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: Religion and Spirituality

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.

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How Fear Has Written the Story of Evangelical Experience in America

U.S. President Trump addresses the March for Life rally by satellite in Washington

This story out today from Prof. John Fea of Messiah College well encapsulates what I wrote in my manuscript I drafted for Volume 4 of my book series a few years ago on the history of Christianity and its interaction with outsiders, particularly in America.  I thought it might give readers some food for thought,

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/06/a-history-of-evangelical-fear/563558/

 

 

Musings on Anthony Bordain, Suicide, and Being “Together”

AnthonyBourdain

Just this week, there was a report that came out about the growing crisis of the rise in suicide rates over the last two decades – a topic to add the broader mental health crisis that undergirds almost every major problem we have in our society today, in some form.  This report from the government, as stated in various news media outlets, states that “Suicide rates increased by 25% across the United States over nearly two decades ending in 2016, according to research published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by more than 30%, the government report finds.  More than half of those who died by suicide had not been diagnosed with a mental health condition”.  Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, added that “Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the US right now, and it’s one of three causes that is actually increasing recently”, also noting that “The other two top 10 causes of death that are on the rise are Alzheimer’s disease and drug overdoses”.   They note that in 2016 alone, about 45,000 lives were lost to suicide.  The rapid increase is not limited to one culture or region of America, but rather spread across it, with the biggest increase being noted in North Dakota, and the highest increases in diverse places such as Idaho, Utah, Vermont and New Hampshire.  Montana has the highest rates of suicide per capita, at over four times the rate of the lowest place – Washington D.C.  They note that about half are accomplished via firearms, with strangling or hanging the second, with about 31% of the victims having opioids in their system.  It notes that suicides are highest in men, but women are rising faster, and that 18% of all suicides were among veterans, even though they only make up 8.5% of the population. Another expert they cite notes that it is particularly problematic in rural areas, where mental health services can be scarce, and even if available, may be too expensive, difficult to reach due to transportation limitations, and subject to the reduced privacy in small towns whose residents observe who is parked at the one mental health clinic in town, and the stigma associated with it.  They note that the occurrence of suicide is even affecting the bulk data of the overall life expectancy of Americans.

Within about a 24-hour period on either side of the release of this report, two celebrities – both seen as being highly successful and still effectual in the culture, and having overt successful personal relationships as well – committed suicide.  Ironically, both purse designer Kate Spade (whom I knew nothing about) and Anthony Bourdain (whom I was fairly familiar with) chose the mode of hanging – a type of death fiercely avoided as a means of capital punishment, including by known criminals, for its grisly and unsavory nature; this includes the clever Nazi second-in-command to Hitler, Herman Goring, who cheated the gallows at Nuremberg in desperation, willingly choosing poisoning by his own hand.  Others who chose this form of death by their own hand included comedian Robin Williams, actor David Carradine, the “D.C. Madam”, and a host of others.

So what is going on here?  I am told that Kate Spade was sort of “on top of the world” in the designer field of fashion purses, not only in high society but amongst the everyday women we all live around, and a beloved figure throughout the clothing world.  She and her husband had founded a successful handbag (supposedly “very affordable” at $150 to $450, I am told) line, and launched into a wide array of products, boutiques worldwide, and she even wrote three books on the subjects of etiquette, entertainment, and fashion—Manners, Occasions, and Style.  She and her husband sold the business for a lot of money as she was the darling of the business world as well, to then focus on raising her daughter, and then started a new fashion company of footwear and purses with other investors, called Francis Valentine.  In other words, she had found success, money, fame and wealth in her own creative venture, still popular and with business and creative clout, and able to express herself creatively in many forms, and yet finding time to create a family.  She was only 55 years old, married for 24 years to Andy (brother of comedian/actor David Spade), and mother to a 13 year old daughter.  However, her husband released a statement to the New York Times after her suicide, an excerpt of which is quoted below:

“…Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years.  She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease…We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy.  There was no indication and no warning that she would do this…There were personal demons she was battling…For the past 10 months we had been living separately, but within a few blocks of each other.  Bea was living with both of us and we saw each other or spoke every day.  We ate many meals together as a family and continued to vacation together as a family.  Our daughter was our priority.  We were not legally separated, and never even discussed divorce.  We were best friends trying to work through our problems in the best way we knew how.  We were together for 35 years.  We loved each other very much and simply needed a break.  This is the truth…She was actively seeking help for depression and anxiety over the last 5 years, seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety.  There was no substance or alcohol abuse.  There were no business problems.  We loved creating our businesses together.  We were co-parenting our beautiful daughter.”

Ironically, the aforementioned CDC report mentions that chronically depressed people are typically not those who tend to lose their life to suicide.  One thing that is not mentioned in her husband’s statement or other narratives of her lifestyle is any evidence of active religious participation on their behalf.

I am much more familiar with the story of Anthony Bourdain.  As a “news hound” who typically has cable news on in the background (with sound either on or off) for all hours of the day, in recent years it always seemed to be plastered with Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” television program, running almost continuously on CNN.  He came to CNN supposedly in 2013, bringing his combination travel-and-food show to the network – an unorthodox fit, but in tune with the new management’s desire to do more lengthy background news pieces like documentaries.  It served as an offbeat, irreverent forum to visit far-flung places, or those in our back yards, and probe mysterious cultures, seeing exotic places and its common folk in action, and seeing the search for the culture’s gourmet and common street food as a backdrop to understand their cultural mindset.  It talked to its local authors and journalists (sometimes under fire from their own governments) as well as chefs, street vendors, and mothers in their kitchens and dining rooms, discussing aspects of their cultures and daily lives heretofore unknown to average Americans, and the pressing political and cultural issues and dangers they were facing.  It has been smashing ratings hit and recognized for its artistic merit, garnering five Emmy Awards, and certainly raising Bourdain’s respect and mystique, and allowing him virtual carte blanche and clout at the ailing network as a type of flagship program that added to their prestige.

With Bourdain’s show, viewers were able to see life in little-known places in all parts of the world, often traveling by austere means to very remote sites, seeing those for whom meeting Western visitors was not common, and explaining how food and its preparation helped explained their cultural history and their day-to-day life, while he chatted with locals (as seen in the pictures above), or their regional chefs, writers, politicians or even street vendors.  Sometimes the political hotbeds he visited made news in and of themselves, as when he visited both Israel and Palestine, or Lebanon in the midst of their civil war.  Sometimes, those who interacted with him paid a steep price for their honest public discussions with the plain-spoken Bourdain.  Russian dissenting senior politician Boris Nemtsov, himself a brilliant scientist and successful reform politician, spoke honestly with Bourdain in 2014 about the gangster-like nature of Putin and details of his and the government’s corruption, as well as his understanding that his life was in danger; mere months after the show’s airing, Nemtsov was gunned down on the street with four slugs in his back, with later investigations suggesting government complicity.  Similarly, Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post Tehran, Iran bureau chief, was arrested and jailed with his fellow journalist wife by authorities (for “propaganda against the establishment”) just a few weeks after Bourdain interviewed him with a frank but restrained discussion of the good and bad aspects of life in Iran (a show which also featured Bourdain hanging out with Iranian youths with hot-rodded American cars drag racing and eating pizza, in a typical (for him) type segment), and after much campaigning by Bourdain and others publicly, he was finally released around 18 months later.  As a response, Rezaian (in the above linked article about him) says that Bourdain “changed his life”, calling him “one of the most beloved television personalities, and people, of our generation”, who “raised awareness in a different kind of way that nothing else could have”; he also said Bourdain helped him privately to re-integrate back into society after his arrest, and decided to have Bourdain publish a book about his experience.

On occasion, Boudain sought out those he idolized, drawing on his “bad-boy”, New York punk rock-loving past (which he still loves) by seeking out and finding punk rock legend Iggy Pop in Miami, discovering him aging quietly (and still amazed to be alive after his drug-addled younger life, like Bourdain) and eating healthy food, and enjoying the serenity of a modest breakfast and a quiet beach.  Another icon of his he corralled was comedian Bill Murray, who shared his somewhat pedestrian yet offbeat lifestyle in his adopted Charleston, South Carolina.    More likely, though, were the celebrity fans who sought out the “coolness” of Bourdain, and one of those evidently was President Barack Obama, whose staff arranged for Bourdain to eat with him in a “dive” in Hanoi, Vietnam, while there for a summit shortly before his departure from office.  The experience of meeting and eating with Obama there was shared by Bourdain himself in an article he wrote, the following excerpts of which will give the reader a feel for the lack of pretense in Bordain himself and devil-may-care attitude, yet seriousness regarding things befalling the common man:

“Some people at the White House had reached out and hinted at the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we might find a time and a place where the two of us could sit down to a meal together.  These discussions were, out of necessity, very closely held until the very last minute.  CNN didn’t know.  The producers, even the camera guys who were to shoot the scene, were not told until the day before.  At no point did the White House, CNN, or anyone else, offer guidance, suggestions or ground rules for what I might talk to the President about.  There may or may not have been an offer of a ride on Air Force One at one point.  But I figured we’d look totally in the bag if we did that.  You ride in a man’s car — or his plane — you owe him something.  And it just seemed weird.”

“I’m not a journalist.  Or a foreign policy wonk.  My politics are my own.  Contrary to the assertions of angry Twitter warriors who think I’m getting regular guidance from the “Communist News Network,” I’ve never once received a phone call or an e-mail or had a conversation that contained the words “wouldn’t it be a great idea if…?” or ” how about?” I’m proud of the fact that I’ve had as dining companions over the years everybody from Hezbollah supporters, communist functionaries, anti-Putin activists, cowboys, stoners, Christian militia leaders, feminists, Palestinians and Israeli settlers, to Ted Nugent.  You like food and are reasonably nice at the table?  You show me hospitality when I travel?  I will sit down with you and break bread.”

“So I wasn’t going to “interview” the president.  And though I may admire him, I wasn’t going to be a platform for discussion of a particular foreign policy agenda.  Barack Obama was apparently interested in sitting down for a meal with me — and I intended to speak to him only as a father of a 9-year-old girl, as a fellow Southeast Asia enthusiast (the President spent time in Indonesia as a young man), and a guy who likes a bowl of spicy, savory pork and noodles with a cold beer…Various locations were discussed.  But when Vietnam came up, as one stop on a multi-country state visit to Asia in May, I knew where I wanted it to be.  I love Vietnam.  Everybody on my crew loves Vietnam.  We have a lot of experience working there, we have friends, connections, favorite dishes, favorite restaurants.  It’s beautiful…Bun cha is a beloved local specialty of Hanoi.  It’s basically bits of marinated, charcoal-grilled pork patties and pork slices in a room-temperature dipping sauce with rice noodles and herb garnishes. It’s delicious.”

“It’s always seemed pointless to me to go all the way to someplace as extraordinary as Vietnam and spend time in an air-conditioned, Western-style restaurant with tourist-friendly food. The President, I guessed, had spent more than his share of time in the banquet rooms of major chain hotels, slogging through long state dinners, eating representative menus of “national dishes.”  Bun cha is NOT a national dish.  And the second floor of the small, family-run, decidedly working class Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant, in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, is not exactly the kind of place the President was likely to be taken by his hosts on any official state visit.  I got the definite impression that the Secret Service was initially less than delighted with our choice of venue.  The location was … sub-optimal, as far as they were concerned.  It was tight, with minimal exits, not particularly clean — and set off a narrow street.  But they persevered.  I’d like to thank them.  They were, all of them, very nice guys with thick necks.  Many of them had to spend a lot of time standing stoically in the driving rain.”

“What can I tell you about what it’s like to sit across from the President of the United States and drink beer from the bottle?  I can tell you that Barack Obama was, in spite of having had a high-ranking leader of the Taliban whacked in Pakistan a few days previous, very relaxed and at ease.  He seemed to enjoy himself sitting on a low plastic stool eating noodles and pork bits with chopsticks.  I talked to him as a father, as an enthusiast for the region, and he responded with real nostalgia for the Indonesian and Hawaiian street food of his youth.  When I asked him if it was OK that I get along with Ted Nugent, who has said many, many deeply offensive and hateful things about him personally, he responded “of course” — that that was exactly the sort of person we SHOULD be talking to: the people who disagree with us.  He was oddly resigned to and forgiving of his enemies.  And when I asked him if — given the very likely ugly and frightening contents of the daily intelligence briefings to which he is privy — if it was “going to be OK” for my daughter as she grew up, he replied with confidence that on balance, it would.”

“In general, he spoke with the lack of careful calculation of a man who is no longer running for office.  My hot dog question might have been diplomatically problematic for a first-term president.  He answered without hesitation — like a Chicagoan.  He was funny, quick to laugh.  When I asked him if he ever missed being able to go out to a bar, sit down by himself and have a cold beer while listening to old songs on the juke, he smiled and said “in about six months.”  He put my crew at ease.  Was kind to them.  So much so that we were not nervous while we were with him.  Only afterward, when he had gone, did we all look at each other and say, “Did that just HAPPEN?””

“The next day, I was suddenly recognizable to the Vietnamese who rode their scooters and motorbikes around me.  They’d seen me in the newspapers and again and again would point at me, shouting “Bun cha! Mister Bun Cha!”  A few young Vietnamese who spoke English approached me and told me, with tears in their eyes, how incredulous they were, how shocked — how proud — that the President of the United States had come to their town and eaten not pho, or spring rolls, which they would have expected — but bun cha.  Bun cha! It was THEIRS! Their proud local specialty! And Hanoi beer too!  They couldn’t get over it. And on a low plastic stool, in the kind of place they always ate.  The effect was extraordinary.  I cannot possibly overstate the warmth with which he was received by the Vietnamese — particularly the young ones…”

“Vietnam may still be a communist country.  But you can hardly tell from the streets.  Money flows in and out in a raucous, free-market scrum of Western brands and materialistic expectations.  Buildings are going up everywhere, private enterprise having long ago outpaced ideology.  As in Cuba, the toothpaste is out of the tube. And there’s no putting it back.  And as the show will remind you, Vietnam remains an extraordinarily beautiful place.  It is enchanting. Its people, for as long as I’ve been going there, warm, food crazy, hospitable and proud….At the end of the show, I quote Gen. William Westmoreland’s notorious quote claiming life is valued less in the East than in the West. A statement so stupid and ignorant that it still shocks today…I will sure as shit remember this trip to Vietnam.  Not very long ago at all, I was a 44-year-old guy still dunking French fries with no hope of ever seeing Rome, much less Hanoi — much less EVER sitting across from the President of the United States, talking about hot dogs”.

Bourdain himself did not cast a shadow as the stereotypical “Chef Boy-r-Dee”, with an intimidating accent, off-putting air of perfection, or smug demeanor towards all things plebeian.  All you had to do was look at him – a body covered in tattoos (and always adding new ones, even to commemorate special good times on various episodes), a long, lean body that looked like it experienced more intake from the intravenous needle and long neck bottle rather than a fork, and a long, infinitely craggy face that was too weathered for Mount Rushmore – which all told a tale of a man who had experienced much in life; maybe too much, even for a 61-year-old.  At times, often when he was drinking on the show (which was about every five minutes), he might share, in a voice-over, snippets of his past.  Such as being born in New York City and being raised in New Jersey, unmistakably contributing to his “tough guy”, “take no guff” persona.  His being born to a Catholic father and Jewish mother, and (not surprisingly, having heard many times the same tale from celebrities raised in similar locales and family situations), being raised in a non-religious home.  His untamed youth, in which he left the prestigious Vassar College, sowing his wild oats (in an early 70s that featured lots of rampant wild-oats sowing) in the seafood kitchens of Cape Cod restaurants with fellow reckless youth (later saying he learned the most about life while washing dishes).  Eventually graduating from the American Culinary Institute, and paying his dues in famous New York City gourmet restaurants, while getting hooked on LSD, heroin and cocaine in those lawless days, being a user while on duty along with his youthful chef peers.  Although he eventually became a respected chief of a prominent New York restaurant for decades, it was his 1999 article for The New Yorker about the foul deeds that carried on in the kitchens of the country’s finest restaurants, and a subsequent book of his war stories in the field, which became a best-seller, which led him to his meteoric rise at the dawn of the 21st century.  Additional books of cooking and his culinary experiences during his adventurous travel expeditions, and subsequent popular television programs which documented his experiences, led to his penultimate contribution via his CNN series.

Bourdain was on “top of the world” himself as 2018 rolled around, as everyone wanted to be around him, and was much beloved by CNN personnel, his staff and show participants, and his legion of fans, with a show that was a consistent ratings success while being critically acclaimed and oft-awarded.  For a nomadic loner of extreme experiences and views, he had seemed to find a soul mate (as he himself described her) in 2017 in a fellow “bad girl” Asia Argento, the daughter of one of the most famous cinematic directors ever (Dario Argento) and a successful actress and director in her own right, and whom he met on one of his show productions in her hometown of Rome.  Their mutual rough exteriors and wizened, cynical views seemed to dovetail into each other, and he strongly defended her in the press when she was one of the first actresses to charge Harvey Weinstein with sexual harassment.  Bourdain had finally achieved undeniable success, respect, a beloved reputation, and finally, personal love in his life.

Thus, no one expected what occurred suddenly in June 2018, while Bourdain, his best friend, the French chef (and often sidekick) Eric Ripert and his staff were in a scenic vista on the north French coast to produce a show of Alcasian cuisine – a “recipe” to certainly enliven and warm Bourdain’s heart.  When Bourdain did not join Ripert for dinner one night, as well as breakfast the next morning, his good friend knew something something wasn’t right, so he and one of the hotel staff entered his room, finding him hung by the belt of his hotel bath robe from the bathroom door, and Ripert himself finding him unresponsive, necessitating them to notify his crew to cancel the photo shoot scheduled nearby mere minutes later.  According to a report by The New York Times, Bourdain’s mother told them that “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this…He had everything.  Success beyond his wildest dreams.  Money beyond his wildest dreams”, and said that his friend Ripert told her that “Tony had been in a dark mood these past couple of days”.  Another fellow TV chef stated that “He told me he’d never been happier. He felt that he had finally found his true soul mate in Asia”.  The Times quotes him in describing his earlier days in the Cape Cod seafood restaurant scene, saying that “I saw how the cooks and chefs behaved.  They had sort of a swagger, got all the girls and drank everything in sight.”  They add that after his first divorce, he married Ottavia Busia (identified elsewhere as a mixed-martial arts fighter), and had a daughter Ariane, who is now eleven; he separated from Busia two years ago, and last year began dating Ms. Argento.  They also added a quote from himself when he stated, “I should’ve died in my 20s.  I became successful in my 40s.  I became a dad in my 50s.  I feel like I’ve stolen a car — a really nice car — and I keep looking in the rear view mirror for flashing lights.”  On a Massachusetts episode of his “Parts Unknown”, which covered the opioid crisis in New England, the normally-guarded Bourdain actually participated in a drug recovery group, giving his testimony of early drug use that should have killed him, and how having a daughter, and a need to raise her, motivated him that life was worth living, and to proceed at it for her benefit.

Another report notes that his show that just aired a week ago from Hong Kong was directed by his girlfriend Argento, with camera work (in a pinch, since his regular camera man fell ill) by famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle.  Of the episode, Bourdain was reported to have said (days before his suicide) that “It was the most intensely satisfying experience of my professional life and a show that I am giddily, ecstatically proud of.  I plan to get a Du Kefeng tattoo, in the original Mandarin, as soon as possible.  As you might have guessed, I already have an Asia Argento tattoo.”  Bourdain’s publicist was reported to say that “He was effusive and happy about the Hong Kong episode—that was all he could talk about weeks leading up to it, how it was like a high water mark for him…I didn’t talk to him this week but all I know was he was so happy last week.  I mean giddy.  He was texting me and emailing me, which he doesn’t normally do, about publicity for episodes, but he was like, ‘This is a high water mark, this is the best thing I’ve ever done.'”

Another report notes that actress Rose McGowan, already a troubled soul and the central figure in exposing Weinstein and headlining the “Me Too” movement, with a similar “in your face” style to Bourdain and Argento, Bourdain having provided hands-on support to McGowan and her friend Argento in their travails of confronting sexual harrassment, stated that Bourdain had been fighting depression for a long time.  The report noted that she stated that Argento had asked her to speak out about Bourdain’s struggles publicly on her behalf.  She wrote that “In the beginning of their relationship, Anthony told a mutual friend, ‘He’s never met anyone who wanted to die more than him.’  And through a lot of this last year, Asia did want the pain to stop,” McGowan continued. “…thankfully, she did the work to get help, so she could stay alive and live another day for her and her children.  Anthony’s depression didn’t let him, he put down his armor, and that was very much his choice.  His decision, not hers.  His depression won.”  They also add that “Before his death, Bourdain “reached out for help” but didn’t take his doctor’s advice, McGowan said, advising fans and followers not to blame Argento”, and asked the public to rather rally behind her.

Having said all that, I want to discuss what impressions I personally gathered from Mr. Bourdain, particularly since he seemed to be staring at me through the television virtually non-stop for some time, as maybe the most frequent visitor to our home, even if usually casually ignored.  I would first like to talk about some things I really admired about him, even though our cultures were vastly different.  First of all, even though he was instantly recognized everywhere, and everyone thought he was so “hip” and “cool” and wanted to tag along, beside his residual New York/New Jersey gruffness and cynicism, he certainly was not a “diva”, although he had every right to be.  As I casually observed him, he seemed to go to every God-forsaken place on earth, and squatted down in the midst of flies and Lord-knows what types of meat or food, and he always complimented the chef, and the cultures of those he visited (I have read that his meal of “unwashed warthog rectum” may have been his worst meal, but he received it gladly, I am sure).  And he not only complimented the cook; he told the viewer about all the noble aspects of even the poorest and most remote peoples, and the things that really appealed about them, or their unique contributions.  Many of these peoples may have had bad impressions of Americans in general, but one could see he put them at ease, and proud of their own humble home kitchens or roadside shacks.  Bourdain could be at home in the most provincial five-star French restaurants, totally familiar with the cooks as well as all the items in each dish, but also in the homes of toothless mothers cooking in their sinks for their families, and he seemed to enjoy it even better.

One of my most impressive displays from him was recently, when this New Yorker went to the unsung state of West Virginia, to discover the joys of “mountain food”, put together from what was cobbled together or scavanged from local mountains, as he reveled in “vinegar pie” and explained how cuisines all over the world are developed by what was within reach.  He has explained over the years how “peasant foods” remain his favorite foods to eat, along with anything prepared fresh on the side of any street (he said that the most disgusting thing he ever ate was a “Chicken McNugget” – in essence not knowing in what infernal laboratory it was created, or its contents).  In all cases, he set down with locals, at least heard their stories and hung out with them, and asked about why they liked their culture and locale so much, and what had become so hard about preserving it.  Even the lowliest have noted that he always cheerfully had time for pictures and discussions, and evolved into a champion of the common people; one person noted that he spent 15 minutes off camera talked to a restaurateur who had served him canned food, and went to bat for a waitress fired on the spot by her management (he also had a hankering for Popeye’s fried chicken and macaroni and cheese).  Christians could learn a lot about respecting different cultures from a guy like him.   

I have come to embrace my personal adage that “an opinion reveals as much about the opiner as it does its subject”, and the following is a case where my observation about Bourdain is as much a revelation of where my head has been in my upbringing.  One thing about Bordain on his show that stood out to me, based upon my cultural upbringing, is that he drank alcohol – a lot, and always.  It was ever-present any time he sat down, to eat or to carouse in the wee hours, or basically anytime.  It was as much a part of the show as the food itself.  In some shows, it appeared he was in a competition with his new companions (such as in Japan) to see who could stay upright while drinking the most.  He must have been VERY experienced in the art, because I don’t know how he still performed his duties with his apparent consumption, any more than how he kept his leanness with such a parade of sumptuous food.  He almost seemed incomplete without an alcoholic beverage in his hand, as an essential part of the conversation.

The other notable matter was his clearly apparent secular worldview.  This is not uncommon in television, which has a legacy of performers from secular Jewish or lapsed Catholic backgrounds, or other non-evangelical varieties, as opposed to evangelical-types who otherwise would parade their religious views into every topic they discuss (and in many cases, should), but which is deemed to make “bad television” by being too divisive or “heavy” (it doesn’t help that evangelicals have tarnished their image so badly, or go over the top with their proselytizing in such a manner as to lampoon their otherwise serious positions, that it inhibits their opportunities to participate in general public “reality television”).  However, in the case of Bourdain’s show and his topics, he covers heart-burning issues that just scream for a learned, spiritual insight, and his legitimate compassionate views would be so under-girded with a sound spiritual reality and mandate behind it.  As such, he comes off to one like myself as a hard-partying drinker with a confused but sometimes noble mish-mash of values.  As one curious example, when he came to the Jerusalem Temple’s “Wailing Wall”, the proprietors there found out he was of Jewish heritage, and promptly ushered him to the wall, clad in a yamulke; he admitted to the viewers being awkward being there as an unbeliever in God – an honest admission to not want to be a fraud, I believe – and looked awkward, not knowing what to do there.  Even though his popularity and admiration has been unmatched, maybe this tension is part of the roots of what mysteriously took it all away, or left him unsatisfied by it.

I was raised in what Bourdain, and many readers, would view as quite a cloistered culture, although it certainly was not intentionally so, as with many in some heavy fundamentalist cultures.  I was raised in a blue-collar family on the outskirts of what is well known as a “church town” (Louisville, Kentucky), and our culture centered on the activities of our small Baptist church.  While our family vacationed together (often with the pastor’s family), not to France or Italy like the Bourdains but to the local lake, or went for jaunts for ice cream and such (often in my father’s and brother’s cool Bucket-T roadsters they built), our social life was centered on the many social activities at our church, with simple, humble families much like ourselves. This included a number of worship services each week, as well as softball, youth lock-ins and mission trips, and the annual trip to King’s Island amusement park in the rickety youth bus.  While I was kept pretty close to home aside from that, by my latter teenage years I had a good corral of buds to hang out with, all from my church, except for one from my Christian high school whose friendship I renewed in college.  None of us drank alcohol (at least that I knew of, while we were together), nor did our folks.  We would have been well out of place in a bar, and in hindsight, pretty bored, and even our teenage testosterone probably would have cooled off quickly with some of the girls we might have met in them.  We loved going to see the bizarre midnight cult movies on Saturday night at the downtown sleazebag Vogue theater, seeing how the wilder half lived (I remember stepping over a couple having sex in the aisle before the movie started once), and then returned unscathed to our suburbs and ready for church choir the next morning (albeit a little sleepy).  I remember one memorable trip with the gang while in college on Spring Break to Florida, and we also realized the humor of how the relatives of one of the guys we were staying with obviously saw us as such nerds for not hitting the clubs each night.  We loved comedy in poor taste, movies, cruising around, pizza and everything other people liked in the “pre-Internet” world (even starred in three feature-length movies I produced that have been seen around the world), but we didn’t see much for us in the bars but did in doing stuff at church; obviously, the cool chicks stayed away from us.  Remarkably, with some inevitable checkered history, we all have been fairly successful husbands eventually and at times, and able to function independently and not be too much of a burden on society; thankfully as we age, the “uncool” albatross around our necks doesn’t seem to pack the same wallop.

That is not to say that I (and I presume the other guys I knew) were not aware of our “uncoolness”, in how we differed from people our age we saw in movies or on TV.  I was constantly made aware that “cool” guys hit the bars, could hold their liquor, and had hot chicks hit on them, of which one they had to pick to take home that night – a typical life of a young person, I was told.  And it looked so cool to get plastered!  Those guys seemed to have all the great stories.  I was exposed to that environment more first-hand when I went to a secular university, although my fellow students in engineering school could usually at best muster a Friday night drinking themselves silly, and maybe a beer to two at lunch or after classes, because there was just too much studying to do (maybe “idleness is the devil’s workshop”).  When I began my work career, the younger guys (newly minted lieutenants and captains) went more for that sort of things (because they did have a lot of idle time), as well as a perverse, crude boss who drank his lunches (a mean drunk afterwards; I learned to never brief him then) and then hit on the ladies at night (thankfully I only had to go on a business trip with him once).  Thankfully, in my long work career and even as a consultant with some very different international companies afterwards, I was always able to avoid having to go bar-hopping with them (although I’m sure they would have liked to have me as a designated driver), and particularly not have to go to the “gentleman’s clubs” (a misnomer if I ever heard one, and containing companionship there that no true gentleman would ever want).

My point here is not to shame or shake my finger at these people, but to confess that while I knew all the spiritual answers why that type of life was indeed lifeless, there was always a small part of me in the back of my mind that wondered why I didn’t “get it”, and why it sounded like their lives were closer to the coolness I saw on TV, while I was sitting alone in my hotel room, maybe reading a Bible.  Television, movies and advertising has a remarkable way, along with peer pressure, to implant urges and understandings subliminally in all of us, which our rational mind otherwise could dismiss.  How many of you have seen those couples on the beach in the “Sandals” or “Beaches” all-inclusive beach resort commercials, and not had a fleet thought of why our lives don’t look like those people, in skimpy swimsuits swinging each other around in the surf in carefree fashion, or drinking cocktails while the flames roar from the surf side gourmet kitchen, which then requires your rational mind to dismiss the thought?  Why do at all the places I vacation, nobody looks like that?  How come I don’t climb mountains (or even mountain bike) like those cool people on TV, and run the rapids in a raft with all those fun-loving people, who all look like models although they seemed to down a lot of beer, and rather still be a loser and hang out at church all the time?  Although I’ve had my share of globe trotting, how come I don’t do it all the time, skipping from one exotic hip restaurant and bar to the next, rather than just sitting here in the same frumpy living room in Tennessee night after night, when every one knows the former is the real way to “live”?

I know my ruminating sounds pitiful, and I may not be communicating effectively and just giving TMI (too much information) about myself and the cobwebs of my memory, but I want to reconsider what state “pitiful” really is.  I know many people get so enamored with the carefree lifestyle of the beach fantasy, that they sell everything, quit their promising job, leaving their relationships and “head for the beach”, prepared to live life to the fullest, and endless nights of excitement and passion, from one hip nightclub to the next.  Then reality sets in.  Bills have to be paid, rent has to be met, people get sick, cars still break.  Even the night life gets a little monotonous.  The people at the hip clubs don’t seem to be interesting much any more, and certainly not as fulfilling as our hopes had let on, or reliable friends when you’re down and no fun, any more than those who spent the Prodigal Son’s money for him.  All our satisfying relationships and interesting careers were back home.  Its hard to develop one’s life sitting on the beach or in the bar all the time.  Before long you become a beach town local, paying the bills by trying to accommodate tourists to have their own fantasy.  I knew some young guys who worked in the defense industry like me who headed to Southern California to find exciting jobs and “where the action is” for young people, like on TV.  When I went to see them, all they did was work around the clock, so they they could pay insane rent along with a number of roommates (same thing in Washington DC).  They still hit the bars and drank (just like the old geezers I traveled with), but it was because they had nothing else to do, and no other communal connections.  Some “exciting life” to envy.  In all my business travels with such people, over dinner or on flights, I never heard them talk about the spiritual truths that underwrote their motivations in life, their spiritual goals, or even an afterlife that scripted their priorities today.  Mostly just where the next bar is, and something else to buy, to fill the void.  I have also seen professing Christians falling into the same dead end path.  Most such people cannot direct their life based upon spiritual goals, and often become nomadic, with minimal regular relationships, their lifestyle almost entirely dictated by their jobs, business travel, and maybe a distracting hobby; they couldn’t imagine carrying on a series of meaningful, deep conversations with the goal of learning spiritually from each other, apart from the “liquor doing the talking” in some uninhibited, incoherent scattershot philosophy shared in the wee hours at a bar.  Part of the reason is that they do not frequent ‘un-hip” places where such people might possibly be found (although they may find “philosophers” who may grasp in the darkness just like they do), and they do not stay still long enough and make the sacrifices to build community locally, particularly if they are transplants like me.  But they do look hip to others, doing all those exciting things they supposedly do.   I have decided that those who live such a “fast-paced life” do so typically because they are “running” from something.

I’m probably reading way too much into this, but I see this mindset typified in spades in Anthony Bourdain and others of his ilk.  Other sources I read said he traveled at least 250 days a year, although he tried to spend a few days with his daughter between trips.  Others said he was mentally and physically exhausted – the common “reward” for being a “success” in worldly pursuits and business.  He said he was a big “doubter” that did not believe in certainty regarding religion and God; I wonder how much energy he put into trying to resolve that most important issue in the universe?  Did he pursue people who might have had some ideas on how he could resolve it? Was it so important an issue to him – will he have a life after this earth – that he put great effort to its resolution, including making such great efforts to get the answer directly from God, or rather tried (like many) to distract themselves with other pursuits to bury the nagging spectre?  We can take comfort in knowing that our Lord says that “He who seeks, will find”, when those who pursue answers to the real meaning of life and the knowledge of God and their role with Him, do it like the one who lost the sheep or the missing coin, ignoring all other matters until they get it resolved.  From this we should try to stimulate a desire for answers to those questions in those we know and meet (starting with the general mystery of “where consciousness comes from”), and encourage them to become honest and dedicated “seekers”; they should also be gently reminded that all other pursuits – including even careers, and the seduction of early success and the accolades that come with it – all always have their conclusion at the grave, regardless of accomplishment, and even the general and honest skeptic of God should recognize, and be motivated by that.

A lesson I take from this musing is that I should be supremely grateful for the lowly, unremarkable, and mundane upbringing I experienced, and in particular being exposed to the most important truth in life – that I was made for a legitimate and important purpose, that life exists beyond the grave and for eternity, the decisions I make here matter in that regard, and I have an eternal destiny to fulfill, and labors to be performed now that will carry over into the next world.  To be honest, I did not really have to resist the fast-paced lifestyle, including the early experiments in sex and drugs, because in His grace God simply protected me from it, by giving me good parents, siblings and friends to hang out with apart from that scene (and maybe an inability to attract that kind of girl, anyway).  The price I paid for at the time, was feeling inadequate, bored, unnoticed and not fulfilling my potential (at least as seen on TV), but what I got in return was a healthy upbringing, few regrets and life baggage, real friends and a meaningful life that grows in satisfaction, rather than less.

Another lesson I learn from this, and has been on my mind more so lately, is that even with the most successful people in worldly terms like Mr. Bourdain, or other celebrities or businessmen of lesser character, the apparent futility of all their hard work, dedication and resultant short-term success, and lack of personal satisfaction it provides, which suggests to me that the best use of my time today, and any time, is to focus on activities and pursuits that will survive into the world to come.  We all need time in our decaying physical bodies and mental states for periodic diversions and recreations to rest our bodies and minds, and spur inspiration, creativity and fellowship, but they should play a supporting role, not be the main function.  Those of us Christians “in the know” as to the limited data we know of the emerging “Kingdom of Heaven” would be even more foolish than the “Mr. Bourdains” of the world by not letting this knowledge, which we purport to believe by faith, to dictate how we spend the activities of our days, and our thoughts when we are still.  We believe that there are some things, and some works, that will not decay or burn with this world; why are we not more about doing them?  Why is our sacred, eternally-important rescue mission not more of a premium?  Why not more “cups of cold water” in Christ’s name, and invitations to the Kingdom to all who will hear, and burdened in the heart?  Are we not so much more blessed to be aware of the genuine lasting meaning behind such endeavors, rather than those who have no such illumination, and who rather stumble in the darkness of not just uncertainty, but rather utter ignorance of the things eternal, even though they seem to have this world on a “string”?  What lasting lessons can we learn, people we can assist, and good works we can accomplish that we could carry with us into the next world?

Lastly, this latter contrast between the believer who has been privy to secret revelations since the Cross that even the exalted angels “desire to look into” as to God’s “end game” and our ultimate destiny, and the “hipster” whom the world loves today and who receives much adoration, but it being short lived and at great price, and ultimately unsatisfying to the secretly-insecure recipient, should cause us to pity such popular and “successful” figures – even presidents – and not to envy them, yet nor despise them.  Christ called the rich, successful hipsters at Laodicea blind and poor, from a heavenly perspective.  Those who seek good times in drink or drugs – even casually – or seek truth with God on the outside, may seem like divas and arrogant at times, but they really are pitiful and in need of our spiritual help, even if it is resisted by them.  Many of the most intimidating people we meet may just be a step away from throwing in the towel on life, and unlike the world, see themselves as a dismal failure, or wondering when it is going to stop, and the world gets tired of them or asks, “What have you done for me lately?”, or have their fears recognized that they are eventually discovered as being a talentless fraud.  Robin Williams, the comical genius, had those same feelings, and worked himself to death and despair to dig out of the hole he had gotten in to, both financially and relationship-wise.  Who was there with a wise spiritual word for him, and patiently waited while he wrestled with it?

Learning from the pitiful example of Mr. Bourdain, one possessed of many virtues, we need to stop adoring these high-profile figures or trying to emulate them, and also not despise them for any “despicableness” (as a mask for our envy), but rather to pity, in a non-judgmental and non-demeaning way, just as our Lord would do, rightly ascertaining the real spiritual struggles they face, and a lack of a spiritual grounding we take for granted.  These types of people in our circles should be subjects for our prayers and ministry of intervention, and not our adoration.  And we better be thankful for our boring humble lives, with time to think, pray, fellowship on a real spiritual level with our family members and friends, and participate in our local church and greater spiritual community, as opportunities to be real “successes” in life.

 

 

 

 

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.

John Calvin 3:16

 

Woke up with this thought from my slumber this morning – not sure how the inspiration came about, but I assume I was meant to share it.

 

JOHN CALVIN 3:16

“For God so loved the elite exclusively, that He gave His only begotten Son only to the elites, that whosoever in that pre-chosen elite club that believeth in Him (forcibly, regardless of their consent, which does not even exist anyway) should not perish but have everlasting life (in an eternity of totalitarian compulsion, while the bulk of those “created in His image” are forcibly driven into the Lake of Fire and eternal agony without choice, for which they were evidently expressly created to reside, as is “God’s pleasure”, according to Calvin*).

[* “Scripture clearly prove this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction.” Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 21, par. 7

“Those, therefore, whom God passed by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children.” Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 23, par. 1

“because by his eternal providence they were before their birth doomed to perpetual destruction…what will they be able to mutter against this defense?” Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 23, par. 3

“Now since the arrangement of all things is in the hand of God…he arranges … that individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to glorify him by their destruction.” Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 23, par. 6]

 

Given this psychological/spiritual foundation, we should thus not be surprised in how the Calvinist Puritan colonists treated their neighbors (be they other professing Christians or not), since it is certain that they also believed (within their understanding) the Biblical mandate from Christ to

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

 

BELIEF LEADS TO ACTIONS

 

Politico Article Provides a Good Snapshot of Liberty University, Falwell Jr. and the Religious Right

FalwellPlayboy2

The well-respected POLITICO journalistic outfit has just published [CLICK HERE] a new fascinating article about Falwell’s son Trey’s (also a Liberty vice president, and heir apparent to the empire) Miami hostel his daddy bought him to own for $4.65 million, with Falwell’s real estate company owning it being based on property owned by Liberty University, where the front door says that RELIGION is not to be discussed there, but the bar is pouring the booze there as fast as it can, in addition to the property having its own liquor store (all violations of the “Liberty Way” that it applies in Inquisition-fashion to its students and faculty).  It also gives a glimpse of how the “Liberty racket” plays fast and loose with non-profit laws, and is the nation’s largest recipient of federal handout money from taxpayers, which certainly helps Falwell’s $900,000 a year salary.

I encourage you to read the article carefully, and like other postings here, see what it reveals about the “spirit” of this flagship of the Religious Right.  Our blog friend here from “My American Mind” also knows where some of the “bodies are buried” at the school, having been on the inside at the university, and whose stories have even shocked me.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I did receive an offer of a scholarship to attend Liberty University in 1987, but I turned it down, because my walk with the Lord was too important to me, even though I knew little then of what I know now.

ADDENDUM: It was just announced that Religious Right role model Anthony Scaramucci will be speaking at Liberty University in November.  I hope you uses the same language he used with journalist Ryan Lizza – Falwell Jr. will love it!

Film Recommendation: Pressure Point (1962)

 

It seems almost a “synchronicity” (I sound so contemporary using such a term) that I would just discover such an important movie as Pressure Point, produced by Stanley Kramer, and starring Sidney Poitier, an amazing Bobby Darin (yes, the 60’s crooner), and even a young Peter Falk in a brief role, right after the events of Charlottesville and the rising profile of the neo-Nazi/”alt right”, and the disconcerting issues raised in my last post just days ago.

The 1962 film concerns a black prison psychologist Poitier in 1942 who inherits a prisoner client (played by a Bobby Darin that revealed his acting chops) who had joined the Nazi movement in America and had been sent to prison for sedition.  Refusing to be analyzed by an African-American, he eventually relents when he cannot overcome his sleeplessness and torment over events in his upbringing that made him the Nazi monster he came to be.  I cannot think of a movie that more relevantly or intelligently sheds light on how young people can be pulled in to movements that espouse hate of others, even in America and after the terrible experience of the German Nazi regime, and how we can never turn a blind eye, or our backs on such movements that never seem to go away.  Even for such an ugly person, it exudes an empathy as we see the family and societal influences that break and corrupt young minds – just like today.

I have only seen part of it so far, but it was so good that I had to recommend it to my reader friends before I forgot, and while you might be able to find it.  I discovered it on the MGM HD channel that is carried on cable and satellite.  It is also available for rent at Amazon Video, or available for purchase.

As a big fan of film, I have often thought that the “golden age” of particularly American film (and public discourse in general) was in the high-definition black-and-white days of about 1955-64 – the days of brilliantly insightful films like A Face In The Crowd, or Dr. Strangelove.  They reflected (and required) a general intelligence and insight from the public that would go over the heads of most of the public today; the students of the late 60s still reflected this intellectual rigor and academic capability, but it has rapidly declined since then.

The producer, Stanley Kramer, produced or directed many of the most unforgettable and brilliant “message” movies of the era – often at personal expense and risk.  They included not only this film, but Inherit The Wind, The Defiant Ones, the post-nuclear On The Beach, High Noon, Judgment at Nuremberg, The Caine Mutiny and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.

A viewing of the titles mentioned in this post would be an incredibly spiritually rewarding experience for any reader here.  I am ashamed to say that not only did I learn the types of spiritual truths from Stanley Kramer’s and similar films that I should have learned from those behind pulpits, but when I reflect on the infantile, Disney-fied (and even harmful) “chewing gum” embarrassments I see produced by Christian filmmakers these days, such as Fireproof or God Is Not Dead, I am almost (but not quite) too embarrassed to tell other thinkers whose “team I’m on”.  Will real Christian intellectuals like the C.S. Lewis’ of old ever rise up, and more so, will there ever be an appetite in Christian circles for those who make us think, self-critique and empathize?

The Religious Right and White Supremacists: A “Match Made in Valhalla”

PerkinsCCC

 

In the draft manuscript of Volume 6 of my book series, The Holy War Chronicles – A Spiritual View of the War on Terror, I wrote at some length about what was arguably the most powerful and influential Christian political activism and “cultural warrior” organization of the early Twentieth Century, whose central tenets are still being actively championed by most American conservative Christians today.

In their heyday millions of American men were members of it – 15% of the entire eligible American male populace (predominantly in the West and Midwest), all organized under a central banner.  Its widely respected leader wrote that his organization “embodies the group mind of America.  It is representative of complete nationalism”, with his organization claiming, “I am the soul of America”.

A large proportion of their founding and subsequent members were Protestant pastors, who were concerned about the rise of new immigrants and rival religions controlled by theocracies overseas.  At their meetings they sang hymns, while their members distributed Bibles at schools, and joined (and eventually took over) school boards to ease out un-American teachers of other faiths, with its members eventually becoming governors and Supreme Court justices.  Most of the membership was firmly of the middle class and had access to education, including Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and United Brethren, with a large portion of bankers, lawyers, dentists, doctor, ministers, businessmen and teachers.  A historian of their group said that “They were critical of liberal Protestant theologians who used historical criticism and science in biblical interpretation”, but were “more evangelical than fundamentalist”.  One of its members at the time wrote that it got many ministers involved in the group by “donating to the preacher”, as its organization “bound Christianity with Americanism”, and whose members formally dedicated themselves to the Constitution, “American ideals and institutions” and “the tenets of the Christian religion”, and wrote of themselves as the “successors of the Reformation” who would “cleanse” the church with Protestantism as “a foundation for both democracy and religious freedom”; in others word, “make America great again“.  They also claimed to model themselves after the early Church.

They not only donated food and started charities (to garner community support), as an organization intended to unite across denominational lines with the Bible as their “keystone”, and were expected to be regular church attenders with their families and supporters of their Sunday Schools (certainly being many teachers there).  Their logo included the blood of Christ, “shed for all humanity”.  Their stated model was the Christian Crusaders who rescued the Holy Land from the “heathen Turks”, and now sought to conquer the “enemies of Americanism”.

Its members had to profess loyalty to the American flag, it having been “purchased by blood and suffering of American heroes”, as the “price paid for American liberties”.  Their publications further confessed that “we must admit that the bases of America’s laws are the great moral laws of God”, as their goals were the “maintaining a Christian civilization in America”, as “Their nation was in danger, and the only way to save it was to reconnect with the nation’s religious foundations”.  Their leader stated that “real, true Americanism unadulterated, [included] a dogged devotedness to our country, its government, its ideals and its institutions”.

He warned that “We must look first at the crisis in our civilization, now near its height.  Americans find today that aliens…instead of joining, challenged and attacked us. They seek to destroy Americanism”; however, he took solace that his group “embodies the group mind of America. It is representative of complete nationalism”, and “That understanding of nationalism uplifted patriotism, uniformity, common language, common religion, respect for the government, and common tradition as well as history”, because “True nationhood is essentially oneness of mind, and it recognizes certain beliefs held in common by its citizens…no person who lacks them can be in harmony with the nation”, whereas the original Puritans had a “divinely-appointed…mission” which was now required to “realign with their destiny”.

The group’s periodicals stated that “America’s idealism, institutions, destiny and affluence are written in the Bible, and upon this Book, the Work of God, America is founded”, noting that all of the “great” documents (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Monroe Doctrine) originated in the Bible, and “therefore these documents are the basis of the logic and demonstration of every American problem”, with the nation being exceptional in origin, doctrine, and even physical space.  It adds that “the lives of the early fathers and their writings reveal that America was established by Christ…to put an end to ‘their System’”, while America was not for “refuse populations of other lands” who had not civilized the nation, but only wanted to exploit the toil of the forefathers and pioneers.  Most importantly, the organization wanted the Bible taught in public schools, and called Americans to a “culture war” to “arouse themselves” and “don’t be cowards, for God hates nothing more than cowardice”, appealing to a masculine Christ and aggressive American Christian male.

Their creed professed devotion to included the following tenets: a) “I believe in God and in the tenets of Christian religion and that a Godless nation cannot long prosper”, b) “I believe in the eternal separation of Church and State”, c) “I hold my allegiance to the Stars and Stripes next to my allegiance of God alone”, d) “I believe in the protection of pure womanhood”, e) “I believe in the limitation of foreign immigration”, and f) “I am a native born American citizen and I believe my rights in this country are superior to those of foreigners”.

They supported the 1924 Johnson-Hartley Act, which favored northern Europeans for American immigration versus southern European “Mediterraneans”.  They were active in opposing the immigration to America of a rival faith that was taking American jobs, and the threat of their mass mobilization under a foreign religious leader, with their faith viewed as a political organization in religious clothing.  They eventually took part in violent conflicts in their marches on college campuses.

So – who is this organization, comprising 15% of American males and a large proportion of Protestant ministers nationwide at the time, who virtually invented the platform and agenda of today’s Religious Right?

 

The 1920’s Ku Klux Klan. 

 

At the time they were invited nationwide (not just in the South, as the biggest collection of Klansmen was in Indiana, where their governor and supreme court justices donned the hood) in our sacred churches, to do recruiting drives during church services on Sundays, just like a Gideon speaker might today, but speaking of American-Christian values and the need to “stand up” and get active.  The following are a few pictures of such “sacred Sundays”:

klan1

 

Well – at least such associations by our dear Christian leaders are a thing of our ignorant past – right?

As per my recollection, in the early 1980s my older brother was licensed as a minister and served as an assistant pastor at a small rural Baptist church in Shepherdsville, KY, just outside of the city of Louisville. They experienced a tremendous revival and growth, and according to a recent conversation I had with him to spur his recollection, a choir came to sing at the church that featured several African-American members. The following Wednesday night during the prayer meeting service that my brother led, one of the “prominent” church members of several generations stated that his family had played a key role in the establishment of the church, and that the presence of Negroes would be unacceptable. My brother responded that they would always be welcome in the church, leading the man, known to be a Klan leader in the community (even having had his son expelled from the Klan for excessive behavior) to give a not-so-veiled threat as to the church. The following Saturday in 1983, the brand-new church, just finished by the congregation members, was burned to the ground, and later determined by authorities to be due to arson.

In fact, I uncovered a 1924 edition of their local community newspaper, the Pioneer News, which advertises a Klan meeting in town, explaining, “KU KLUX KLAN – And what it stands for, explained by a prominent minister.  Shepherdsville, Sunday, May 24 on the Public Square.  Big Klan Parade.  Klan Naturalization [induction ceremony].  Full ceremony open to the public.  Follow the parade.  Every man, woman and child interested in America and our civic problems is invited to hear this great American organization explained” [citation].  Elsewhere in the newsletter it noted that “The Ku Klux Klan made its first public demonstration here Saturday night, about 60 were in the parade which marched through town and returned to the field of Mr. O. H. Masden of Fair Haven.  A large crowd heard the speaker on the public square in front of Troutman’s Store, but at the field at 11 P.M., the cross was burned and new members initiated, the crowd was much larger. Many members from Jefferson, Spencer, Hardin and Barren Counties, from Indiana and Tennessee were here to take part in the meeting. The best of order prevailed with no disturbance of any kind”.

Well, its one thing to point out examples from backwoods locations like rural Kentucky (yet minutes from Louisville), but this does not have relevance to our urbane, sophisticated Christian leadership and community today – does it?

Bob Jones was one of the most prominent fundamentalist evangelists of the early Twentieth Century (possibly second only to Billy Sunday), and is the founder of the National Religious Broadcasters organization.  However, he is best known for founding (although he himself was not a college graduate) of the most iconic center of fundamentalist training in America, Bob Jones University, in the 1920s (to counter secular schools’ teaching of evolution in the aftermath of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial) as the eventual “ground zero” of fundamentalist culture, while graduating generations of prominent evangelical pastors and religious leaders.  One of them, Billy Graham, who had looked to Jones as a father figure (and was a board member of the school), split with him over the questionable allies Graham was associating with in his crusades, which led to the broader fundamentalist-evangelical split in the 1950s.  Numerous sources document that, like other fundamentalist religious figures such as Billy Sunday, Bob Jones accepted Ku Klux Klan donations at his services and endorsed known Klansmen for public office, such as his friend Alabama Governor Bibb Graves [citation].

However, Bob Jones University is best known, beyond it being the breeding ground for generations of Christian fundamentalist leaders, for its racist policies, racial segregation and other inter-race restrictions, even until recent years.  This “Christian” school refused to accept blacks to go to the school until 1971, and then only married blacks until 1975, even though the IRS had ruled that such schools with discriminatory admission policies were not entitled to tax exemption, eventually losing it in 1976 due to its refusal to change its policies. They continued to prohibit interracial marriage and dating, losing a court case in 1982 in the U.S. Supreme Court, and still maintained the policy by paying a million dollars in back taxes.  It was not until the year 2000 that the school dropped their interracial dating ban.  In 2000 the Baltimore Sun quoted Jonathan Pait, the university’s community relations coordinator, whose statement in 1998 declared that “God has separated people for his own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural and language barriers. Bob Jones University is opposed to the intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers God has established. It mixes that which God separated and intends to keep separated” [citation].  They also note that while Republican candidates routinely flock to the University to seek endorsements or hold speaking events (such as George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Dan Quayle), while Reps. Lindsey Graham and Asa Hutchinson (a graduate), and Senator John Ashcroft were conferred honorary degrees.

The other major fundamentalist and “Religious Right” leader of this era which had the most profound impact in my circles and household was the Rev. Jerry Falwell – radio and television preacher, founder and pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church mega-church, founder of Liberty University (arguably the most influential trainer of conservative Christian leaders, and frequent stop of political candidates), the Moral Majority and many other organizations, and the movement’s most iconic and famous “face”.  For the purposes of our discussion, we will briefly cite what many of his followers over the decades are not aware of – his long-standing support of segregation and resistance to racial progress. This record was documented by Max Blumenthal in his article [citation] for The Nation magazine. He notes that Falwell preached a sermon four years after the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education ruling outlawing racially segregated public schools entitled, “Segregation of Integration: Which?”, from which he is quoted as saying that “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line…The true Negro does not want integration…He realizes his potential is far better among his own race.” He went on to add that integration “will destroy our race eventually.  In one northern city, a pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife”. As per my own research, it appears to me that the curious title to this sermon came from the 1956 pro-segregation book, Segregation or integration which? With the Negro in our midst, by fellow Fundamentalist Baptist pastor Gerald O. Fleming, a long-time pastor of the fundamentalist Dayton Baptist Temple (near my personal residence for many years); Falwell’s own Liberty University cites Fleming’s church-planting efforts as a role model in their own church=planting manual for students [citation].

Blumenthal continues by noting that Falwell distributed FBI-manufactured propaganda against Martin Luther King in support of J. Edgar Hoover, and referred to the 1964 Civil Rights Act as “civil wrongs”. He added that in his 1964 sermon “Ministers and Marchers”, Falwell identified King as a Communist subversive and having “left wing associations” as the Communists wanted to bring “violence and bloodshed” to America, further reproving King by saying that “Preachers are not called to be politicians, but soul winners” (I’m sure the reader can detect the irony in that statement). He was then noted as having found Lynchburg Christian Academy, described by the Lynchburg News in 1966 as a “private school for white students” – reflecting a trend to start private Christian schools to avoid the racial integration requirements in public schools. Blumenthal quotes Religious Right co-architect Paul Weyrich that he could not stimulate Falwell and his ilk to become politically active originally in support of the unborn, but rather when President Carter started efforts to remove tax exempt status from Christian schools that were still segregated, leading Falwell to then start the Moral Majority in 1979.  This and other data I have found provided me a revelation that groups like the Moral Majority and others that my folks and our peers supported that formed the genesis of the Religious Right was not based on protecting the unborn, but rather to protect tax breaks for their race-segregated “Christian’ schools.

Since his death, his legacy and agenda has been continued by the current Chancellor of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr. (while his other son Jonathan inherited his father’s other position as senior Pastor at his Thomas Road Baptist Church mega-church).  Jerry Falwell, Jr. had just publicly endorsed Donald Trump after inviting him to speak at Liberty University during the 2016 presidential campaign, Falwell announcing afterwards that “I am proud to offer my endorsement of Donald J. Trump for president of the United States…In my opinion, Mr. Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment” [citation].  During Trump’s visit, Falwell Jr. said that “I see a lot of parallels between my father and Mr. Trump”, also comparing Trump to Martin Luther King on the day commemorating him, and to Jesus Christ Himself [citation]. In turn, at an earlier Liberty convocation in September 2012 Trump told the Christian students to “get even” to get ahead, rather than turning the other cheek, later backed up by Liberty’s media spokesperson Vice President Johnnie Moore who concurred that Jesus also “would and he did” get even with others, saying that “the Bible is filled with stories of God getting even with his enemies, Jesus got even with the Pharisees” [citation].

The Falwells and their followers are not the only Religious Right leaders with a curious position of history on the issues of race and slavery. In February 2016, David Barton, director of Ted Cruz’s super-PAC and known as Christian historian extraordinaire, told one his his primary supporters, Glenn Beck on his show during Black History Month that in reality white slaveholders treated their slaves like family, and then praised the white peoples of that era for passing amendments to the Constitution that allowed them to be finally recognized as full persons.  He quoted a slave diary that said that “so much of the credit that blacks owed was for whites having gone to bat and doing things for them”, because “blacks were not able to free themselves, whites did” [citation].  Richard Land, formerly the primary spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke on the radio in the summer of 2014, commenting on Dinesh D’Souza’s research and noting that his point about the “lie about America being a colonial power”, and assenting to his point that “we ended slavery, we didn’t bring slavery to North America. Slavery was there, the Native Americans were enslaving each other before we got here.  Eventually, we ended slavery.  We have been a civilizing influence in the world” [citation].

One of the central figures of today’s Religious Right and its political activism, Tony Perkins, President of the influential Family Research Council (having picked Gen. Jerry Boykin to be his second in command, and a person I explore in depth in one of my book volumes) and, according to their website [citation], serves as President of the Council for National Policy (an invitation-only group of “whos who” in the Religious Right religious and conservative leader community who meet in secret, founded in 1981 by Tim Lahaye, Woody Jenkins (its first director and Perkins’ mentor) and others, and often cited as “the conservative version of the Council on foreign relations” [citation], has a few skeletons in his closet regarding this issue.  His organization’s website also notes that he received a Bachelor in Science degree from Liberty University, as well as an honorary doctorate of divinity from the school as well, and is a licensed minister that fills many pulpits nationwide.  A Marine and former police officer, he began working for a television station owned by Rep. Woody Jenkins.  In 2005 Max Blumenthal reported in The Nation that

“Four years ago, Perkins addressed the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), America’s premier white supremacist organization, the successor to the White Citizens Councils, which battled integration in the South. In 1996 Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 for his mailing list. At the time, Perkins was the campaign manager for a right-wing candidate for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana. The Federal Election Commission fined the campaign Perkins ran $3,000 for attempting to hide the money paid to Duke.” [citation]

Blumenthal added that though Perkins denied having anything to do with Duke, “Perkin’s signature was on the document authorizing the purchase of Duke’s list”. The fine levied by the Federal Elections Committee was for “knowingly and willfully fil[ing] false disclosure reports showing Courtney Communications as the vendor”; a July 24, 2002 article in the Times-Picayune (Rep. Perkin’s local newspaper) added that when Perkins found out about Duke’s connection to the phone list, “he and Jenkins decided to route the payments through Courtney Communications, the campaign’s media firm, because ‘politically, we didn’t want to be connected with Duke’” [citation]. In a July 30, 2005 Vancouver Sun article, Perkins said regarding his May 17, 2001 Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) speaking engagement that “he wasn’t aware of its history” and its segregationist ideology, although it had been reported in his local town and state newspapers since 1998, calling it a “racist group” [Ibid.]. In fact, a January 18, 1999 article in the New York Times reported Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s association with the “white separatist group called the Council of Conservative Citizens” for “giving speeches to a racist organization”, and was an “honorary member” of the group, also frequented by Senator Jess Helms [citation].  At the top of this post you can see an online newspaper-published photo of State Rep. Perkins at the CCC podium on that day, standing in front of a big Confederate flag [citation].

Barbara Perry, in her book Hate Crimes, Vol. 2, asserts that the original mailing lists of the earlier Whites Citizens Council, formed to bolster white separation and supremacy in the advent of the Brown v. The Board of Education desegregation ruling, was used to begin the Council of Conservative Citizens, which by 2006 had 42 chapters in 19 states, both north and south, with as many as 15,000 members, and having described blacks as a “retrograde species of humanity”, as well as being anti-immigrant [citation]. She adds that their Confederate Flag-draped meetings featured regular speakers such as Trent Lott (several times, and also a member), who said they “stand for the right principles and the right philosophy” (p. 111). Max Blumenthal also notes in the Huffington Post that Mike Huckabee “eagerly accepted” an invitation to speak at the CCC 1993 national convention, according to its founder Gordon Lee Baum, but a governmental scheduling issue requiring him to temporarily serve as governor (he was Arkansas’ Lt. Governor at the time) necessitated his submission of a video address; the next year they used former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson, who had organized the mob that rioted to stop the integration of Little Rock High School, and served as narrator of Rev. Jerry Falwell’s film, “The Clinton Chronicles” [citation].  Popular Alabama judge (and Ten Commandments public display defender) Roy Moore also spoke at the CCC in 1995 [citation].  Conservative write Ann Coulter stated in her 2009 book Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America that the CCC had been unfairly branded as racist only “because some of the directors of the CCC had, decades earlier, been leaders of a segregationist group…There is no evidence on its Web page that the modern incarnation of the CCC supports segregation” [citation].   To let them speak for themselves, let’s see what the Council of Conservative Citizens says in their own online “Statement of Principles”, which was unanimously adopted at their 2005 Spring National Board Meeting:

“We believe the United States is a Christian country…We therefore oppose all efforts to deny or weaken the Christian heritage of the United States, including the unconstitutional prohibitions of prayers and other religious expression in schools and other public institutions. We believe the United States is a European country and that Americas are part of the European people…the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character. We therefore oppose the massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples into the United States that threatens to transform our nation into a non-European majority in our lifetime. We believe that illegal immigration must be stopped, if necessary by military force…We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called ‘affirmative action’ and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races.” [citation]

The CCC entered the news again recently when it was discovered that Dylann Roof, the mass assassin against the predominantly African-American members of a Charleston church in 2015 (killing nine), was heavily influenced by CCC publications on black violence against white people in his justification for his attack. The Los Angeles Times reported [citation] that his manifesto writing “reflects the strong influence of a white nationalist group called the Council of Conservative Citizens”. On his online manifesto webpage, Roof writes, “this [the Trayvon Martin incident] prompted me to type in the words ‘black on white crime’ into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on white murders. I was in disbelief” [citation].

The current board member and national spokseman today for the Council of Conservative Citizens is Jared Taylor, who along with Matthew Heimbach and Richard Spencer (co-organizers of the recent Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right” Nazi rally) form the key triumvirate of America’s current white supremacist movement.  Concerning the deadly rally itself, Taylor, who describes himself as a “racialist” [citation] who said that Trump’s election signals the “sign of rising white consciousness” [citation], said afterwords that

“If you get your news from NBC, this is what you learned about yesterday’s Unite the Right rally:…The problem was white nationalist violence…Of course, what caused the violence was hostile counter-demonstrators…If they had not been there, there would have been no violence, and the rally would have taken place as planned.  Of all people, it was Donald Trump who came the closest to getting it right, condemning “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides”…(Swastikas were extremely rare in Charlottesville, but they make for better “anti-racist” graphics than Confederate flags.)…There is confrontation only when anti-whites harass and try to stop pro-white events…Jason Kessler [the demonstration organizer] is scheduled to make a statement to the press today at 2:00 p.m. He is smart man and a brave man. I’m sure we can trust him to make an excellent case for our side.”

 

It’s a funny thing; I noticed some young people in the news video of the event that were confronting these Nuremberg torch-carrying, card-carrying Nazis in their regalia, but I wondered: Where is the American Legion?  the other veterans organizations who fought Nazis, and whose buddies died fighting them?  The Holocaust survivors?

And most of all – where are the preachers, and other people of faith?  There may have been some brave “liberal” pastors (gasp – possibly even women!) and some non-religious ethicists, but not a conservative evangelical pastor I can find (or heard anything about).  At least the young women there were brave enough to confront evil, even if the “cowards” did stay away.

At least the brave Religious Right leaders did express their outrage later, or in support over Trumps adamant and vehement equating of the world-reviled Nazis (responsible for killing millions) and those who confronted them.  In an article in The New American [ciation], Franklin Graham writes, “Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in #Charlottesville, VA…Because the president failed to attack the “white nationalists” and the “alt-right movement” by name in his remarks, politicians and activists looking for a way to slur Trump implied that all the responsibility for the violence was on one side….Another Republican and frequent antagonist of Trump, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), had harsh words for the “Unite the Right” rally (but not for the counter-protesters, without whose presence there would have been no violence), calling it an example of “hate and bigotry”…From the statements by the various politicians, one would have almost thought that Trump had shouted “Sieg Heil!”…What about the politicians such as the city council who voted to remove a memorial that had been in place since 1924, regardless of the possible repercussions?…they want to blame President Donald J. Trump for everything.”  On his Twitter account [citation], Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. wrote, “Finally a leader in WH. Jobs returning, N Korea backing down, bold truthful stmt about tragedy.  So proud of

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (who sent his children to the same Christian school I attended) stated in a radio interview [citation] that the removal of slave-holding Confederate statues (most of whom were erected during the Jim Crow ere) were a “sanitization of history” that he “absolutely” disagrees with, and that that removing these monuments sets “a dangerous precedent” that we’re “not allowed to talk about certain elements of our history” and amounts to “revisionist history”, and alludes to the injustice of removing the statue of Roger Taney, the Supreme Court justice who issued the Dred Scott decision as a “slippery slope”, saying: “At what point—If somebody happened to have been a judge and something was erected in their honor but they happened to have one ruling one time that somebody’s offended by, is that worthy of them being removed from pretending they ever existed?”  It is not surprising that he would not condemn those who march and threaten violent confrontation in a coming social civil war – At the 2016 Value Voter Summit in front of a Religious Right audience, he declared, “Do you think it’s possible, if Hillary Clinton were to win the election, do you think it’s possible that we’ll be able to survive?…Whose blood will be shed? It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think that it might be their blood that is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something”.

The argument that Trump and all the Religious Right leaders have made from the Charlottesville tragedy – that not just the Nazis, but both sides were equally guilty – explains why the Polish people and army are just as guilty as the Nazis for the start of World War II, and the French Resistance for the war in Western Europe – I mean, they did blow up railroad tracks and stuff, didn’t they, while the Nazis only wanted the tracks to take people away to safety in the rail cars.

I’ve noticed that since Trump’s apologetic remarks on behalf of the Nazis, the money grubbing business leaders have all resigned Trump’s business councils in disgust and shame on matters of principle, and the artists’ council as well.  One group has not seen fit to have any defections as of Friday – the Religious Right leader council for Trump.

And these pastors and para-church leaders cannot figure out why young people and the rest of the public won’t come to their churches anymore, or give them the respect they think they deserve.  I guess they’ll just chalk it up to “Christian persecution”.

One Bible passage that most perplexed and frightened me over the years was in Matthew 7, in which Jesus stated that “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.  Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:20-23).  All I ever heard growing up was that if you confess, “Jesus is Lord”, and mean it, “you are in”.  I also understood that at the Great White Throne many would acknowledge that they did not accept Christ, and thus they were guilty of Hell and damnation.  Then, in this passage we see someone who appears to be doing all the right things, in a very public and conspicuous way, with all the trappings of great faith and devotion, and evidently is even self-deluded as to their own salvation.  How horrible would it be to think that “you’re in” and then to your surprise to discover, “you’re out”!  How could this be, that God would let this happen?

At my age, I now believe that those who are the most conspicuous with their Christian piety and verbage are often the ones we discover were playing a game, steeped in sin and secrets, and sometimes seemingly self-deluded.  Probably most are not “smoked out” until the “other side”.  Politicians, like many other liars, seem to put on a false persona so well that they tend to believe it themselves.  And most Christians are the biggest fools, for taking these known liars and taking their very public statements of faith at face value, in defiance of their lifetime of “fruit”.  An honest politician who does not exploit his faith publicly doesn’t have a chance with the Religious Right.  On the other hand, all Trump had to do was to pay obesience at the Liberty University shrine, hold up his grandmother’s Bible, cite “Corinthians two” and that he “ate the little cracker”, and Falwell and his ilk were ready to literally compare him to King David and Jesus Christ, even after his recorded confessions of serial marital infidelity and forceful molestation of women – all for the mirage of insider power they thought he could give.

Many of our Christian leaders talk all about “fundamentalism”, but beyond the atonement and resurrection, it appears to me they have no idea what the real Gospel “fundamentals” are – the Golden Rule, love the poor, look out for the stranger and weak, etc.

How many more of our high-profile Christian leaders will hear those heart-stopping words from our Lord?  I am afraid that I may be starting to understand what He meant by them.

PS – Much of the above was excerpted from the draft manuscript of Volume 6 of my upcoming book series, so you can get a taste of what it’s like.  If any of this content is thought-provoking to you, please circulate its link online in your circles, and by word of mouth, to stimulate discussion.

 

 

 

Catch Me on “My American Mind” Podcast Now!

My American Mind

 

Friends,

If you would like to hear me rant in audio rather than print, please check out my recent interview by my good friend (and Futurian and Two Spies reader) Micah on his new podcast, My American Mind.  He interviews me about my most recent post here on “Conservative Role Models In The Bible”, along with related sundrie items.

You can check it out here.

Be prepared for an old-school marathon session, like the old Future Quake days, ’cause I get on quite a roll!

Shout out to the most excellent Micah, including his awesome kickoff show just before this, in his archives.  His show will be a new star and one to watch (or listen)!

 

Conservative Role Models in the Bible – Part 1

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[EDITOR’S NOTE:  Even though I have repeatedly said that my posts here will only be sporadic due to the priority of getting my last book volume drafted and the whole Holy War Chronicles series published, the delay has been longer than normal due to a health crisis within my parents that has required me to be available out of state for much of the time over the last few months, and the foreseeable future; I would appreciate the prayers of all the readers for both of them, and for my siblings and myself.]

This post topic came to mind the other day when I was reminded of a recent project I heard about that created a “Conservative Bible” (the fact that CPAC is going on and in the news as I write this has also contributed, I am sure).  It was overseen by Andrew Schlafly, the originator of the Wikipedia variant “Conservapedia” (which only features data supporting conservative worldviews), and the son of conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly.  As a “grand dame” of the conservative movement, she shook the political world in 1964 with her book A Choice Not an Echo, and is recognized by historians by almost singlehandedly defeating the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, after it had almost passed enough state legislations, by means of her aggressive organization and activism.  Her organization “The Eagle Forum” was a bastion of conservative family and moral issues and their political and legal defense, and a prototype for later conservative “family” organizations.  As a staunch religiously-conservative Roman Catholic and defender of traditional Christian family values and role models, she embraced Donald Trump as such a role model and his 2016 campaign (ironically her son was also eventually “outed” as a practicing homosexual).  Her work also promoted the conservative values of unbridled capitalism (aka the Social Darwinist credo of “each man for himself”) and privatization to corporate control of the public interest.  And true to these values of unregulated corporate behavior, Schlafly’s own beloved Eagle Forum organization was subject to some type of hostile takeover by members of her own board of directors, including her own daughter, shortly before her death in 2016.  The cited online reference from its Missouri branch wrote that “Word has come of a rogue board meeting and an upcoming hostile takeover of Eagle Forum’s board and its assets. Phyllis Schlafly’s endorsement of Trump is a likely catalyst. But you can be sure the real objective is to control the Eagle Forum bank accounts and that the Gang of 6 will present a carefully crafted excuse for public consumption”.  She told World Net Daily that the coup was real and that “this may be my Dobson moment (when the board of Focus on the Family similarly forced founder James Dobson out), was based upon her endorsement of Trump, and was led by her own daughter.

Her son, Andrew Schlafly, is a “chip of the old block” who has forged his own conservative venues, such as his online resource “Conservapedia”, which is intended to be a Wikipedia-like information source with only conservative-approved information.  A brilliant person himself with an engineering degree from Princeton and a doctorate from Harvard Law School, he founded Conservapedia in 2006 when he was alarmed to read a student assignment (as a homeschool teacher) using the now-accepted Common Era (C.E.) historical dating nomenclature, versus the Anno Domini (A.D.) earlier tradition.  Schlafly objectively explains on the “About” page on his Conservapedia site that “Conservapedia is a clean and concise resource for those seeking the truth.  We do not allow liberal bias to deceive and distort here.  Founded initially in November 2006 as a way to educate advanced, college-bound homeschoolers, this resource has grown into a marvelous source of information for students, adults and teachers alike”.   He adds that “We have received over 500 million page views!”, and notes that “A conservative approach to education is powerful and helpful in many ways. It equips students and adults to overcome inevitable obstacles, such as addiction and depression…There are few, if any, conservative schools…The truth shall set you free..No other encyclopedic resource on the internet is free of corruption by liberal untruths.”

To get a feel of the type of narrative and perspective provided on Conservapedia, a look at its front page on February 21, 2017 notes that its “popular articles” include those on “global warming”, “feminism”, “homeschooling”, “evolution”, “liberal claptrap”, “hollywood values”, “biblical scientific foreknowledge”, “Donald Trump”, “free market”, “George Patton”, “Globalism”, “Conservapedia proven right”, “Ex-homosexuals”, “Battle of Thermopylae”, “greatest conservative songs”, “counterexamples to relativity”, “liberal bias”, “liberal style”, “Chuck Norris”, “bias in Wikipedia”, “Mystery: Why do Non-Conservatives Exist?”, “Barack Hussein Obama” and “Professor Values”, to name a few.  It also features a late-breaking “In the News” segment, with story titles such as “White House Signals Reversal in Transgender Bathroom Policy, overturning another Leftist policy by Obama”, “Trump was Right: Riots Break Out in Rinkeby, Sweden”, “Conservapedia Proven Right, Again”, “More fake news by the lamestream media”, and “Melania Trump Recites the Lord’s Prayer at Melbourne Rally – CROWD GOES WILD!”, and many other such reference citations for academics and researchers.

Regarding its rival Wikipedia, its Conservapedia page dedicated to it notes that “Most of Wikipedia’s articles can be edited publicly by both registered and anonymous editors, mostly consisting of teenagers and the unemployed.  As such it tends to project a liberal – and, in some cases, even socialist, Communist, and Nazi-sympathizing-worldview, which is totally at odds with conservative reality and rationality” (emphasis added).  It notes that Wikipedia founders Jimbo Wales and “atheist philosophy professor Larry Sanger’ are both atheists, and that “its articles are a mixture of truths, half-truths and falsehoods”, quoting World Net Daily editor Joseph Farah as saying that Wikipedia “is not only a provider of inaccuracy and bias.  It is wholesale purveyor of lies and slander unlike any other the world has ever seen”.  It does fairly point out that “Wikipedia has millions of entries on trivia and mundane topics”, but smacks of that “systemic liberal bias that dominates Wikipedia”.  They also perceptively point out that “the ‘hammer and sickle’ of the leftist ideology which murdered millions in the former Soviet Union – is featured prominently on the instruction page as well as the tags that mark each uploaded image”.  They are also known at Conservapedia for taking a strong stand against what they perceive to be one of the greatest threats to political conservatism – Einstein’s general theory of relativity in physics.  Their page on the “theory of relativity” begins by warning that “The theory of relativity is defended with religious-like zeal, such that no college faculty tenure, Ph.D degree, or Nobel Prize is ever awarded to anyone who dares criticize the theory”, and its article titles within this topic comprise those such as “Lack of Evidence for Relativity”, and “Experiments that Fail To Prove Relativity”.  They note that “Despite censorship of dissent about relativity, evidence contrary to the theory is discussed outside of liberal universities”.  They add that “some liberal politicians have extrapolated the theory of relativity to metaphorically justify their own political agendas…Applications of the theory of relativity to change morality have also been common”.   The article is associated at its conclusion with other wiki topics, such as “Liberal pseudoscience”, which includes “Black holes”, dark matter” and “moral relativism”.  On the dedicated Conservapedia page “Counterexamples to Relativity”, they begin by noting that “The theory of relativity is disproved by numerous counterexamples, but it promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to pull people away from the Bible”.  This leads the prominent scientific magazine New Scientist to state, “In the end there is no liberal conspiracy at work.  Unfortunately, humanities scholars often confuse the issue by misusing the term ‘relativity’.  The theory in no way encourages relativism, regardless of what Conservapedia may think”.

Conservapedia does provide some pages with useful definitions of popular political terms today we can use for this post.  In their page on the topic “Liberal”, emblazoned with a picture of “Barack Hussein Obama” and stated to be the ‘least successful president in history”, states at the beginning that “A liberal is someone who craves an increase in government spending, power, and control, such as Obamacare.  Liberals also support the censorship and denial of Christianity.  Liberals who are a part of the secular left prefer the atheist religion over the Christian faith, as atheism has no objective morality to hinder their big government plans”.  They add that “Liberals favor a welfare state where people receive endless entitlements without working”, and that “All liberals support, in knee-jerk fashion, the oppositive of conservative principles, while lacking an actual ideology or values of their own.  Many of them cannot understand Christian language”.  They are also known for (a) “Denial of science (especially creation science)”, (b) “Hypocrisy”, (c) “The belief that terrorism is not a huge threat, and that the main reason for Muslim extremists’ hostility towards America is because of bad foreign policy”, (d) “Hedonism”, (e) “Rejection of Biblical standards”, (f) “Hatred”, (g) “Murder”, (h) “crying instead of accepting reality”, (i) “Cessation of teacher-led prayer in classrooms”, (h) “tyranny”, (i) “Treason”, (j) “pseudo-intellectualism”, (k) “genocide”, (l) “fascism”, (m) “Destroying conservative family values and replacing them with immoral Hollywood values”, (n) “High progressive taxes as a form of class warfare against wealthy business owners”, (o) “Sadism”, (p) “racism”, (q) “slander”, (r) “Obesity”, (s) “environmentalism”, (t) pedophilia”, (u) “mutilating corpses”, (v) “enforced homosexuality”, and many more unsavory attributes.  They add that, “In practical usage, the term ‘liberal’ is more closely synonymous with ‘radical’, ‘immoral’, ‘anti-freedom’, ‘elitist’, or ‘bad'”.  Their list of ‘Notable liberal ‘intellects'” includes “Barack Hussein Obama”, “Dracula”, “David Thorstad, a founding member of NAMBLA”, “Adolf Hitler”, “Karl Marx’, “Lee Harvey Oswald”, “Benito Mussolini”, “Margaret Thatcher” (for decriminalizing homosexuality), and “Osama Bin Laden”.  Their list of “Liberal Organizations” included AARP, AFL-CIO and others.

It also has a page dedicated to “Conservatism”. On it, it notes that “A conservative is someone who rises above his personal self-interest and promotes moral and economic values beneficial to all.  A conservative is willing to learn and advocate the insights of economics and the logic of the Bible for the benefit of everyone else.  A conservative favors conserving value by not giving handouts to anyone who does not really need them”.  Regarding their “goals and principles”, they note that conservatives seek or support “capitalism and free markets”, “classroom prayer”, “the concept of retribution for crimes, including the death penalty for heinous murders proven beyond reasonable doubt”, “family values, including traditional relationships and division of labor within the household” (emphasis added), “The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms”, “Economic allocative efficiency (as opposed to popular equity)”, “Private medical care and retirement plans”, “cancelling failed social support programs”, “enforcement of current laws regarding immigration”, “respect for our military – past and present”, “rejection of junk science such as evolution and global warming”, “a strong national defense”, “A dedication to the truth, and an ability to seek it”, and “ending entitlement programs”, amongst others.

The contribution Schlafly and Conservapedia is most known for is their origination of the “Conservative Bible” translation.  The Conservapedia page on the “Conservative Bible Project”  notes that its goal is to “render God’s word into modern English without archaic language and liberal translation distortions”.  They add that the first draft of the Conservative New Testament was completed on April 23, 2010, and many of the Old Testament books are completed as well.  It adds that “Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations”, and that “the third – and largest – source of translation error requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate”.  It notes that “As of 2009, there was no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines”, including “Framework against Liberal Bias”, “Not Emasculated”, “Combat Harmful Addiction”, “Express Free Market Parables” (“explaining the numerous economic parables in their full free-market meaning”), “Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness”, and “Exclude Later-inserted Inauthentic Passages” (i.e., “excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story”).  It notes that the “benefits” of the new Conservative Bible include “benefitting from activity that no public school would ever allow; a Conservative Bible could become a text for public school courses”, “political issues can become a pathway to evangelizing liberals”, and “this project has a unifying effect on various Christian denominations, and serves as an important counterweight to liberal efforts to divide conservative candidates based on religion”.  Some of the “Helpful Approaches” that are cited from the Conservative Bible include to “identify pro-liberal terms used in existing Bible translations, such as ‘government’, and suggest more accurate substitutes”, and “identify conservative terms that are omitted from existing translations”. They add that “Many consider the Conservative Bible project, as well as any other Bible translation projects, to be heretical and in opposition to Matthew 5:18, which was fulfilled in the King James Bible”.  They use as examples of censored Bible passages in the Conservative Bible such as Luke 23:34, “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing'” (adding that, “Is this a corruption of the original, perhaps promoted by liberals without regard to its authenticity?”, since “This quotation is a favorite of liberals”), as well as Luke 16:8, where they change the “shrewd” manager of Christ’s parable to “resourceful”.  Amongst the “Advantages to a Conservative Bible” they list include “liberal bias – and lack of authenticity – becomes easier to recognize and address”, “supported by conservative principles, the project can be bolder in uprooting and excluding liberal distortions”, “the ensuing debate would flesh out – and stop – the infiltration of churches by liberals/atheists pretending to be Christian, much as a vote by legislators exposes the liberals”, “this would bring the Bible to a new audience of political types, for their benefit; Bible courses in college Politics Departments would be welcome”, and “this would debunk the pervasive and hurtful myth that Jesus would be a political liberal today”.

As example of the improvements provided by the Conservative Bible, in the Sermon on the Mount on Matthew 5 it says Jesus “began His Torah” instead of “He opened His mouth”, and states “Blessed are those who are not full of themselves” rather than “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.  In 2009 Stephen Colbert interviewed Schlafly about his Conservative Bible on his “Colbert Report” show .  There he states that Jesus’ parables were “free market parables”.  Salon Magazine actually listed verses from the Conservative Bible, where the term “Pharisees” has been changed to “liberals”, so that Mark 3:6 reads, “The Liberals then fled from the scene to plot with Herod’s people against Jesus, and plan how they might destroy Him”, and in Mark 10:23-25. they change Christ’s words “for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” to “for an idle miser to enter into the kingdom of God”.

Political conservatism is inextricably intertwined with most of American evangelicalism like a Gordian Knot, with Biblical passages and theological doctrine and the aforementioned conservative principles irrevocably linked, and not challenged or critiqued by the Bible text itself in polite company, at the risk of alienating oneself under the most dire charges of heresy – being a liberal.   As an example of its ubiquitousness, a look at the “Ten Liberty University Distinctives” by founder Jerry Falwell on what is arguably the world’s most influential evangelical university’s website in 2015 notes that one is “An uncompromising doctrinal statement, based upon an inerrant Bible, a Christian worldview beginning with belief in biblical Creationism, an eschatological belief in the pre-millennial, pre-tribulational coming of Christ for all of His Church, dedication to world evangelization, an absolute repudiation of “political correctness,” a strong commitment to political conservatism, total rejection of socialism, and firm support for America’s economic system of free enterprise” (emphasis added) – a political and economic indoctrination paid for in large sums by parents (or vast student loans) to provide their children a life-influencing “Christian education”.  This may be why their website also notes that amongst their awards are being in the Top 10 of Newsmax‘s “40 Conservative Colleges” and number 5 on another list of “the 20 Best Conservative Colleges in America”, while being the fifth largest university in the nation.  Sometimes it requires that they stifle independent thought and free speech by their own students (presumably there to obtain an education to thus acquire such skills), in widely reported incidents such as in which the university banned the College Democrats in 2009, or in late 2016 when a writer at the university newspaper was banned from writing about Donald Trump’s sexual assault conversation with Billy Bush (University leader Jerry Falwell Jr. had already publicly endorsed Trump), apparently blocked by Falwell himself.  Sometimes they just block the online version of the local newspaper on the university computer servers, to block students from reading unsavory reports about the university’s corruption or hypocritical actions.

As is typical for this blog, the preceding long-winded expository narrative was a mere preamble for the actual point of the post itself.  Inspired by these previous references and in their general spirit, I thought I might take a shot at proposing a handful of some of the more memorable “Conservative Role Models” in the Bible itself, since the purpose of the Bible itself is to undergird and give spiritual, divine sanction to politically conservative principles both we and it hold dear.

The remainder of this post will only focus on core conservative economic principles, as embodied in the following well-known Biblical characters:

 

The “Rich Man” Who Interacted with Lazarus:  In this parable of Christ in Luke 16, a “certain rich man” was said to be “clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day” – evidently an entrepreneur and “risk taker” who was rewarded for his genius with prosperity, apparently by God Himself, and therefore worthy of our respect by his apparent success, as well as his culture and fine taste, and a role model for enterprising young Christians.  Unfortunately, he was plagued by a liberal welfare deadbeat (i.e. ‘beggar”) named Lazarus (whose name means, “whom God helps’), who used the excuse of his medical condition of body-wide sores (why doesn’t he pay to see a good doctor?) to ask for handouts, rather than earn an honest living.  The rich man knew that if he provided to Lazarus any more than what fell to the floor (a form of “trickle down Reaganomics”), (a) he would never get rid of him, and (b) Lazarus would never “pull himself up by his bootstraps”.  The blessed rich man wanted to demonstrate adherence to the conservative Biblical values of hard work and responsibility.  He did permit Lazarus an alternative to wasteful universal health coverage – he let the dogs lick Lazarus’ sores.  Accordingly, when the rich man died, he went to his proper eternal reward as God decreed.  Curiously, in the afterlife he found himself to be a helpless eternal “welfare deadbeat”, as the tables turned and he begged to Lazarus for relief.  Maybe this is why the “poor in spirit” will inherit the Kingdom, and why it is so hard for the rich to enter it.  The eternal principles the rich man then learned were said by Abraham to reside in the teachings of Moses and the prophets, and if people would not embrace them, then even one returning from the dead (such as Jesus Himself) could not persuade them otherwise.

King Ahab (acquirer of Naboth’s vineyard) and the King (acquirer of the “perfect” lamb):  In 1 Kings 21 Ahab used his power and prestige to impress upon Naboth to sell or trade his vineyard, because of its proximity to the palace, as a type of “eminent domain”, even though Naboth legally owned it.  Ahab knew the “art of the deal” many Christians so admire today in the wealthy businessmen and traders who are invited to their pulpits as guests; he exhibited the success drive and “killer instinct” to be diligent, even obsessive, in getting what he wanted, and in not taking “no” for an answer.  Most powerful men have a more powerful and cunning wife behind them, and Ahab was no exception; she forged letters in his name after notifying him that she would obtain Naboth’s property with “an offer he couldn’t refuse”, setting him up in a legal blackmail scheme that led to his death, and Ahab’s possession of his property at Jezebel’s command as a result.  In the Social Darwinistic “survival of the fittest” trait of economic conservativism, what they did was “fair game”, using power and economic clout (even paying the stooges and lawyers) to obtain from the less well-connected by force, in “free and open markets” unfettered by regulations and restrictions.  Naboth was a fool for valuing the legacy of his descendents who gave him the land for an inheritance to future generations, and “not a good businessman” which would have earned Christian respect.  In response God sent His prophet Elijah (whom Ahab called “his enemy”) to tell Ahab what he thought of his economic philosophy, and his ultimate destiny.  Similarly, in 2 Samuel 12 the prophet Nathan told King David about a rich man and a poor man, the latter having a little ewe lamb he had raised, who ate and drank from the man’s table, and was like a daughter to him (v. 3), whereas the rich man had vast flocks and herds. When the rich man wanted to impress a visitor, he did not take from his own large supply, but rather took the lone lamb of the man, and fed it to his guest.  David sought revenge because the rich man had no “pity”, but it in fact it was about his own actions with Bathsheba.  However, in conservative free market capitalism, the inevitable destiny is that almost all a society’s assets will be owned by an ever smaller circle of elites, who can leverage their wealth and influence to extract more and more.  Today the top fraction of one percent own something like half of the total wealth in America, and that upper tier is getting more elite every decade – a top political platform of that “socialist” Bernie Sanders (a man himself on the outside looking in, unlike the other political candidates).  Trump’s tax plan he proposed in his campaign would raise tax rates on the poorest tax bracket, and eliminate their credits for their children, while dropping the 39.6 and other wealthiest tax rates to 25 percent, and corporate taxes down to 15 percent (who else do you think will pick up the tax revenue slack?).  This trend in wealth concentration, if unabated by conservative calls for lesser banking and financial regulation, will become an eventual a tipping point like the French Revolution, when the masses had nothing to lose, and then everyone (including the rich) will lose.

The Ambitious Barn Builders and Wealth Retainers:  Churches extol the virtues of visionary businessmen, including those who wear clerical robes and build massive “world ministry centers” with private jets and opulent campuses, and are ever-expanding and upgrading, as role models to emulate of “the American Way”.   In Luke 12 a ‘rich man” was so blessed by his farms (obviously due to God’s grace) that he decided to tear down his perfectly good barns to build yet bigger ones, to “bestow my fruits and my goods” for public admiration, rather than sharing with others.  God was not so impressed with such displays of wealth and security, although he would have been viewed as a “model of free enterprise and investment” and to have filled his time “productively”, rather than in others’ lives.   The Conservative Bible changes how the church in Acts shared all they had sold to give to the Apostles, to being “generous with those in need”, so as to avoid allusions to socialism or communism.  A couple who embodied this change was Ananias and Sapphira.  In Acts 10 they admirably sold a possession, but kept part of it, and laid the rest at the apostles’ feet.  While many such religious leaders today toil in their ministry under modest means and with dignity, many other conspicuous examples reveal opulent lifestyles and asset accumulations from the “widow’s mites” given to their “ministries”.  A biographical book about the Rev. Billy Graham entitled Prince of War noted that by 2004 the Billy Graham Evangelical Association’s annual income was 110 million dollars, with 271 million in assets, while Graham’s annual compensation exceeded $500,000 a year, while telling radio listeners the Garden of Eden was a place “with no union dues, no labor leader, no snakes, no diseases” and saying that no Christian laborer would take advantage of his employer by aligning with a union.  Various sources list the net personal worth of the almost centarian-aged Billy Graham at over $25 million, up with the most successful prosperity gospel preachers – what will he do with “all of this in his barns” at his age?  His son Franklin, a one-time rebel who avoided the ministry, has done even better; the Charlotte Observer – the bane of the Graham family – reported in 2015 that Franklin Graham made more than $620,000 in salary from Samaritan’s Purse – that’s a quite a haircut off the top of the “widow’s mites” donated by poor Christians, and means a lot more kids will grow hungry today that could otherwise be fed at a dollar a day – which also makes him the highest paid CEO of any international relief agency, even more than the CEO of the American Red Cross.  They add that his total compensation from Purse was $880,000 plus another $258,000 for working full-time for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.  To be fair, this is far less than the $1.2 million he received in 2008.  Is it any wonder that these religious leaders hang out with high roller businessmen and Wall Street bankers, and guys like Donald Trump, with whom they can so identify?  People love a “winner” and particularly a conspicuous one – that is why the Pharisees publicly gave their money at the temple to great adulation and respect, while the widow’s mite was the greater portion of her essential resources, which only caught the Lord’s eye; we make much ado over rich Americans who give a small portion of their excess to a charity of their choosing to assuage their conscience and take on a pious stature with the public, not considering the treacherous ways in which much of this money was accumulated, as they put their names on buildings and hospitals; meanwhile having contempt for the poor who give a lesser amount monetarily to the public good by taxation and otherwise, but actually a larger share of their own minimal means, as Christians bemoan the high tax rates of the idle rich, who have numerous tax schemes to avoid their expected proportion of taxes anyway.  This environment is why a rich young ruler could live a very pious life and seek to follow the Lord, and only be inhibited by his “higher” calling to wealth and its prestige.

The Ultimate Manifestation of Capitalism – The Rider on the Black Horse and The Great City Babylon.  In Revelation 6 we see a rider on a black horse (as in being “in the black” financially) who controlled the global exchange rates of critical assets with a balance in his hand, announcing the cost of essential foodstuffs, while protecting oil (the Greek suggests the type that is used for fuel) and the luxurious items such as wine, which would be “untouched” and protected for the wealthy elites.  History has shown that physical weapons are not the most powerful methods of control – the control of wealth and money and raw materials is.  The Knights Templar arose out of nowhere to be Europe’s bankers (as “pious soldiers of Christ”) with sudden power that rivaled kings and the Pope, and could bring any of them to their knees by the control of capital as premier capitalists, soon to be followed by the Jewish House of Rothchild, House of Morgan, Rockefeller and others.  Even Joseph found out that by confiscating and then controlling for the State the only commodity of value in a world of famine -food – it could be used to confiscate all the wealth, and even freedom of the subjects of Pharoah.  In Revelation 18 we see it globalized institutionally in the Great City Babylon, where “the merchants of the earth have waxed rich” and “the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her” – i.e., pursued their mutual interests with the global financial cartel rather than being faithful to the interests of their own citizens.  It’s Social Darwinistic attribute derived from capitalism has them dispassionately yet immorally trading in all goods of value, even the souls of men as mere possessions of labor.  Good conservatives today (and most American Christians) also see little value in the dignity of the laborer, disfavoring minimum wage laws, a living wage, labor rights and jobs programs, as being “bad for business” and corporate profits, as the Christians are the ones who put in office a political party that clearly rather answers to the Wall Street bankers and corporations who finance it (when have you seen them aggressively fight Roe V. Wade in their 28 years since in power, although they campaign so heavily on it, for example?).  Christians have swallowed one of the biggest conservative “whoppers” of the last century – that more money for the rich in reduced taxes and corporate welfare and government contracts and inducements will actually help the poor and middle class, followed only by the promise that the reduction in inheritance and other corporate taxes are for the “small family business”, or that it will produce “more jobs”.  We now have a President largely elected by Christians to look out for the “little guy” as he promised, who has staffed all his cabinet positions with oil company CEOs, and billionaire and millionaire Wall Street hedge fund executives.  Christians are dazzled by their robber barons and tycoons just as Jerry Falwell Jr. was when getting to sit in Donald Trump’s airplane, but evidently God is not as nearly impressed, and will see to it that this system of exploitation will not prevail – that of the “Golden Rule”, or “He who has the gold makes the rules”.  The passage says to God’s people to “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (v. 4).  The question is – will America’s Christians listen?

That’s enough examples for now – let us know further examples in this vein.  The next part will include good conservative Biblical examples of patriotic nationalism, exceptionalism, and a “strong Judeo-Christian nation” that “projects force globally” as a “global leader”.

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