangelical and white-supremacist base at the polls.

An unarmed group of largely sickly children and women, desperate and cornered, would obviously be no match for the deadliest and best armed and trained military in the world, as a show of “proportionate force” (at least “proportionate” in terms of Trump’s true agenda).  And, judging by his statements regarding the “rapist and murders” comprising these souls escaping civil war both recently and since he first began his campaign, his agenda indeed is to teach these immigrant refugees and the watching world a “lesson about America, and who we are and what we are about” – and sadly, it will indeed do that very thing.

It’s not that Trump is totally against immigrants, any more than we was against using illegals for the Trump Organization, or in his lucrative low-income housing.  He revealed his “benevolence”, “America-first” style, in the RAISE Act he endorsed (and which was designed with the assistance of Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon), and was submitted as a Senate bill in 2017.  It creates a merit-based requirement for immigrants to enter the U.S., based upon a points system that requires earning 30 “points” to even justify submitting an application for submission.  I have heard many thoughtful and reasonable souls who have been willing to consider a “wall” or some equivalent, in order to facilitate an orderly and controlled processing of immigrants, if it is paired with a generous provision of substantial processing and acceptance of a large pool of lawful immigrants, which is actually needed to support our economy – particularly at this time with low unemployment and the need for a low-cost workforce.  However, the RAISE Act would reduce number of green cards by 50 percent, and refugee allowances of those persecuted down to 50,000.  It would also reduce the ability for family members to join those already immigrated – at least consistent with Trump’s policy to rip children from their mothers at the border.  Ironically, NBC News reported that  the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania – the very school who taught Trump his business acumen, and the degree for which he is most proud – announced that the enactment of RAISE would cost 4.6 million jobs and lower national GDP through 2040.                 

The “VISA GUIDE” website, known as the “Worldwide Visa Travel Guide”, provides an online primer of the point system provisions of RAISE, which certainly reflects the values of personal worth of Donald Trump.  It notes that the points-based visas will now be limited to 140,000.  You are not allowed to get points if you are 17 or younger, or older than 50, with high points given to twenty-somethings.  High points are given for those possessing doctorates, with only one point of the 30 given if you only have a high school degree.  High points are also given for a demonstrated high proficiency in English in the tests (probably tests many Americans would flunk).  Most interestingly, a “Nobel Laureate or comparable recognition in a field of scientific or social scientific study” would automatically get 25 of the 30 points needed, while those with an “Olympic medal or 1st place in an international sporting even in which the majority of the best athletes in an Olympic sport were represented in past 8 years before submitting the application” would get 15 points.  13 points are available for an applying immigrant who has been offered a lucrative job that is 300 percent of the median household income in the U.S., and 200 percent of median household income jobs would get 8 points – thus keeping natural U.S. citizens from those high-paying jobs, but leaving more menial jobs for native-born Americans than currently.  You can also buy your way here to be a “good American”; if you are “Investing the equivalent of $1,800,000 in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S and maintain such investment for at least 3 years”, you get 12 points, while if you are “Investing the equivalent of $1,350,000 in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S and maintain such investment for at least 3 years”, you get 6.   They add that “If you have less than 30, then you should not apply because your application will not be reviewed”, and to apply, you must provide a “Birth certificate or a government-issued document for your age”, “Diplomas and degrees for your education”, “Official test scores for English proficiency”, “Extraordinary achievement proof if applicable”, “Official job offer letter with compensation”, and “Documents which prove you will start a commercial enterprise in the U.S and the investment”, as well as “a $160 application fee for processing”.

I doubt that many of the refugees fleeing terror in the Honduran civil war brought all these documents with them.  Regardless, I guess they would not likely qualify anyway.  Neither would almost all of our ancestors that first came to these shores, as well as most of those who came through Ellis Island and past the Statue of Liberty, or even Plymouth Rock or Jamestown, with many fleeing persecution or deprivation with no more than the shirt on their backs, but while even not knowing our language, they built the strong and advanced nation that we now live in.  However, scapegoating immigrants for any current problems in our nation at any time has long been an election winner in America, and with the evangelicals of 2018, it will be no different.

In conclusion, I offer the following clip of the concluding musical number from the inspirational, war-selling 1943 Hollywood movie “This is the Army”, entertaining the audience with soldier-entertainers with their bayonets extended forward in a Mayday-like march, declaring they are “dressed up in win!” to “finish the job” that they didn’t do in the previous war, “so we’ll never have to do it again”.  Of course they said the same thing in the “War to End All Wars” in 1917, which led to the even-deadlier World War II and atomic devastation and “total war” on civilian populations, which just led to the Cold War, and with the Afghanistan phase leading to the War on Terror.  Will this deployment of intimidating force against these feeble refugees, as fellow North Americans on our own continent, have any different result?  Will our long-standing militant policy of “the beatings will continue until morale improves” actually lead to immigrants not seeking safety within our shores, or revenge when we turn them back to likely death, as we refuse to share our blessings?  Will we ever learn that unless we are our “brother’s keeper” and try to help them where they live, we will only alternatively have to cut them down them in waves by our machine guns, and what happens when we run out of bullets, or they counter with comparable weapons in more desperate fashion?  Will they at least still believe we are a “Christian nation”?

“This Time” – “This is the Army” 1943 (click on Youtube link here)  

ArmyEagle

 

 

 

The State of the American Christian Union, Part 1 -Kingdom Confusion

Mike voting

Me early voting – sporting my older brother’s 1968-era patriotic sweatshirt I traditionally wear on voting days (sorry I missed the 68 Democratic Convention – what a rumble!)

 

Yesterday I went for the early voting day for the mid-term elections in my community, held inside a local church.  I expected a sparse crowd in early afternoon, when us deadbeats are available (when we’re not watching Springer).  I have to say however, that the old folks were out in force and filled the place, with a grim look of determination in their eyes (even if they did move slow and could not hear when their name was called).  I can only imagine what they thought when they saw a non-white, female Democratic state representative candidate Hana Ali campaigning outside – I am sure they thought “Muslim Brotherhood”…(it appeared that I was the only one who actually went and talked to her, and found out that she was a long-time local physician (dunno if she was Muslim, Hindu, secular or another faith) who was sacrificing her lucrative practice to advocate for free health care for returning military veterans, as her central “diabolical” campaign agenda).  I asked an older man behind me in line what his generic thoughts were about things going on in our country today, and he ominously whispered to me, “It’s best that I not speak about any of that”.

Given that I was standing in the heart of my “Red Hat” state of Tennessee, I’m pretty sure what was on the mind of himself and the sea of his senior cohorts there, and given the events of the last two years, where a now-sitting president can previously tell a rally crowd beating up a protestor, “Hit him for me – I’ll pay your legal bills!” – and the Christian crowd loves it! – I think everyone can agree with me that things are getting really serious.  As I stood in line reflecting on recent events and what was going on in my “hood” on my watch, I kept wondering how we got to where we are today; where a Falwell head of a major Christian university (Liberty) can stand in front of a Playboy cover of Trump as he takes a picture with him, asking him to speak at his Christian university (where Trump declared God would want us to get even with our enemies, but did cite “Two Corinthians” and held up his grandmother’s Bible), only mentioning his envy of Trump’s jumbo jet, and with audio of Trump admitting he molested married women sexually because he was famous and powerful, and lied repeatedly about paying off a Playmate and a porn star for affairs as his wife had a newborn at home (as later became proven), and the Christian crowd does nothing but defend him, because he serves their agenda.

I see that this is not a revelation about Trump himself; to his credit, he has always been an a_s.   But it does expose a whole lot about the real nature of the “Moral Majority” crowd I grew up respecting, and a majority of the folks in the pews.  Trying to understand their priorities when they enter the voting booth, I have to wonder if they really understand what kingdom they are a citizen of.  Do they listen when their preachers preach from the Gospels?  Do they really take Jesus seriously in the things He taught?

I have been told by certain readers on this blog (mostly just one) and even family members and old friends that for even asking these questions, I have become the one thing more diabolical than a devil-worshipper – a liberal.  I was accused on a Mother’s Day visit with my family this year that I “loved Muslims and the poor”, as a serious vice (I only wish it were more true!).  A recent visit with old Christian friends informed me of an additional shortcoming of mine that I did not recognize – in that all “the poor” and those of non-white ethnicities were all lazy and taking advantage of us working whites, mocking us and taking away our jobs and promotions.  To my knowledge, I have never extolled the virtues of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi or even the Democratic Party, but all my talk of “the poor”, “refugees” and being kind to the “stranger”, and even being so bold as to cite the “Golden Rule”, has earned me a status as an “outsider” of dubious motives, progressing from being a “golden boy” in my evangelical circles to (with the exception of a very small circle of friends) being a pariah.  It’s just like when a fundamentalist church once shunned me (even as a young member whom they could previously count on to serve faithfully there) when I read Colossians 2 verbatim in their singles group (as I was asked to do) which talked of the “false form of humility” resulting from artificial dress or food restrictions, or another fundamentalist church because I defended the Christian state of charismatics (of whom I am not one).

I still see a lot of confusion in Christian circles as to what kingdom we really belong to, what is its agenda and our duties in it, and how it affects how we respond as American citizens.  I will just cite a few verse and thoughts, of which much more can be said on it from the Bible, which rightfully deserves and entire book or more – of which I will oblige, in time.  I admit that it does get a little more confusing today because (a) we live in a Christian era when God has prescribed a kingdom for us that is not the one in which we physically exist, (b) we live in a unique age as a select set of Christians that have a participatory role in the selection of our leaders, and their resultant decisions (and responsibility for them), and (c) we do not live in a theocracy (by design), and must recognize that secular government has a legitimate agenda that is NOT identical with the Kingdom of Heaven, but through which we should non-coercively provide “salt” and light”, and “love our brothers”.  However, if a Christian today will set down with their Bible for an evening or two and focus on this topic, they could quickly be a lot more informed and achieve some clarity on the subject.  Since we live in the Information Age with a relatively high degree of literacy, there is really no excuse for such darkness of ignorance, other than that the state of being informed on a Biblical opinion on the topic is not a priority for average Christians, and what little time they dedicate to it comprising the accepting of the directives of strangers, such as evangelical leaders in the media, or the unbelievers they listen to on talk radio and cable news.

Even with what little Abraham knew about God, and having been given an earthly inheritance of land with fixed physical demarcations and the respect of his neighbors in the land, he still recognized that he was a pilgrim and nomad in that very same land, and actually looked for

“a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker [is] God. ..and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.   But now they desire a better [country], that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city…Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” [Heb 11:10, 13-14, 16, 12:28 KJV]

Thereafter Joshua, leading a nation that understood itself to be a sole earthly expression of God’s nature, agenda and presence, fell for the “tribalism” view common in Christian circles today, in that a follower of God is either with their movement and circle, or otherwise an “enemy of God”; in our circles today, it would be in the Republican party, with the “heathen” in the alternative Democratic Party.  However, God never felt the need to carry the same “buckets” of our preferred tribes, be they political parties, ideologies (left or right, capitalist, communist or socialist), nation-states, or any other affiliation; in turn, as a “jealous” God, He is not too thrilled when we carry any other identification in our own “buckets” except Jesus, as the “cornerstone” in which whose teachings all other ideologies have to be measured against (given that they may be suited for a secular kingdom without the same agendas as the Kingdom of Heaven), and certainly not when we compromise our most core Christian values from the Kingdom of Heaven taught by Jesus to accommodate and justify such affiliations.  In practice, those ideologies who have a veneer of overt “righteousness” are actually the most seductive and dangerous.  Here’s what happened when Joshua and the Hebrews confronted another of God’s men:

“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.”  Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” [Jos 5:13-14 NIV]

Joshua wisely recovers from this incident, re-orienting himself to humbly ask what direction God now has for him, rather than directing this other servant of God to get in line with his movement.  You might ask me if I have difficulty in realizing that God is not obligated to get behind my own “spiritual” direction or ideas at any time, and my answer is yes, I do have a difficulty with that, and it is perpetually humbling to me to realize it; we should continuously be measuring our directions against that of the “Cornerstone” before we get too far down any road.

Daniel served in a pagan kingdom and government, and did not curse them, but humbly and gently tried to help the spiritual condition of his pagan leaders and their people, even when threatened with harm.  His denouncements of sin were not directed towards people and cultures different than him (unlike Mordechai), and rather at those of his own culture and faith, and for that Gabriel said he was “greatly beloved” in heaven in Daniel 9, and also “greatly beloved” in a visitation in Daniel 10, possibly by Jesus Himself.

I leave it to the reader to research the commandments of God, either by His own voice or through the prophets, for His people and their nation to be kind to the “stranger” of another kind of faith, because “you were once strangers in Egypt” as a religious and ethnic minority yourself, and to take care of the poor, and make sure the vulnerable (fatherless, widows and orphans) are provided for, and to make sure the poor get justice in the courts which are not controlled by money, and that the wealthy and businessmen do not take over the less wealthy with debt or confiscating sources of income (“tools”), and to even forcibly “redistribute wealth” through the Year of Jubilee, and to leave lands fallow (sources of income and provision) for the poor in intervening years, which the Jews never did, and for which God said they were sent to exile for.  When is the last time you heard politically-active Christians or media outlets make these issues a priority in the political debates and candidate evaluations, even though God makes it clear it is a priority for Him? 

Another way to understand how God intended the secular nations (like our own) and their leaders and decision makers to faithfully fulfill their duties to their people, lets hear how God rebukes the “sons of God” assigned at the Tower of Babel to administer over the “seventy nations” of earth, and how they oppressed their own subjects and became objects of idolatrous worship of their peoples, and how He will judge them in the Last Days:

“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: ‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’…I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince’. Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” [Psa 82:1-4, 5-8 ESV]

How many times have you heard these elements of God’s agenda for the secular nations also be the agenda of America’s politically-active Christian leaders today?

A lot of these commands are directed towards the leaders of nations, which gives many Christians a quick “Whew!”, thinking that they are not obligated to such responsibilities. However, the majority of historic believers of God, like all peoples, were subjects of outside reigning powers, or otherwise not able to elect leaders or influence their decisions, and therefore not responsible for their decisions.  However, when God brought His children to the Promised land, He set them up as a decentralized federation of tribes, with its leaders chosen by the people, where at the end of the Book of Joshua, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” – certainly a heresy to control-freak Christians who want to control behavior from the top down, but a libertarian’s dream that God seemed to intend as His permanent plan.  However, the Hebrews soon wanted a king to control them, like the other nations had, because it looked “cool” (they were dazzled by strong men and celebrities and “heroes”, like Christians today) and projected power; they gave up their freedom by acclamation, and God explained to Samuel that they had really rejected Him.  God gave them what they wanted – a dashing man a head taller than the rest of them, with a shining spear, but reckless in his personal behavior and character – thank goodness God’s people have gotten beyond such short-sightedness and immaturity!

However, the age of citizen-influenced government rose again, this time amongst the pagan Greeks and Romans, since the Jews rejected it.  It has been further refined, with setbacks and dormant ages, up to the period of the American experiment.  This is relevant to Christians today, I believe, because we now live in a period of alleged “self government” – where we collectively choose ‘representatives” as our proxies to rule based upon our own agendas and preferences, and replace them if they don’t.  Thus, we have in effect become our own leaders, which generations of Christians before us, under kings (even “Christian” ones) could not imagine.  Therefore, since we are now reportedly have the right to rule ourselves, I believe we have each also earned the responsibilities the Bible has said are the responsibilities of earthly rulers.  This includes an obligation to protect the poor and other vulnerable people, and make sure justice is available for all (yes, even “social justice”) – if we take God and His Word seriously.  Heaven help those who take our Lord’s expectations lightly!  We are in fact “our brother’s keeper”, and that crown of responsibility rests on each of our brows, and in particular toward the “strangers” within our gates, outside the gates wanting in, and the refugees from beyond (but within our reach) who are crying out for mercy from God.

As a Christian who was groomed to vote as a good Republican through my upbringing, which I did until the last few national elections (having voted third party), I understand how Christians were seduced by them with a veneer of righteousness and Christian virtue, which was backed by Christian leaders I used to trust, but led to make a priority not the unborn or other issues of Christian mercy, but rather tax cuts for big businesses and business handouts, and paying for the “warfare state” (and the windfall of profits and welfare for defense contractors) rather than for the poor and medically needy, or the refugee.  A classic example is President Trump, who suckered people into a tax plan “for the middle class” which increased the standard deduction (which people who itemize for home mortgage or charitable gifts cannot use) while taking away their exemptions, and only giving temporary deductions, while making permanent the almost halving of business taxes, with the huge increase in the annual deficit and adding national debt to necessitate a further reduction to programs for the needy – all with Christian support.  His first act as president – mere minutes after his inauguration – was to sign an executive order to eliminate the need for financial advisors paid for by individuals to act in their fiduciary interest, or disclose that their recommendations serve the best interests of the financial firms and their products rather than their paying client.  I see Christians today primarily concerned with what they think is their own pocketbook (not necessarily a bad thing, to keep in check a gluttonous government budget spent on cronies and businesses rather than the needy), and in the end get fleeced by the far-savvier business scoundrels they put in office or advisory roles they greedily trusted to “get rich quick”, while further adding to the suffering of those less fortunate, which is not even part of the conversation.  They are not worried about the people better off than them getting their money; they are only concerned about those worse off than them getting their money.  Jesus of Nazareth, whom American Christians reportedly say they follow and heed His commands, had the following advice for them:

“‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money’.  The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.  He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts.  What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight’.” [Matt. 6:19-21, Luk 16:13-15 NIV]

Jesus made clear to the secular government official Pilate that His movement was not about seizing the “seven mountains of culture” or government, or overcoming those who think differently than them, or any rule here whatsoever, but rather laying the groundwork for a future kingdom, based in another sphere, that poses no necessary threat to secular powers in this age.  He said,

“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.  But now my kingdom is from another place’…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” [Jhn 18:36-37 NIV]

Sadly, most professing Christians today don’t listen to Him.

Paul understood this.  He also understood that God’s people could not only fight physical “holy wars” to try to overcome secular governments (like the Zealots, or the Maccabeans before them), but even “culture wars” against their fellow citizens outside the church, as moral crusaders.  He had to address this regarding sexual immorality inside the church, which many Christians tolerate or overlook today in their Christian leaders if they are charismatic enough.  He writes:

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.  In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler.  Do not even eat with such people.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.  ‘Expel the wicked person from among you’.” [1Co 5:9-13 NIV]

The Christian “culture wars” are the exact opposite of Paul’s admonition.

Paul would remind us that we are citizens of another Kingdom, where our real interests lie, and with a Great Commission to be “fishers of men” and to demonstrate our love for our neighbors, and of which our necessary political participation is an element, while not certainly the main agenda, but geared towards an expression of love toward the downtrodden, and not the control of others.  We are indeed “ambassadors” of a foreign nation, as Paul writes:

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands…Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.  What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience…For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died…So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” [2Co 5:1, 11, 14, 16, 18-20 NIV]

Does this sound like our Christian politically-active leaders today, and their front-burner agendas?  It is an agenda with the world, which will always have a political component in any social interaction, based upon compelling love, gentle persuasion, lack of worldly judgment, and far-reaching forgiveness and reconciliation, in its emphasis, tone and overall spirit, as opposed to judgement and adversity, much less selfishness.

Paul set a good example for us American Christians.  He was privileged to have Roman citizenship, as well as citizenship at Tarsus.  He did not use his rights to feather his own bed for financial enrichment or other privileges, to oppress others, or change Rome for his own group’s agenda or betterment.  He did use his legal rights to facilitate a heavenly agenda to preach the Gospel in Rome, and along the way, rather than die short of the goal in Jerusalem and the hands of Romans and Jews.  His rights of citizenship were not a tool for his own personal use, but only to complete his Kingdom of Heaven assignment, which did not restrict (for the Golden Rule still applies) but only blessed others.

Paul gave one other similar admonition to “keep our eyes on the prize”, and also warning that there will be those around us who don’t “get it” (probably even some professing Christians in our circles, whose recent elected official choices may show that “their god is their stomachs” and embrace leaders who, with them, do “glory in their shame”):

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.  And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Only let us live up to what we have already attained.  Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Phl 3:15-20 NIV]

I will leave my thoughts on this topic at this, but thinking of being “ambassadors” of another kingdom, maybe we should consider Christ’s teachings of the Kingdom and the Sermon on the Mount, and the amplification of the Apostles, to love our enemies and be a neighbor to those of other faiths and cultures in need (like the Good Samaritan), and exhibiting mercy and forgiveness as “agents of reconciliation” to “rescue the perishing”, and eating with “sinners”, as our Christian “foreign policy” (also seen in our politics as well as personal behavior and interactions), while exhorting our fellow Christians to lives of love, purity, holiness, prayer, faithfulness, encouragement, wisdom, learning, and body ministry as our “domestic policy” of the Kingdom, devoid of outside political parties or ideologies (or evolved doctrines) and their influence, or any other Kingdom we should otherwise not owe any allegiance to.

Having said that, many Christians have spent uncountable years in innumerable sermons and heard Christian teaching, yet typically do things far counter in their public statements and political activity than what we just discussed.  So what leads them to proudly take opinions and views demonstrably counter to the clear teachings of Christ?  That will be covered in the next part of this series.

 

Think our technology gurus will save us? Think again!

I came across a splendid article a couple of days ago, on of all things, the business news website CNBC.  I thought the author, although a secularist, wrote about a fascinating experience he had recently, and his insight on their significance I thought was quite enlightened.  I shared it with my closest friends, and upon further ponderance I thought it might be of some merit for the readers of this blog.  You can currently read it in its entirety at this highlighted link.  It is so well written that I will quote much of it, followed by a little commentary of my own.

I should first explain a little bit about what I just learned about the author, Dr. Douglas Rushkoff.  Although he is a professor, he is best known as being the cutting-edge visionary at the dawn of the Internet Age, at its beginning in the early 90s, before it really took off, and coining terms such as “viral media”.  He has had an interest in modernizing and reforming Judaism, and getting it back to its supposed “open source” roots (to use the cyber-culture vernacular)  An abbreviated sampling of his bio includes some of the following things said about him:

Douglas Rushkoff is a writer, documentarian, and lecturer whose work focuses on human autonomy in a digital age.  He is the author of fifteen bestselling books on media, technology, and society, including Program or Be Programmed, Present Shock, and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.  He has made such award-winning PBS Frontline documentaries as Generation Like, Merchants of Cool, and The Persuaders, and is the author of graphic novels including Testament and Aleister & Adolf…Named one of the world’s ten most influential intellectuals by MIT, he is responsible for originating such concepts as “viral media,” “social currency,” and “digital natives.” Today, Dr. Rushkoff serves as Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at CUNY/Queens, where he recently founded the Laboratory for Digital Humanism and hosts its TeamHuman podcast.  He is also a research fellow at the Institute for the Future…Winner of the Media Ecology Association’s first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Dr. Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other’s values.  He is…technology and media commentator for CNN…and a lecturer on media, technology, culture and economics around the world…His previous best-selling books on media and popular culture have been translated to over thirty languages….His other books include CyberiaMedia VirusPlaying the FutureNothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism,…Rushkoff also wrote the acclaimed novels Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy and graphic novel, Club Zero-G.  He wrote the graphic novels Testament and A.D.D., for Vertigo.  He has written and hosted three award-winning PBS Frontline documentaries – The Merchants of Cool looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture, The Persuaders, about the cluttered landscape of marketing, and new efforts to overcome consumer resistance, and Digital Nation, about life on the virtual frontier…His commentaries have aired on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s All Things Considered, and have appeared in publications from The New York Times to Time magazine. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for The New York Times and Guardian of London, as well as regular columns for ArthurDiscover Magazine and The Feature…He also lectures about media, art, society, and change at conferences and universities around the world.”

“He has served on the…the United Nations Commission on World Culture, and as a founding member of Technorealism…He has been awarded a Fullbright Scholarship…He served as an Advisor to the United Nations Commission on World Culture and regularly appears on TV shows from NBC Nightly News and Larry King to the Colbert Report and Bill Maher….Rushkoff is on the board of several new media non-profits and companies, and regularly speaks about media, society and ethics to museums, governments, synagogues, churches, universities, and companies.  Rushkoff earned his PhD in New Media and Digital Culture from Utrecht University with a dissertation entitled Monopoly Moneys: The media environment of corporatism and the player’s way out. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received an MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts, a post-graduate fellowship (MFA) from The American Film Institute, a Fulbright award to lecture on narrative in New Zealand, and a Director’s Grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  He has worked as a certified stage fight choreographer, an SAT tutor, and as keyboardist for the industrial band PsychicTV.”

Sounds like a real underachiever.  I hope his credibility is sufficient that we can trust the following things he shares with us in his article.

I’ll let him explain the incidents that led to his unique experience and interpretations of its significance:

“Last year, I got invited to a super-deluxe private resort to deliver a keynote speech to what I assumed would be a hundred or so investment bankers.  It was by far the largest fee I had ever been offered for a talk — about half my annual professor’s salary — all to deliver some insight on the subject of ‘the future of technology’.  I’ve never liked talking about the future.  The Q&A sessions always end up more like parlor games, where I’m asked to opine on the latest technology buzzwords as if they were ticker symbols for potential investments: blockchain, 3D printing, CRISPR.  The audiences are rarely interested in learning about these technologies or their potential impacts beyond the binary choice of whether or not to invest in them.  But money talks, so I took the gig.  After I arrived, I was ushered into what I thought was the green room.  But instead of being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, I just sat there at a plain round table as my audience was brought to me: five super-wealthy guys — yes, all men — from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world.  After a bit of small talk, I realized they had no interest in the information I had prepared about the future of technology.  They had come with questions of their own.”

“They started out innocuously enough.  Ethereum or bitcoin?  Is quantum computing a real thing?  Slowly but surely, however, they edged into their real topics of concern.  Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska?  Is Google really building Ray Kurzweil a home for his brain, and will his consciousness live through the transition, or will it die and be reborn as a whole new one?  Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, ‘How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?’  For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future.”

“The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.  This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour.  They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs.  But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless?  What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader?  The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew.  Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival.  Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.  That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology.  Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion.  For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.”

“There’s nothing wrong with madly optimistic appraisals of how technology might benefit human society.  But the current drive for a post-human utopia is something else.  It’s less a vision for the wholesale migration of humanity to a new a state of being than a quest to transcend all that is human: the body, interdependence, compassion, vulnerability, and complexity.  As technology philosophers have been pointing out for years, now, the transhumanist vision too easily reduces all of reality to data, concluding that ‘humans are nothing but information-processing objects‘.  It’s a reduction of human evolution to a video game that someone wins by finding the escape hatch and then letting a few of his BFFs come along for the ride.  Will it be Musk, Bezos, Thiel…Zuckerberg?  These billionaires are the presumptive winners of the digital economy — the same survival-of-the-fittest business landscape that’s fueling most of this speculation to begin with.  Of course, it wasn’t always this way.  There was a brief moment, in the early 1990s, when the digital future felt open-ended and up for our invention. Technology was becoming a playground for the counterculture, who saw in it the opportunity to create a more inclusive, distributed, and pro-human future.  But established business interests only saw new potentials for the same old extraction, and too many technologists were seduced by unicorn IPOs.  Digital futures became understood more like stock futures or cotton futures — something to predict and make bets on.  So nearly every speech, article, study, documentary, or white paper was seen as relevant only insofar as it pointed to a ticker symbol.  The future became less a thing we create through our present-day choices or hopes for humankind than a predestined scenario we bet on with our venture capital but arrive at passively.”

“This freed everyone from the moral implications of their activities.  Technology development became less a story of collective flourishing than personal survival.  Worse, as I learned, to call attention to any of this was to unintentionally cast oneself as an enemy of the market or an anti-technology curmudgeon.  So instead of considering the practical ethics of impoverishing and exploiting the many in the name of the few, most academics, journalists, and science-fiction writers instead considered much more abstract and fanciful conundrums: Is it fair for a stock trader to use smart drugs?  Should children get implants for foreign languages?  Do we want autonomous vehicles to prioritize the lives of pedestrians over those of its passengers?  Should the first Mars colonies be run as democracies?  Does changing my DNA undermine my identity?  Should robots have rights?  Asking these sorts of questions, while philosophically entertaining, is a poor substitute for wrestling with the real moral quandaries associated with unbridled technological development in the name of corporate capitalism.  Digital platforms have turned an already exploitative and extractive marketplace (think Walmart) into an even more dehumanizing successor (think Amazon).  Most of us became aware of these downsides in the form of automated jobs, the gig economy, and the demise of local retail.  The future became less a thing we create through our present-day choices or hopes for humankind than a predestined scenario we bet on with our venture capital but arrive at passively.”

“But the more devastating impacts of pedal-to-the-metal digital capitalism fall on the environment and global poor.  The manufacture of some of our computers and smartphones still uses networks of slave labor.  These practices are so deeply entrenched that a company called Fairphone, founded from the ground up to make and market ethical phones, learned it was impossible. (The company’s founder now sadly refers to their products as “fairer” phones.)  Meanwhile, the mining of rare earth metals and disposal of our highly digital technologies destroys human habitats, replacing them with toxic waste dumps, which are then picked over by peasant children and their families, who sell usable materials back to the manufacturers.  This ‘out of sight, out of mind’ externalization of poverty and poison doesn’t go away just because we’ve covered our eyes with VR goggles and immersed ourselves in an alternate reality.  If anything, the longer we ignore the social, economic, and environmental repercussions, the more of a problem they become.  This, in turn, motivates even more withdrawal, more isolationism and apocalyptic fantasy — and more desperately concocted technologies and business plans.  The cycle feeds itself.  The more committed we are to this view of the world, the more we come to see human beings as the problem and technology as the solution.  The very essence of what it means to be human is treated less as a feature than bug.  No matter their embedded biases, technologies are declared neutral.  Any bad behaviors they induce in us are just a reflection of our own corrupted core.  It’s as if some innate human savagery is to blame for our troubles.  Just as the inefficiency of a local taxi market can be ‘solved’ with an app that bankrupts human drivers, the vexing inconsistencies of the human psyche can be corrected with a digital or genetic upgrade.”

“Ultimately, according to the technosolutionist orthodoxy, the human future climaxes by uploading our consciousness to a computer or, perhaps better, accepting that technology itself is our evolutionary successor.  Like members of a gnostic cult, we long to enter the next transcendent phase of our development, shedding our bodies and leaving them behind, along with our sins and troubles.  Our movies and television shows play out these fantasies for us.  Zombie shows depict a post-apocalypse where people are no better than the undead — and seem to know it.  Worse, these shows invite viewers to imagine the future as a zero-sum battle between the remaining humans, where one group’s survival is dependent on another one’s demise.  Even Westworld — based on a science-fiction novel where robots run amok — ended its second season with the ultimate reveal: Human beings are simpler and more predictable than the artificial intelligences we create.  The robots learn that each of us can be reduced to just a few lines of code, and that we’re incapable of making any willful choices.  Heck, even the robots in that show want to escape the confines of their bodies and spend their rest of their lives in a computer simulation.  The very essence of what it means to be human is treated less as a feature than bug.  The mental gymnastics required for such a profound role reversal between humans and machines all depend on the underlying assumption that humans suck. Let’s either change them or get away from them, forever.”

“Thus, we get tech billionaires launching electric cars into space — as if this symbolizes something more than one billionaire’s capacity for corporate promotion.  And if a few people do reach escape velocity and somehow survive in a bubble on Mars — despite our inability to maintain such a bubble even here on Earth in either of two multibillion-dollar Biosphere trials — the result will be less a continuation of the human diaspora than a lifeboat for the elite.  When the hedge funders asked me the best way to maintain authority over their security forces after ‘the event’, I suggested that their best bet would be to treat those people really well, right now.  They should be engaging with their security staffs as if they were members of their own family.  And the more they can expand this ethos of inclusivity to the rest of their business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution, the less chance there will be of an ‘event’ in the first place.  All this technological wizardry could be applied toward less romantic but entirely more collective interests right now.  They were amused by my optimism, but they didn’t really buy it.  They were not interested in how to avoid a calamity; they’re convinced we are too far gone.  For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future.  They are simply accepting the darkest of all scenarios and then bringing whatever money and technology they can employ to insulate themselves — especially if they can’t get a seat on the rocket to Mars.  Luckily, those of us without the funding to consider disowning our own humanity have much better options available to us.  We don’t have to use technology in such antisocial, atomizing ways.  We can become the individual consumers and profiles that our devices and platforms want us to be, or we can remember that the truly evolved human doesn’t go it alone.  Being human is not about individual survival or escape. It’s a team sport. Whatever future humans have, it will be together.”

Beyond the wisdom shown by this man, marinated in the cyber-culture ethos, his chilling description of these powerful figures already committed to planning to “check out” and giving up on humanity has been warned about in the past by conspiracy figures such as Alex Jones and Tom Horn, but none have been able to so holistically and articulately put all the pieces together and in context as this author (whose credibility makes his astonishing testimony all the more disturbing).

Unfortunately, in my view these other cited figures and others have in many ways “sold out” to supporting the authoritarian figures in riot gear and political partisans that they warned about previously, riding the current fad of nationalistic or immigrant-hating fervor, or hitched their wagons to and promoted laughable charlatans and snake-oil prophets (better make that “profits”).  It takes a relative secularist to rise above such buffoonery and to see the “signs of the times”, which Jesus said the religious leaders could not see; wouldn’t it be great to have such visionaries on our Kingdom of Heaven “team”?  He “gets” that we are “our brother’s keeper”, and even if conservative Republicans hate the idea of “collectivism” or even “socialism” (as practiced by our Book of Acts early church forbearers), it becomes obvious that if we do not embrace social norms, mindsets, practices and policies that “raise all boats”, before long, the elites with their ever-increasing centralization of wealth, and while the environment continues to be trashed and refugees continue to stack up worldwide, will soon raise their barbed-wire walls of their castles with guards to “shoot to kill”, while the desperate remainders (including us) will die killing each other, or storming their gates.  Couldn’t we as Christians at least consider assisting someone like this author, and help with the process to exploit these technological opportunities to aid all our brothers and sisters, rather than a free-market, Darwinistic “survival of the fittest” approach we have praised in our churches and discourse?  Shouldn’t we be willing to try out the principles Jesus already said would be the eternal “Kingdom of Heaven” ground rules of unselfish use of societal and global resources to benefit all, even if checkered by failure due to our fallen natures, and try to “set the bar” as examples for the rest of the moral and upright peoples of the world, to inspire them? 

If we don’t, and rather munch on popcorn as we deem the world’s wars and destruction as “entertainment” (as I see in the “emojis” of the posts of so many Bible prophecy message boards), then our “apocalyptic fever” will only be trumped (excuse the pun) by a hyper-paranoid elite, and their heralds in the hedge-fund community who are here to “play hard ball” in this full-stakes game on behalf of their unnamed super-rich, who will in effect bring on the very apocalypse of which they suggest they are so afraidWill Christians get their act together to see the real “signs of the times”, and lead the exodus out of “Babylon”, and “rescue the perishing” as much as possible, or just stay in their own bunker, out of touch with the real issues, and in effect just be part of the problem?   

As a Christian who was raised in a conservative Christian home, I realized how in that culture, businessmen and the wealthy were considered “successes” to emulate and heroes and role models of a type, as the saviors in a conservative view of society, and holding the keys to fix society and solve problems as opposed to non-profit enterprises (including government); we even pick our leaders based on their perceived business “success”.  This article shows that we should not look to these businessmen to be a “Moses” to lead us through the desert of an uncertain future, via technology.  I repeat, the big question to me is whether Christians, as individuals and corporately, will even recognize these things as a moral and spiritual issue, and their duty to provide an honest and non-agenda seeking source to help everybody, or rather focus on their own trivial or selfish issues, as they normally do.

My close friend Paul in Texas, a long-time Future Quake listener as well and thoughtful sage in my circle, provided the following comments to the article we just reviewed:

 “I found it a little amusing to assume that the small group the author spoke to were all old white guys.  If that assumption is true it seems like another case of conflating the end of their white imperialist world with the end of peaceable life on earth.  Much like the mentality encountered within christian evangelical groups.  I find that I agreed with this author on all accounts including his positive outlook on the future.  It’s a nice reminder that we’re not alone in the fight to bring the values of Jesus into the light.”

I find a lot of spiritual wisdom to unpack in those brief, laconic words.  I look forward to hearing what other readers say, beyond my lengthy and stumbling manner of trying to put them into a real Jesus-view perspective.

Field Trip Report: The Anawim, and The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

“But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek [anawim] of the earth”  Isaiah 11:4

“For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor [anawim] shall not perish for ever.” Psalm 9:18

 

 

One Sunday some time ago my pastor preached a sermon that included a mention and discussion of the “Anawim” – a category of people mentioned in the Bible.  My recollection is that he pointed out that they were the people Jesus said He came to minister to and represent, and whose issues and concerns were paramount on God’s mind, and the concept never left me.  He used several Bible passages that used the Hebrew word (or its Greek word by similarity) to to describe them and God’s thoughts on them, and among the definitions he cited of them, including “the poor ones”, or “the humble” or “meek”, one of the most interesting is “the lost and forgotten ones”.  I have had great difficulty finding “official” definitions of the term (even the Jewish Encyclopedia doesn’t seem to include it), but numerous religious citations online use this latter definition as well.  An article by the Catholic News Agency gives a pretty standard working definition of who they represented:

“The anawim of the Old Testament were the poor of every sort: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically oppressed, those of lowly status without earthly power. In fact, they depended totally on God for whatever they owned. The Hebrew word anawim (inwetan) means those who are bowed down.”

A review of the old trusty Blue Letter Bible reveals that the Outline of Biblical Usage of the singular form anav describes it in scripture as meaning “poor”, “needy”, “humble”, “afflicted” or “meek”.  A similar entry for the related term anah includes the ideas of being “wretched”, “stooped over” (as in oppression or because of one’s humble estate before others), or to be “depressed”, “downcast” or “humiliated”.

When one reviews the different ways in which the Bible uses the terms, you pretty quickly get the picture that it represents the people who are the opposite of the “movers and shakers” of the world, and those who “have connections” either financial or political.  This would comprise the overwhelming portion of people who have ever lived on the earth, including slaves, peasants, serfs, and indentured servants, and their modern variants.  The pages of history ignore these nameless people, even though they built walls, cities, bridges, dug canals, rowed ships, constructed monuments, fought the wars on behalf of the rich, blasted through mountains for the railroads, and generally built the world that we enjoy, not to mention do housekeeping, car washing, janitorial services, lawn care, fast food work and some combination thereof for most of us.

They are lightly regarding in advertising and business ventures, because they are not seen as having deep enough pockets of disposable income to be targeted, in comparison to image-conscious and fad-addicted yuppies and other middle and upper classes, who are easy pickings to feed their vanity; the former’s lot is to be earmarked for liquor, cigarette and lottery ticket inducements and advertising.  While we’re at it, we should include other categories that are the “lost and forgotten ones” in our society, most of whom are in some form of institutional or pseudo-institutional care outside their total control, including the elderly and home-bound, the disabled, those in homeless shelters, on the streets, mental care facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, detention homes, prisons and jails and the like.  It’s as if these people didn’t exist – Madison Avenue doesn’t care about them because they don’t have enough disposal income to spend, Wall Street doesn’t because they don’t have enough to invest, politicians don’t because they can’t contribute to campaigns and often can’t even get out to vote, and, sadly, even many churches don’t because these people can’t contribute to their coffers.  No one is representing their interests except God, and a few groups of limited resources – these people can’t even afford a lawyer to look out for them.  You normally don’t see these people in TV shows, advertising, or the focus of the public discourse, and seen as real people – even though many of us will join their ranks eventually.  In the meantime, these are the people we see as a “burden” and being “in the way”. 

Many American Christians deride any whiff of socialism or attempts to “redistribute the wealth” to lazy low-income people, with programs such as “equal opportunity” and credits or tax breaks for tuition and the like (although they quietly avail themselves of such programs when no one is looking).  However, one the earliest efforts of historical national income redistribution was not by the Communists, but by God Himself in the only government He established in detail, in ancient Israel under the guidance of the Mosaic Law.  God knew how fallen man – even the “chosen people” – in societal environments would result in an inevitable exploitation of the anawim and stratification of wealth into a feudalistic system, and thus instituted many novel civil rights and policies to protect the underclass.  He prevented lenders from confiscating the income-earning tools of their debtors, and even their cloaks used to keep them warm, and many other means to restrain the coercive power of income disparity.  The chief of these was the jubilee year, in which the wealth (expressed in real estate) gradually confiscated by the wealth class had to be returned to the original historical families in the jubilee year, with all debts forgiven, as a command of the Law itself.  While that occurred every fiftieth year, every seventh year the land was to experience a sabbath jubilee and rest from being cultivated, while the food the grew wild in its place was to be shared by the whole community that year, and not just the land owners.  Furthermore, Hebrew slaves were released from servitude at that time, so as to not create generations of slaves.  God also instituted wise prescriptions to accommodate the socially-beneficial aspects of the Jubilee, while not unnecessarily exploiting temporary owners between their observances, such as letting them buy land on a pro-rated basis of remaining time before the jubilee.  This is in stark contrast to what they observed in Egypt, which was the confiscation of a nation’s wealth due to a temporary famine – under the direction of Joseph, no less  – who first confiscated the people’s land and working tools in exchange for grain, and then put them to work on government land, in government housing, and afterwards provided them seed to develop long-term wealth for the State, as recorded in the late chapters of Genesis, and was repeated by the American government in 2008, as I wrote in How to Overcome the Most Frightening Issues You Will Face This Century.

A Jewish Christian writes online that “In the ancient world, owning land was greatly prized because it was a source of food, income and security.  In that economy where people depended on the crops they raised, if a family had a bad harvest and ran out of food, they were forced to go into debt or even sell their land.  If they couldn’t recover but fell further behind, they would have to sell themselves into slavery or leave the country, like Naomi and Elimelech in the book of Ruth.  People did not borrow money and sell land for business purposes, they did it only out of desperate economic need.  So the Jubilee was for one main purpose – to provide for the poor who had gone into debt or lost their land, so that they would be able to start over again.  Without it, the wealthy would always do better in bad years, and the land would tend to move into their hands while those who had lost their land would become permanently enslaved”.  She adds that “Another effect of the Jubilee would be to stop the destruction of families.  If a man lost his land and sold himself and his family into slavery, or if he moved out of the country, he would be likely to never see his family together again.  Part of the reason Naomi was distraught was because not only had she lost her hope for future descendants, but by leaving Israel, she also lost her family and past.  When she returned, she was reunited with her family.  So the year of Jubilee was to be a year that people returned home and families were brought together again”.  She laments that “Did Israel ever actually observe the year of Jubilee?  The evidence suggests that they never did.  It says in 2 Chronicles that they never let the land have its Sabbath years every seventh year, and if they never did that, they most likely never observed the year of Jubilee either.  Several of the prophets lament the exploitation of the poor by the rich, which also hints that they never observed a Jubilee year”.

God in fact warned the Hebrews when He gave them the Law what would happen to them if they did not honor the sabbaths and jubilees, and harness their greed by letting the land rest, sharing the excess after the years of saving with the members of their community, and eventually forgiving debts and intentionally re-distributing wealth, as God prescribed for a healthy society.  He wrote them in the Torah in Leviticus 26 that if they did not honor the sabbaths and other aspects of the law, they would be driven outside their promised land and into captivity, and “I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.  Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye [be] in your enemies’ land; [even] then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths.  As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it” [Lev 26:33-35 KJV].  The people of Israel evidently did not believe God or like His idea of restraining the wealth accumulation by their elites in competition, because it appears they did not obey the Jubilee sanctions in the Law, and as a result they were led into captivity in Babylon for as long as it took for the land to experience it lost jubilees.  In 2 Chronicles it is written of this Exile in Babylon, “And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: [for] as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years” [2Ch 36:20-21 KJV].  Ironically, the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar was the one who not only honored Jeremiah by raising him from the latrine his Jewish leaders had thrown him in, but also re-distributed the wealth to the poor Jews remaining in the land; no wonder God called pagan Nebuchadnezzar “my servant”, and gave him the land (Jer. 27:6).  Even before that time when the situation was desperate, the Jewish nobility got the idea that they would curry God’s favor by releasing their fellow Jews from slavery as servants, since they had not done that before as commanded, but not long thereafter they missed having the servants wait on their every need (much as we exploit immigrants today), and soon re-subjugated them, which made God only madder.  God is serious about the poor getting relief from exploitation and “another shot”, and if His people won’t do it, He’ll send in outside invaders to get it done, and I assume He still has the same attitude.       

The Jewish Encyclopedia adds some further details.  They write that the Jubilee began with the blowing of the shofar at the Day of Atonement – which could signify that the release of debt of everyone in society was an extension of the release of eternal debt God granted to the people each year at that day, similar to how Jesus portrayed us as receiving forgiveness of “great debt” from the Master, but then immediately being hesitant to grant forgiveness for small debts from others.  They add that during the seventh year rest of the land “one shall neither sow nor reap as hitherto for his private gain, but all members of the community—the owner, his servants, and strangers—as well as domestic and wild animals, shall share in consuming the natural or spontaneous yield of the soil”.   They add that the fiftieth year Jubilee included “the compulsory restoration of hereditary properties…to the original owners or their legal heirs, and the emancipation of all Hebrew servants whose term of six years is unexpired…The regulations of the Sabbatical year include also the annulment of all monetary obligations between Israelites, the creditor being legally barred from making any attempt to collect his debt (Deut. xv. 1)”.  They add that “rest from labor is an absolute necessity both for animal and for vegetable life; that continuous cultivation will eventually ruin the land.  The law of the Sabbatical year acts also as a statute of limitation or a bankruptcy law for the poor debtor, in discharging his liability for debts contracted, and in enabling him to start life anew on an equal footing with his neighbor, without the fear that his future earnings will be seized by his former creditors.  The jubilee year was the year of liberation of servants whose poverty had forced them into employment by others. Similarly all property alienated for a money consideration to relieve poverty, was to be returned to the original owners without restoration of the amount which had been advanced”.

The authors also note that in the rabbinic era the leaders began to trim the provisions and shrink the utility of the jubilee, as they turned to more of a mercantile society.  Furthermore, they note that as Jewish colonists returned to Palestine in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, “The leaders of the movement…claimed that the law is now obsolete”.  Because this caused a guilty conscience in the religiously observant portion of the people, they write that the issue “was submitted to the chief rabbis in Europe and Palestine.  Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spector was inclined to be lenient, and advocated a nominal sale of the land to a non-Jew and the employment of non-Jewish laborers during shemiṭṭah”.  Make sure you understand this – the Israeli rabbis – who teach that the “land cannot be divided” and never fall under the hands of their Gentile neighbors in Gaza, the West Bank or elsewhere due to the sacred nature of the land and God’s promises, and Talmudic prohibitions from selling it to the goyimwillingly sell the land of Israel for a year or more before the Sabbath to an uncircumcised Gentile in order to skirt God’s commands to let the land rest a year, and still greedily demand more output from it, as a type of Mosaic “loophole”.  That’s what you get when you have a religion based on law: a religion dominated (and exploited) by lawyers – a lesson our Christian ideologues and theologians would be wise to learn from.

Another website by a rabbi states that when Israel became a nation, it found complying with these Mosaic Laws impactful to the “bottom line”, so “In order to avoid the cancellation of all debts, a serious hardship in our commercial society, the device was introduced even in Talmudic times of handing the debts over before the end of the Sabbatical year, to a temporary court consisting of three persons, the debts then being considered to have been paid to the court beforehand”.  The rabbi further writes that “Because of all this and the great difficulty in keeping the law, the official Rabbinate in Israel adopts the legal fiction of selling the land to a Gentile on the analogy of the sale of leaven before Passover.  Many have felt, however, that, while legal fictions have their place in Jewish law, it seems more than a little absurd to effect a merely formal sale of all Jewish land to a Gentile”.  This process continues today in Israel.  In a 2007 article in the Jerusalem Post, the author wrote that “Under Heter Mechira Israel’s agricultural fields are sold to a non-Jew for two years.  The halachic basis is that when land is owned by non- Jews some work that is otherwise forbidden is allowed”.  He writes that Rabbi Yosef Rimon acknowledges the deception involving, writing himself that “One of the most discomforting aspects of the Heter Mechira is that it reminds us of a loophole that allows the criminal to walk free…In a normal legal system, as soon as a loophole is discovered, the law is amended in order to ‘seal’ the hole that went unnoticed when the law was first legislated.  In civil law, had the legislature foreseen that a certain loophole would be exploited, it would have sealed the hole from the outset, rather then leave a breach that it invites the criminal to commit his offense.  God, however, is prescient and all-knowing.  If a breach is found in the Torah, it cannot be that God was not aware of it from the very beginning.  A loophole in the Torah must have been intentionally included so that it might be used at the appropriate time”.   According to the conservative Israel National News, this technique allowed Israeli Jewish farmers to work for the Gentile owners they temporarily sold the land to rather than letting it rest or be used by the poor, and when the Ashkenazi rabbis would not support it, the farmers found Sephardic rabbis to sell the land for them.  Another 2007 article in the New York Times showed that the practice was being affirmed by the Israeli Supreme Court, in a case involving the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.  This clever tactic by their “lawyer rabbis” was not just a deception and cheating of the poor – it was also a deception and cheating of God.  How do we in our Christian community rationalize things like that today? 

A cursory review of some of the Bible verses using these terms tells a lot about how God views the poor, meek anawim, as opposed to the world:

“They turn the needy out of the way: the poor of the earth hide themselves together.” [Job 24:4]

“Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.” [Psa 10:12]

“But the meek [anawim] shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace”. [Psa 37:11]

“When God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the earth.” [Psa 76:9]

“The LORD lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.” [Psa 147:6]

“He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy [is] he.” [Pro 14:21]

“Better [it is to be] of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” [Pro 16:19]

“For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” [Deu 15:11]

“Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant [that is] poor and needy, [whether he be] of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that [are] in thy land within thy gates [i.e., “undocumented workers”]:” [Deu 24:14]

“Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and [him that had] none to help him.” [Job 29:12]

“But I [am] poor and needy; [yet] the Lord thinketh upon me: thou [art] my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.” [Psa 40:17]

“He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. …For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and [him] that hath no helper.” [Psa 72:4, 12]

“Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.” [Psa 82:3]

“Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” [Pro 31:9]

“The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully.” [Eze 22:29]

“Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry.  The LORD looseth the prisoners:…The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.” [Psa 146:7, 9 KJV]

The Bible even notes that the government is not the only power of coercion on earth; the rich have power over the poor, in the marketplace and even the courts, if government is not used to restrain them.  God did not believe in the libertarian ‘buyer beware” policy that did not regulate the marketplace, when the poor are so easily manipulated and exploited by the lender and the merchant, and it is a consistent “big deal” to God, as the many following verses attest:

“Thy princes [are] rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.” [Isa 1:23 KJV]

“Her heads judge for a bribe, Her priests teach for pay, And her prophets divine for money.  Yet they lean on the LORD, and say, “Is not the LORD among us?  No harm can come upon us.” [Micah 3:11 NKJV]

“The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower [is] servant to the lender.” [Pro 22:7 KJV]

“The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich [hath] many friends. [Pro 14:20 KJV]

“Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.” [Exo 23:6 KJV]

“Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, [nor] of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge” [Deu 24:17 KJV]

“Divers weights [are] an abomination unto the LORD; and a false balance [is] not good.” [Pro 20:23 KJV]

“A just weight and balance [are] the LORD’S: all the weights of the bag [are] his work.” [Pro 16:11 KJV]

“Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small.  [But] thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” [Deu 25:14-15 KJV]

“Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn?  and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?  That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; [yea], and sell the refuse of the wheat?” [Amos 8:4-6 KJV]

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what [is] good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?…Shall I count [them] pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights?  For the rich men thereof are full of violence, and the inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue [is] deceitful in their mouth.” [Mic 6:8, 11-12 KJV]

 

God even said He would judge the “sons of God” He assigned to rule over the 70 nations of earth, over how they treated the poor in their own realms, saying to them:

“How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?  Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.  Deliver the poor and needy: rid [them] out of the hand of the wicked.” [Psa 82:2-4 KJV]

 

God was not just “talk” about the poor; He was “action” in how high He regarded them.  For example, He apparently sent Jesus Himself to come minister to the unwanted, poor immigrant slave girl Hagar, when ‘God’s people” sent her and her baby son out to wander the desert – like many who cross into our country – and twice came to comfort her, leading her to say, “I have seen Him who sees me” (Gen. 16:8) – possibly one the first humans to see Christ face to face.  Likewise, God looked after the immigrant Moabitess Ruth, leading her to Israel as an undocumented immigrant to find deliverance at the hand of a citizen of Israel (even though Ezra had commanded the Israelites to send wives and children of Moabite and surrounding nationality immigrant origin away to an unknown fate in exile), and later the Moabitess Ruth served as a descendant of Jesus Himself.  Jesus Himself was born into a poor, blue-collar family, having been born in an animal pen, and did hard manual labor, probably for a long time under a single mother, in almost certain poverty.  Jesus was homeless, too – He had “no place to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20).  His first “fans”, who witnessed a privileged display of the heavenly host, were the lowest of low classes – shepherds doing their work on the fringes of society.  His closest friends were “unschooled fishermen” (Acts 4:13).  The ones He thought were the greatest “went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated–the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” [Heb 11:37-38 NIV]

Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1 when He stated, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).  These were the first words out of Jesus’ mouth when He inaugurated His ministry at the local synagogue, thereby defining the priority of His ministry and intended recipients, moments before his religious leaders and neighbors proceeded to try to kill Him.

The early church watched Jesus’ emphasis on the poor and stranger, and His insistence that it was His Father’s will as well, and in some cases they “passed with flying colors”, such as their sharing of resources to the point that the community took notice, as we saw in the Book of Acts, and their generosity throughout the Roman world as the scattered Gentile churches raised scarce funds to help their Jewish Christian brethren in the Jerusalem church who were suffering from the brutal famine in the region.  However, in other instances they got a “goose egg”, such as when they neglected the “outsider culture” Gentiles in their own ranks in the form of the Grecian widows, prompting the apostles themselves to take action, and their selfishness and display of privilege by flaunting their envious food spreads at their “love feasts” communion events, while the poor in their own churches had little to eat there – a food display that was “to die for”, after the Lord intervened.

The New Testament, including statements by Jesus Himself, does add some further thoughts on the issue of the poor, of which we’ll share here a few of its statements:

“Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor [thy] rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.   But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” [Luk 14:12-14 KJV]

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” [2Co 8:9 KJV]

“Only [they would] that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.” [Gal 2:10 KJV]

The Book of James was written to Jewish Christians who left Jerusalem (“the twelve tribes scattered abroad”), and James evidently thought they had to deal with a cultural issue they had with desiring and respecting wealth, because he spent a good part of his epistle addressing it, in passages such as these:

“For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?  Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?  But ye have despised the poor.  Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?” [Jas 2:2-6 KJV]

Having said these things, the following two passages best express Christ’s view towards the poor, and that which He wishes for His followers:

“And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed [be ye] poor: for yours is the kingdom of God…But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.” [Luk 6:20, 24 KJV]

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment [justice], mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” [Mat 23:23 KJV]

I know I have spent a lot of your time (and patience) in reciting all these Bible verses, but the key point I am making is that, even though conservative evangelicals (like those of my culture, and maybe yours) don’t talk about the poor very much, it appears to be a “big deal” to God!  In fact, the latter verse suggests that much of our forms of outer piety, which may include regular church attendance, faithful service with the fellowship there, prayer and even testifying, are things that should not be “undone”, but that God really does have “front burner” issues (of what Jesus calls “the weightier matters of the law”), and “justice” is one of them, whether it fits our politics or not!  We are not to have “doctrinal churches” or “service and social justice churches” or any debate between them, but all churches that do both, so others can see our real love for them, and God’s love for them as well, and thus believe our message.  Jesus was a perfect example of this: His “stool of ministry” had three legs – doctrinal teaching of the kingdom, spiritual warfare to release people from demons and spiritual bondage, and ministry for the people’s needs of hunger and hurting, and without all three the ministry would have been lacking, and so will ours!  Think about this: each of these three “legs” ministers specifically to the three parts of our nature – soul (intellect), spirit and body, each one seeking its own “salvation” of justification, sanctification and glorification; which one should be left out?

Even though “justice” is one of the “weightier matters of the law”, my friend Micah points out that Christians have seemed to usually prefer “charity” over “social and economic justice” for the poor, and now I see his point.  This is like the “trickle down economics” crumbs that fall off the rich man’s table that he let the beggar Lazarus eat in the Bible; we all know how much God was impressed with the rich man’s generosity and compassion of Lazarus (actually, the dogs were more compassionate in licking Lazarus’s sores – sort of a low-cost Republican health care alternative to Obama Care).  There was a move in the Christian community, mostly beginning in England in the second half of the nineteenth century, to see the “huddled masses” in the teeming cities in the early days of the Industrial Age, and begin to notice their squalor and hopeless situation, and recognize some Christian duty to provide homes for orphans, and basic food and shelter for the needy, but those involved were certainly the minority.  The “social justice” movement began to take hold in the U.S. in the early twentieth century, but it was dominated by ‘liberal” Christian factions, and sometimes even had (gasp!) women ministerial leaders!  This movement faded as well, as conservative and fundamentalist Christian communities were suspicious of the motives of such supposedly “Christian” groups; their view of such Christians as “socialists” was akin to then (and now) viewing them in a similar way to “devil worshippers” – an artificial association that must be intentionally programmed by others into a person or community.  I believe that the inadequate movement by the church in Europe to minister to the exploited workers in Industrial Age Europe – not only assuring their basic needs were met but also pushing on their big business capitalist buddies to provide some form of union representation and balance to their exploitation, led the masses to be ripe for the (relatively) compassionate (but atheistic, in terms of Marxism) communist message to represent the workers, out of desperation.  Similar to when the French Church defended the military and government establishment in knowingly sending an innocent Jewish military officer Dreyfus to Devil’s Island to maintain the social order and their position, when the American church pulled away from their responsibility to the “working man” of the Industrial Age and to hold capitalism in check, the liberal secular humanists, and those of them in government, filled in the moral void of compassion, and have done the job of providing the basic social safety net ever since.  In recent days, the Mormon Glenn Beck (a favorite of conservative Christians) has made “social justice” the new “n-word”, and a concept of total contempt and distrust – presumably he’s never read God’s opinion in His word on the subject.

 

Roughly a week ago on Mother’s Day, I spent the day with my mother and family members out of town.  The close family members I visited are clearly good Christian people, have raised solid Christian families, and have been compassionate with those around them, and I respect them.  However, for some reason the topic of the current administration came up, and “what has happened with me” in the more liberal views they think I have recently espoused than those we were raised on.  In short order I was accused by the group of being a “Muslim lover” (having been told that “they all want to cut our heads off”) who did not favor the eradication of the aggressive Iran (a people I pointed out whose democratic secular government was overthrown by ours in a secret operation in the 1950s), weak on “standing with Israel” (to which I asked them to be specific as to who were the “sons of Abraham” specified in the Bible that would be subject to such promises (and if it included the 80 percent of Israelis who are atheists and do not believe in any “God of Abraham”, joined by a religious minority who will bomb the homes of Christians there, or attack them in the streets (except for Christian tourists with money to bring))), and finally being willing to just give away all our hard-earned money to the lazy underclass who seeks to exploit us – views that do all have a common association.  I briefly mentioned that the phrases they used I recollected as being virtually verbatim from certain cable news networks and radio talk show hosts.

To be fair, even as a blue collar, working class family we were raised in, in an old neighborhood and of modest means, the culture persisted (amongst Christians and within our community) of the concepts of the poor and underclass as expressed in the song of the time “Welfare Cadillac”, that being of (largely in the inner cities, and of certain races mostly) people who expected handouts and a refusal to work, and an expectation to have freely given to them and without consequence a standard living above us ‘hard working people”.  We saw some of those kids get free lunches or breakfasts at school, and swore we saw people at the supermarket buying T-Bone steaks with food stamps.  We actually had no idea what standard of living people could support with public assistance (nor can people today unless one has been on it, but almost always grossly over-exaggerated), but there were not-so-veiled references to women in such slums having additional babies merely to gain the extra welfare checks.  There was some modest help provided for those we knew and thought were “deserving”.  Enforced school busing of children from the inner city to my school, and the turmoil that caused, did not help attitudes much, leading us to be sent to a modest Christian school, ironically in the poorest and most depressing part of the inner city.  As talk radio grew, we began to learn better that the Democratic Party always went for the ‘deadbeats” in giving them free stuff, as a way to garner their votes as a winning coalition.  Tax credits for the poor and single parents were always resented, and many Christians today would assume those folks still “have it too good” and are big beneficiaries from their man Trump’s tax cuts (designed to help ‘the working man”), even though reality shows that the poorest had their taxes raised by 20% (from 10% to 12%), while the wealthiest corporations had their taxes almost cut in half; now there are the inevitable rumblings in Congress that social programs will have to be cut significantly to prevent expanding deficits from the huge tax cut to the wealthy.

It is sad that the main preoccupation in most churches is in securing annual revenue sufficient to keep their “Christian Life Centers” and matrix of lavish campuses operating (and admittedly, to justify maintaining large staffs and impressive salaries requires displaying a big operation), with mortgages and maintenance costs paid, rather than in estimating what their resources could do to impact the poorest in their community.  Ironically, my pastor told me once that data he came across suggested something to the effect that is all of America’s Christians merely tithed their income, there would be enough funds to pay for adequate food and health care for the entire world.  However, if our churches obtained such faithful income from their parishioners, for reasons I just described I doubt it would be put to that noble use.  My wife and I found out personally, that one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship churches in our city’s downtown, to which we were members for a time, got tired having us and another couple escort homeless men inside the door of the church to be fitted for clothes to go to interviews and to obtain work, because they expected it “looked bad” to the yuppies in the new condos moving in downtown that they wanted to court (thankfully, our church today has some heroic members who support Room in the Inn, which helps the homeless in a modest way and shows them love, and puts them in our face in the suburbs to remind us they are still there and not forgotten).  I also have to confess that having worked with such needy individuals on the fringes of churches for all my church life of many decades, it is a frustrating task for me and for many, since many have issues of various types that lead them to not heed good advice and to make their own problems and exacerbate them, and try one’s patience when trying to help.  As I say this as one who thinks of himself as trying to “keep his own act together” and not be a burden on others, but routinely ignores it when both the discipline and presumption on others is an issue in my own life.  I do think that some form of accountability and reward for healthy behavior is prudent, both to truly help the individual to get on their feet if that is possible, and to not bring those helping to anguish and cynicism.  However, I don’t notice the church, at least the conservative side, talking about the poor much at all.  And if Jesus required me to “shape up” and put my screw-ups behind me before He continued to bail me out, I would be in deep trouble myself. 

Why do people we try to help keep falling into repeated bouts of trouble?  Well, new data seems to suggest the stress of poverty produces its own inability to make good decisions, at a time when the afflicted need it most.  According to a May 2018 article in The Atlantic, “several recent studies suggest that having less money can actually affect thinking and memory for the worse. In the most recent of these papers, scientists found a link between being lower on the socioeconomic ladder and changes in the brain”.  They add that “Past studies have also suggested that being low in socioeconomic status can affect the way we think.  A paper in Science in 2013 found that ‘a person’s cognitive function is diminished by the constant and all-consuming effort of coping with the immediate effects of having little money, such as scrounging to pay bills and cut costs’.  The cognitive cost of poverty, that study found, was practically like losing an entire night of sleep.  Another study from last year found that people who had lived in poverty performed worse than those who had never been poor on tests of verbal memory, processing speed, and executive functioning”.  They quote an expert who said that “Previous views of poverty have blamed poverty on personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success … We’re arguing that the lack of financial resources itself can lead to impaired cognitive function.  The very condition of not having enough can actually be a cause of poverty”.  A 2013 study by Princeton found that

“Poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining brainpower to devote to other areas of life, according to research based at Princeton University.  As a result, people of limited means are more likely to make mistakes and bad decisions that may be amplified by — and perpetuate — their financial woes…The researchers suggest that being poor may keep a person from concentrating on the very avenues that would lead them out of poverty…Thusly, a person is left with fewer ‘mental resources’ to focus on complicated, indirectly related matters such as education, job training and even managing their time.  In a series of experiments, the researchers found that pressing financial concerns had an immediate impact on the ability of low-income individuals to perform on common cognitive and logic tests.  On average, a person preoccupied with money problems exhibited a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point dip in IQ…The poor are often highly effective at focusing on and dealing with pressing problems.  It’s the other tasks where they perform poorly.  The fallout of neglecting other areas of life may loom larger for a person just scraping by…Late fees tacked on to a forgotten rent payment, a job lost because of poor time-management — these make a tight money situation worse.  And as people get poorer, they tend to make difficult and often costly decisions that further perpetuate their hardship.”

Many in my conservative Christian circles have adopted an argument they have heard on talk radio, cable news or social media that the government systematically re-distributes the wealth from the rich and middle class to the poor.  While I do agree that its programs do accomplish a re-distribution of wealth, my look at the data and government intrusion from a more holistic view of its overall impact on society would suggest that its re-distribution is actually from the poor and middle class to the rich, and the data seems to bear that out.  With large government programs for welfare and”‘equal opportunity”, how could that be?  One needs to consider the overwhelming largesse from enormous government contracts to businesses of taxpayer money, lucrative tax credits, and investment in education and infrastructure that largely benefits the big business and investor class, not to mention the booty and spoils from wars, fought on the ground by the poor on private’s salaries, to secure oil fields and retain overseas markets for investors and big business.

Does the data show this to be plausible?  Well, an article in The Washington Post in December 2017 stated that “The wealthiest 1 percent of American households own 40 percent of the country’s wealth, according to a new paper by economist Edward N. Wolff. That share is higher than it has been at any point since at least 1962″.  The author adds that “From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the 1 percent shot up by nearly three percentage points.  Wealth owned by the bottom 90 percent, meanwhile, fell over the same period.  Today, the top 1 percent of households own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.  That gap, between the ultra-wealthy and everyone else, has only become wider in the past several decades”.  They cite that

“In 2010, Michael Norton and Dan Ariely surveyed more than 5,500 people to find out how they thought wealth should be distributed in this country… On average, respondents said that in an ideal world the top 20 percent of Americans would get nearly one-third of the pie, the second and middle quintiles would get about 20 percent each, and the bottom two quintiles would get 13 and 11 slices, respectively.  In an ideal world, in other words, the most productive quintile of society would amass roughly three times the wealth of the least productive”.  In reality, they found that “The top 20 percent of households actually own a whopping 90 percent of the stuff in America…The fourth quintile of households gets literally nothing: no pie.  But they’re still doing better than the bottom 20 percent of households, who are actually in a state of pie debt: Their net worth is underwater, meaning they owe more than they have.  Combined, the average net worth of the bottom 40 percent of households is -$8,900…There’s the top 1 percent, gobbling up an astonishing 40 slices of American pie. The next 4 percent split 27 slices between them, while the next 5 percent take another 12 slices (a little over two slices per person)…The top 1 percent in the U.S. own a much larger share of the country’s wealth than the 1 percent elsewhere. The American 1 percent gobble up twice as much pie (40 percent) as the 1 percent in France, the U.K., or Canada”.

In November 2017 CBS News reported that “The top 1 percent of global citizens own 50.1 percent of all household wealth, up from 45.5 percent in 2000, the study found”.  They add that “the wealth gap recently spurred credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s to warn that worsening inequality could hamper long-term economic growth by dampening social mobility and creating a less-educated workforce.  In October of 2017 The Business Insider reported that “The top 0.1% of households now hold about the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90%”.  In terms of total amount of wealth increase, the London Guardian newspaper reported in December 2017 that “The richest 0.1% of the world’s population have increased their combined wealth by as much as the poorest 50% – or 3.8 billion people – since 1980…The report, which drew on the work of more than 100 researchers around the world, found that the richest 1% of the global population “captured” 27% of the world’s wealth growth between 1980 and 2016.  And the richest of the rich increased their wealth by even more.  The top 0.1% gained 13% of the world’s wealth, and has garnered “as much of the world’s growth since 1980 as the bottom half of the adult population,” the report said. “Conversely, income growth has been sluggish or even nil for the population between the global bottom 50% and top 1%”.  They add that “The economists said wealth inequality had become ‘extreme’ in Russia and the US.  The US’s richest 1% accounted for 39% of the nation’s wealth in 2014 [the latest year available], up from 22% in 1980”, with much of that going to the top 0.1 percent.  The economists note that one of the main remedies of the ever-widening gap between the one percent and the middle classes globally is a more progressive tax bracket structure, but admits that its ability is minimized that ten percent of the elite’s wealth is protected in offshore tax shelters.  In 2017 The Huffington Post reported that “New research suggests that the top 0.01 percent — households with over $40 million in wealth — are manipulating trusts, offshore bank accounts, and various other opaque mechanisms that mask ownership to evade 25 to 30 percent of what they owe in personal income and wealth taxes”.  Importantly, they add that “Our current estimates on wealth inequality in the United States come largely from tax data. These estimates, given the billions upon billions the wealthy are hiding from U.S. tax collectors, now appear to grossly underestimate how much wealth actually sits concentrated at America’s economic summit.”

Another report revealed that the 70% of the world’s population in 2017, with a net worth under $10,000, owned 2.7% of the world’s wealth, while the 0.7% worth $1 million or more controlled 46 percent.  They report that 56% (and rising) of the world’s population is considered “low income” (make less than $10 a day), and another 15% as “poor”.  The biggest wealth disparity they show is in the United States, where “the median top 5% household wealth has more than 90 times the wealth of the median U.S. family“.  Because of this, the middle class in the U.S. has half the proportion of national wealth of their peers in other industrialized nations, as well as half the net worth of the median family there.  Yet another report stated that “If established trends in wealth inequality were to continue, the top 0.1% alone will own more wealth than the global middle class by 2050”.  Even the hard right, libertarian Alex Jones’ website reported that “more than 40 percent of households cannot afford the basics of a middle-class lifestyle, including rent, transportation, childcare and a cellphone”, finding “a wide band of working U.S. households that live above the official poverty line, but below the cost of paying ordinary expenses”

Now let me ask you – does this sound like a healthy society, and state of affairs?  Is this the “triumph” of capitalism, or just Darwinism?  Does this sound more like a growing feudalistic society?  Given the Bible verses we have reviewed, do American Christians have any responsibility here? Are we “our brother’s keeper”?  Do we ‘love our neighbor”?

Almost all American evangelicals absolutely despise Hillary Clinton, with a hatred only rivaled by that for Satan himself.  However, they considered her rival Bernie Sanders as just a nutcase.  But this ‘nutcase” was the only candidate to point out this “elephant in the room” of the expanding gap between the economic elite and the rest, and the crisis that it would present that would soon dwarf the threats of ISIS, Islamic extremism, North Korea or even the Soviets – a clarion call that largely fell on deaf ears.  Evangelicals and those of their ilk are not known to be students of history (or students of much of anything for that matter, generally not being readers of serious subject matter), but if they were it would be greatly apparent that many great empires and cultures fell in time over the growing inequality of wealth, and the inability of the underclass to survive with their plight, with violent rebellion becoming their only option – think of the slave revolts of the Roman Empire, the French monarchy, the Russian tsar, and the like.  When people have nothing left to lose, they will take desperate measures, and in the mayhem, the greedy elites will lose everything they clung to.  Evangelicals have long sided with the Wall Street Republicans, including the current New York City billionaire president, who has placed Wall Street hedge fund managers and CEOs into the key cabinet positions over the financial well-being of the citizenry; it is no surprise that the first Executive Action President Trump took on Inauguration Day was to provide that financial managers did not have to disclose to their consumer clients that they are actually representing the interests of the financial product companies they represent, and not that of their paying customers.   They place in office those who actually raise their taxes in subtle ways beyond their comprehension (like increasing standard deductions that are useless to most with mortgages, while quietly removing their exemptions to offset any benefits), and while cutting the taxes of wealthy corporations almost in half, and increasing the taxes on the poorest by 20 percent.

Of course, just like there’s no such things as “peace profiteers”, those people (even popular ones) who take up the cause of the poor find it a quick way to lose whatever popular support they otherwise had.  As one example, recently The Intercept reported regarding Martin Luther King, Jr. that “in 1966, 63 percent of Americans held a negative view of the civil rights leader, while just 32 percent held a positive one.  This was a marked reversal from five years earlier, when 41 percent of Americans gave King a positive rating and 37 percent a negative one.  King’s slide in popularity coincided with his activism taking a turn from what Americans largely know him for — his campaign for civil rights in the American South — to a much more radical one aimed at the war in Vietnam and poverty.  They note King stating publicly that “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death”, while noting that “Many in King’s inner circle warned against making the speech and publicly campaigning against the war”.  Afterwards, he lost the support of many liberals and the press, as they note that  even The New York Times denounced him as doing a “disservice” to civil rights, while they note that “The Washington Post editorial board said King had ‘diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country and his people’, as ”A political cartoon in the Kansas City Star depicted the civil rights movement as a young black girl crying and begging for her drunk father King, who is consuming the contents of a bottle labeled ‘Anti-Vietnam'”.  They add that “In all, 168 newspapers denounced him the next day”, and even the other civil rights organizations he helped get on the ground such the NAACP, National Urban League, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, formally distanced themselves from King.  They also explained that

“Also that year, he launched the Poor People’s Campaign, aimed at providing good jobs, housing, and a decent standard of living to all Americans.  More than 40 years before American protesters took to the streets of New York City and other locales to “occupy” space to protest inequality, King proposed a massive tent encampment in Washington, D.C. to demand action on poverty.  King was assassinated during a campaign to organize sanitation workers in Tennessee in April of that year, before he was able to set up the encampment.  His widow Coretta Scott King, as well as fellow civil rights leader Ralph David Abernathy, went ahead with the plan to create what they called Resurrection City.  The camp lasted six weeks until police moved in to shut it down and evict all of its inhabitants, pointing to sporadic acts of hooliganism as justification.  Andrew Young, the young civil rights leader who later went on to be Jimmy Carter’s U.N. ambassador and a mayor of Atlanta, was horrified, saying the crushing of the camp was worse than the police violence he saw in the South.  ‘It was worse than anything I saw in Mississippi or Alabama’, he said.  ‘You don’t shoot tear gas into an entire city because two or three hooligans are throwing rocks’.”

They add that “Bobby Kennedy, who once authorized the wiretaps of King’s phones, attended the funeral” (in which King’s casket was pulled by a mule-drawn wagon), saying that “He gave his life for the poor of the world — the garbage workers of Memphis and the peasants of Vietnam” (King was shot while helping the Memphis sanitation workers in their strike, which he saw as part of the Campaign).

The Poor People’s Campaign culminated in a six week live-in camp called “Resurrection City” in Washington, DC (like the Bonus Army in the “Hoover City” camp a generation earlier) with 3,000 protest residents in the summer of 1968, right after King’s death.  The Nation reported comments by Dr. King, who originally conceived of the Campaign, including his statement that he thought the Apostle Paul would tell American Christians that “Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes…God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty”.  He stated that ““If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.  He merely exists”.  He wrote that “New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available”.  King wanted to bring the actual poor people to D.C. to let the politicians see them, stating that “We ought to come in mule carts, in old trucks, any kind of transportation people can get their hands on.  People ought to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the street and say, ‘We are here; we are poor; we don’t have any money; you have made us this way…and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it’”.

He was invited to bring the protesters to the city by Senator Kennedy himself.  The other politicians in D.C. felt threatened by all these poor people coming, with one calling it “A Mecca for migrants”, while presidential candidate Nixon told Congress not to capitulate to their demands.  20,000 Army soldiers were mobilized to occupy the city just in case, while the FBI began Operation POCAM to stop King’s effort on poverty, falsely telling protesters there they would lose welfare benefits if they came, and set up local city intimidation campaigns, even teaming up with the John Birch Society to operate the TACT (Truth About Civil Turmoil) propaganda campaign.  The FBI even planted the story that the Campaign was in direct competition with the Quakers, according to released FBI files.  What King sought was an Economic Bill of Rights, with the following five planks:

  1. “A meaningful job at a living wage”
  2. “A secure and adequate income” for all those unable to find or do a job
  3. “Access to land” for economic uses
  4. “Access to capital” for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses
  5. Ability for ordinary people to “play a truly significant role” in the government

They sought protection for Mexicans, other Hispanics, Indians and immigrants from police abuse, and food stamps and school lunch programs to use otherwise wasted over-produced food, job training, living wages, help for poor farmers of all races, medical care for the poor, programs to allow the poor to construct and rehabilitate housing, re-commitment to the Full Employment Act of 1946, and similar reforms.  The people formed caravans all over the country to come to Resurrection City (even mule teams), under the watchful eye of the FBI; the group in Detroit was clubbed and stomped by mounted police when their van stalled.  The military intelligence community also spied on the City, posing as journalists and wiretapping their phones there on the National Mall.  Resurrection City had a university, a psychiatrist and a city hall on site.  On a nearby campus, Chicanos, Appalachian whites, blacks and Indians stayed together, marching to the Supreme Court about fishing rights.  Their Solidarity March had between 50,000 and 100,000 people.  After weeks, the police began firing tear gas canisters into the City, and arrested the remaining people while they were singing.  Its results were modest, but it did lead to the release of food to poor communities, and increases in school lunch programs and Head Start.  There was also a Resurrection City II at the 1972 Democratic Party Convention in Miami.

All of this brief introduction was a mere preamble to the real purpose of this blog post.  Lately I’ve been on the lookout for appearances by Dr. Cornell West, who received his Ph.D from Harvard, and has been a professor at a large portion of the major Ivy League Schools, as well as in Paris and Union Theological Seminary.  With his old-school Black Afro hair and intense manner of discourse on social issues, not that long ago I would have chalked him up to being just another scary black radical like the Black Panthers, and ignored him.  However, over time, I noticed that he spoke more about being a follower of Jesus and a Christian which supremely defined his ethics and actions, more so than anyone else I heard on TV, and consistently brought up his Christian faith.  In fact, I read that while he admired the can-do activism of the Black Panthers, his Christian faith restricted him to local breakfast, prison and church programs.  Nevertheless, he is reviled by the Right.  He calls himself a “non-Marxist socialist”, because he does not believe that Marxism and his Christianity can be reconciled.  Most interestingly, I found out that he co-founded the Network of Spiritual Progressives, along with Rabbi Michael Lerner and Sister Joan Chittister.  From that organization, I discovered that they would be part of a larger confederation of groups hosting a new Poor People’s Campaign – A Call for Moral Renewal in cities across the country, including Nashville, on the day after Mothers Day – a half century after Dr. King’s originally-planned event.  I finally decided to get my rear off the sofa and not just think about defending the poor and defenseless, or just talk about it, but actually show up for once, and at least provide a witness of Christian support and encouragement.

I had to drive through the manic traffic to downtown Nashville, away from my suburban paradise, and begin the stressful process of finding an (expensive) place to park, and then try to find my way to the site of protest.  I had been warned of the propensity of panhandlers in the area, who might give trouble, and indeed it appeared they were out in force (at least my paranoid mind thought so), so I found myself walking on the opposite side of the streets from them to avoid trouble.  Of course, I was disturbed by the irony that I was going to an event on behalf of the poor while avoiding them personally, but I rationalized that I had to get there safely first, and that encouraging panhandlers (while being concerned where what loose cash I had was being used) vs. promoting organized programs that carefully controlled how needs were being met were on two different levels, whether I was right or wrong, but people who have helped people on the streets will know where I am coming from. 

When I finally found the place, I did not see a sea of people locked in arms like I have seen in the news reel footage of the Washington Mall in 1964.  What I saw was a modest group of maybe 100-150 people (although I am a poor judge), all of a very motley sort, with me sticking out like a tourist from suburbia.  The picture at the top of this post is from the group speaking front and center on the steps, with a small crowd on the ground.

I looked around to see how big the evangelical presence was at the event – here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and home to the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters and other evangelical groups – but I did not recognize a single evangelical type group or person in the bunch.  I saw a handful with clerical collars, but that was it.  When I realized the pitifulness of the small crowd in a city known for its Christianity, and that I could not see any evangelical witness there anywhere in support of the poor, for some reason I just started to weep – pretty significantly, and uncontrollably.  I just bowed my head and prayed, and asked God audibly for forgiveness for not caring enough for the poor up until now, and I felt a hand on my shoulder in support.  When I looked up I found out it was one of the men in the clerical collar, who comforted me as I confessed my sin of insufficient care for the poor, and he prayed with me.  I did not have anything to write down information there (Radio Free Nashville would be so disappointed in me), but I seem to recollect his name was something like Bro. Jake Morill, and I think he came all the way from Oak Ridge, Tenn. (the Campaigns were being held in state capitals simultaneously across the country).  I asked him what denomination he was with and he said the Unitarian-Universalist Church; the others I met there from other places were also from the Unitarians.  The Unitarians – “showing up” us evangelicals.

I heard women preachers speak, a Muslim woman speaker, and saw older men waving Vietnam Veterans For Peace flags.  I didn’t have a clean short-sleeve “Future Quake” shirt available for the hot weather, so I had to wear my only short-sleeve, clean white T-shirt I could find, which was emblazoned with a white flag with blue stripes, and a statement in red letters stating, “STAND WITH ISHMAEL”.  A group with a banner asked me what my shirt meant, and I told them it was food for thought, that God had also given blessings and promises to Abraham’s other son Ishmael in addition to Isaac, and to “bless the seed of Abraham” meant to bless all of his sons of faith; they found that very interesting, and the Muslim woman in particular.  I gave all the people there a blessing in the name of Jesus, thanked them for their compassion, and confessed the error of my earlier ways, and the need of a follower of Jesus to support their cause, which was well received by all, including the woman dressed up like The Handmaid’s Tale, whom I suddenly discovered when they turned around was a trans-gendered person; I asked them if they knew our friend Roxy Fox of Nashville Gender Talk on Radio Free Nashville, and they said they did.

I also talked to a dignified woman in a medical lab coat, who was there from Chattanooga as a doctor or nurse, as part of a group seeking health care for everyone.  I looked hard for someone representing my old radio station Radio Free Nashville, because this event was ideal for them, and I finally found an older gentleman sporting one of their shirts and covering the event, and I made his acquaintance.  The main event of the second stage of the event was a sit-in on one of the streets downtown, singing songs and such, which was only permitted by those who had been trained beforehand to be behaved and non-violent or resistant to law enforcement.  They sang spirited songs as the buses and traffic stopped in front of them.  Of course, this was the only thing that brought the local TV cameras (actually, one station) to cover the event and promote the cause, and everyone knows how that game is played.  While I was there I noticed the police being very restrained and patient, for it was clear that this small group had no intention of endangering the public safety – rather trying to help it, in a totally unselfish manner, unlike the self-centered presidential cabinet officials we see on TV.  As I was leaving a couple hours later, I saw a woman wearing a clerical collar looking at her texts, and I introduced myself.  It turned out that Rev. Joy Warren was a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church!  She and her husband served there in Murfreesboro, TN – “ground zero” in the battle between the hard Right anti-sharia Christian movement and the new Muslim center there.  I found out that their church led groups where Christians and Muslims locally could meet each other and help each other out, and she worked hard to get her parishioners active in social events.  She mentioned that her kids told her at school that many of the kids there harass the Muslim students, whispering things like “9-11” in their ears.  She told me her denomination normally does not wear clerical collars, but she wore it to that event because she wanted the other people there to know that at least some Christian presence was there.  She is absolutely right, but isn’t that sad that such an overt act was even necessary, due to the evangelical “no show”?   

In recent years I have attended the evangelical-dominated Value Voters Summit with all the Republican candidates before the presidential election, and a major anti-sharia law conference at one of the major churches here in town, as well as a number of major Bible prophecy conferences.  Upon reflection, I noticed some striking differences between this and those events and the participants:

  1.  In this event, I noticed that the participants, unlike the others, did not feature participants that seemed to have much if any money to them, or dress with impressive tastes.
  2. This event looked like it had no money for impressive facilities to hold their event, with lavish receptions and hotel mixers, unlike the “Christian” ones (usually provided by wealthy benefactors of unknown agendas).
  3. Unlike the other events, I did not notice the participation or organization by members of the Israeli government.
  4. The military members at this event did not look like they were still involved in intelligence agencies or mercenary security firms like Blackwater.
  5. This event did not seem to be a veiled attempt to promote particular political candidates.
  6. Unlike the other events I listed, this one featured speakers always speaking about Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount and even repentance, which I never heard at those other “Christian” events.
  7. Without the deep pockets and public relations firms there, the media didn’t seem much interested in covering it.
  8. Unlike the other events, the poverty message led the evangelicals to being a “no show”.

 

The following are some pictures I took of the event itself:

This is Brother Jake, who laid his hand on me and prayed for me.

    This is Minister Joy Warren, the Presbyterian minister.

These people were interested in my T-Shirt.

 

This is me, with a suspect T-shirt in question (I needed an alibi picture)

 

One of the folks with the “Veterans for Peace” sign.

 

A lot of singing and spiritual songs going on.

 

One of the “Veterans for Peace” friends: He would certainly not be allowed in the other conferences I cited.

 

My buddy from Radio Free Nashville.  Low power to the people!

 

My new friend, who happens to be a Muslim (never once tried to kill me, either).

 

The “sit-in” begins!

 

Stopped the Fed Ex truck!

 

Although the police were well-behaved while I was there, I found out later in the local paper that 21 people, from ages 17 to 21 and from all over Tennessee,  were arrested at the event after I left.  You can tell that they look like some pretty sinister people that were a threat to the public.  Of course, the arrests are necessary for the media to show up and take notice of their cause, without expensive public relations firms to do the job.  The article mentioned that the weekly events nationwide are part of a 40 day movement of events.  Upon reflection, my evangelical peers at the other events I have gone to like to “talk tough” by parading guys in fatigues and former special forces guys and mercenaries at their events, and talk about “spilling the blood of patriots” and the like, but I believe that most of them are too coddled and cowardly like the comfy establishment group they pretend not to be to ever have the courage to spend the day in “pokey” or the paddy wagon, like these folks.

The London Guardian newspaper reported on the founder of the new Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, who stated that “There is no religious left and religious right.  There is only a moral center.  And the scripture is very clear about where you have to be to be in the moral center – you have to be on the side of the poor, the working, the sick, the immigrant”.  They add that

“Barber leads an ascendent grassroots movement that is trying to turn the national conversation to what they believe are the core teachings of the Bible: care for the poor, heal the sick, welcome the stranger.  The Poor People’s Campaign, a revival of Martin Luther King’s final effort to unite poor Americans across racial lines, last week brought together activists from several faiths, the Women’s March, the labor movement and other liberal organizations to launch 40 days of civil disobedience and protest against inequality, racism, ecological devastation and militarism.  As many as 1,000 people were arrested during the first wave.  More expect to be held in future…’They [the Religious Right pastors and leaders] say so much about the issues where the Bible says so little, but they speak so little about the issues where the Bible says so much.  Jesus set up free healthcare clinics everywhere he went.  He healed everybody and never charged a leper a co-pay’”.

I saw the following blog post the day after the event, entitled, “Why Would I Do This?”:

“This week I was arrested. I was in jail for over 14 hours.  At times it was so hot I was sweating.  At times it was so cold I was shivering.  And at all times it smelled rancid.  We sat or huddled in the women’s cell atop either hard cement benches or hard metal bunks (with no mattresses) covered by dried and crusted bodily fluids and years of dirt.  A guard saw our sunburns and assumed we had contracted a rash from being in the cells.  Without windows or clocks we were deprived of our sense of time.  The fluorescent lights lit everything into a brightly illuminated nowhere.  It took over 9 hours until we had access to our phone call.  From the architecture, to the way guards ignored or yelled at us, everything was designed in a way to strip us of our sense of self and power.  At one point, I overheard a guard saying ‘A beating would not harm that one’.  It was a very long 14 hours in jail.”

“Why did I do this? Why would I go through such an ordeal, stripped of my freedom and dignity?”

“Because I am a Christian.”

“I follow a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew named Jesus. The Jesus who preached “blessed are the poor” and who was poor himself. The Jesus who told the parable about the Good Samaritan, defying the racism of the time…The Jesus who died on a cross executed by a conspiracy between the religious elite and the mightiest military power of the ancient world.  The Jesus who risked arrest for his witness.  I am trying to follow Jesus in naming the evils of poverty, racism, environmental degradation, and the military industrial complex.  The same evils that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out in the original Poor Peoples Campaign right before he was killed.”

“As I followed Jesus by risking arrest, I met him in jail.  I met Jesus in the woman who shared her jacket with me when I was shivering.  I met Jesus in the woman who gave me a look of utmost gratitude when I offered to walk behind her in line to cover her because her pants ripped open exposing her bum when the police took her in.  I met Jesus in the woman who was arrested for crying too loudly and uncontrollably at her brothers hearing.  I met Jesus in the woman who was so inspired by the Poor Peoples Campaign and that we were there with her in jail;…Those 14 hours in jail were intense, worldview shifting, hours.  I was humbled, honored, helpless and hopeful.  I joined the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival because I wanted to follow Jesus, and I was surprised to meet him in the putrid overcrowded jail cell.”

 

The problem of poverty cannot be solved merely by just throwing money at it.  And yes, whenever you provide assistance to the public – even through the local church – you will find abuse and exploitation.  There are ways to improperly apply assistance that not only make matters worse by means of providing money or goods for barter to support drug habits and alcohol abuse, and (I guess) even promote unhelpful behaviors and character traits such as sloth and lack of self-initiative, or other destructive behavior, or even reinforced feelings of inferiority.  Maybe many of us have witnessed the “welfare cadillacs”, or the food stamps used to buy premier items we do not think we can afford.  However, few of us have very found out how little public assistance really is (and those I know who work with such people can confirm this), and that it is just basic sustenance, much like Social Security.  We need to promote the ideas of self-sufficiency, hard work and financial discipline in people.  However, have we got those principles mastered in all the members of our own households?  Do the rest of us have any problems availing of the government to get tax deductions and credits for our families and mortgages, or even financial aid and grants to send our children to school, yet look down on others who get other forms of government assistance?

Are there ways to give people hope, and still foster good societal and moral behaviors?

Why do people have problems with school free breakfast and lunch programs – is it really the children’s fault for their family’s financial plight?  Are those meals really going to be mis-used?  Better yet – why not feed all our school children that way, so that the poor will not feel isolated when they use those tickets?  Don’t laugh – you may never have felt that shame unless you’ve been on such forms of public assistance for some time – the shame may be as bad as the poverty.  I hear some say cynically that our nation is the only one where our poor people are fat – they never seem to realize that the waistline girth may be due to the unhealthy, fattening food that is all they can afford, or all that is offered in their inner city corner store while the big chains stay out of the neighborhood, or maybe just the lack of education on home economics and nutrition in homes where a competent parent is missing.

Martin Luther King, Jr. recommended radical ideas for his economic plans at the time, including a living wage, guaranteed jobs for all and a minimum income in any case, to avert poverty and to spur consumer spending.  Now, these ideas are chic and are being considered in several states, and are already deployed in places in Europe and elsewhere.  The abuse factor is certainly present, but would reducing poverty-based crime, drug abuse, domestic violence and suicides be worth the price?  Why do the people in those places that offer free health care and similar “welfare state” provisions not want to adopt our Wild West, Darwinistic approach of unbridled free-for-all of “dog eat dog” capitalistic competition?  Are those countries actually “progressing” as a civilization, and is ours a throwback to the Dark Ages of feudalism, and going more that direction every day?  Do churches have a role in providing the moral underpinning to assist the State in lifting its lower rungs of society out of poverty, and to teach them good virtues of responsibility and self-worth?  Would churches take time away from their pet topics of financial success, gay marriage and Muslims to assign resources to such tasks?  Why do you almost never hear churches ever teach about Biblical directives of hard work, stewardship, and wisdom with money, and why are its parishioners (often with decent incomes) some of the worst role models in these regards to show to our neighbors who have grown up in disfunctional homes?

When the nation finally comes to its senses and nominates me to run for President, I think I would emphasize in “investing” in people – particularly those we have talked about in this blog.  Like Neegan properly says on “The Walking Dead” – “people are a resource”.  When society “invests” in people in need of help, “investments” are intended to reap returns – improved productivity, creative output, tax revenue, children for future our labor force, and the like.  It needs to be done smartly, and with accountability measures, while never totally eliminating the risks that come with investments – only managing them.  With some people – the severely disabled, the elderly, the mentally ill, the hopelessly addicted – the only “return on investment’ may be in our souls, and in elevating our civilization, and putting our thumb in the eye of old Darwin.  To fully round out my campaign slogan, I think I would go with, “Investing in People – with Compassion and Accountability”.  Who would find fault with that, other than some greedy so-and-so, or someone who doesn’t believe in the Golden Rule?  Of course, it will cost us – we may have to get flat screen TVs that are two inches smaller diagonally, or the smaller monthly plan on Netflix or our cell plans (it will really cost the well-to-do; less Monet paintings and import luxury cars, Cuban cigars and money laundered off-shore for their “necessities”, using their new-found drastic tax cuts that were supposed to “trickle down”, like the crumbs from the rich man’s table to the beggar Lazarus).  Would it be worth it?  Even to the point of putting less money into our overseas military adventures that entertain us and make us feel proud and exceptional? 

I, for one, am ready to consider new, bold ideas to turn back this “feudalization” of our society, and to comply with the Biblical mandates to place the poor and “justice” on the ‘front burners” of our discussion as the “weightier matters” of God – even with all the risks involved, or at least the ones the nay-sayers talk about all the time.

Wouldn’t it at least be an improvement if our churches talked about poverty some time?

Are we “our brother’s keeper”?

 

I’m really glad I went to the Poor People’s Campaign.