Monday, July 20, 2015

We Claim "A Common Creator" ... But Are We Our Brothers' Keepers?

In light of the fundamentalism which insists that we must give prominence to the Biblical foundations of our nation’s origins, it becomes imperative that we raise some fundamental questions about those foundations. What, we must ask, are the social ramifications of a belief system that assumes the “fatherhood” of “a common Creator”? In the words of Cain… Am I my brother’s keeper? Do I have the right to demand that I be treated as a “fellow person”? In the tradition of Martin Buber, a prominent twentieth century philosopher, religious thinker, political activist and educator; shall we cultivate amongst ourselves “I-thou” rather than “I-it” relationships. Do we truly believe that “all persons are created equal”?

Religious belief is by no means separable from the anthropological assumptions of the faithful. People do in fact create gods in their own images. Our religious ideals therefore bear the indelible imprint of our social, economic, and historical bearings. For this reason it is a semantically perilous exercise to posit a conversation about a just and civil society with assumptions about commonalities in religious belief. As I have stated elsewhere, our theology is, for the most part, the deification of our anthropology. The peril of religious dialogue is therefore its inherent subjectivity. Given this fact, it is not surprising to find that even the highest authority in any religious system will be verbally and otherwise assaulted by the faithful of the church of status quo ethics and economics. Such authorities include even the Successor of Peter.

The new Pope has garnered much press for the fresh new approach he has brought to leadership at the Vatican. His theological praxis is no doubt informed by the experiences he had as a pastor among the poor in Latin America. Like Arch-Bishop Dom Helder Camara who mused- ‘When I feed the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.’- he is no stranger to the plight of those who struggle daily to eek out a living in desperate circumstances. Pope Francis has repeatedly called for greater efforts to lift up the world’s poor. The pontiff had this to say in his recent encyclical:

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness… This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

The fact that this statement expresses the doctrinal position of the Church way before this Pope came to office has not saved him from the venom of the icons of our current conservatism. The standard satanization has been pronounced against him. MARXIST! The “gates of hell” may not prevail against the “Rock” on which the Church is built; but the missile “Marxist!” has a certain philosophically destructive appeal among the religious masses.

It is ironic that in a culture where the God of the prophets tells the oppressors of the poor to go to hell with their “sacrifices” and their other religious observances, these same oppressors never cease to warn the poor about “a godless ideology”. I am reminded of the Epistle of John where it is unequivocally stated, and here I paraphrase again… If a man says he loves God whom he cannot see, while he is oppressing his brother whom he can see… That man is a LIAR. So, one may ask on the basis of this declaration, whose is the godless ideology?

President Barack Obama has been making the case for increasing the minimum wage.The federal minimum wage currently is $7.25 an hour, or about $15,000 a year. The President has indicated his commitment to back a Senate measure to increase the minimum statutory pay to $10.10. In the process he too has had to endure the satanization …“MARXIST!”; all because of his efforts to improve the lot of the widow and the orphan. The President and the Pope both understand that this kind of critique “comes with the territory”. Those of us who support the efforts of these leaders to make ours a more just society have no doubt that History will absolve them.

As a student of the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is my conclusion that every 8th century prophet would have to endure the satanization of the likes of Rush Limbaugh in their stand against the economic/cultural status quo. In the struggle toward a more just society we must stand up to the pseudo-intellectualism of the moral halfwits among us. We must not sit idly by while the apostles of what His Holiness calls “the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system” hold court. Furthermore, we will not allow the voices of the prophets to be drowned out by their heresy. We need to participate meaningfully in calling the poor into a realization of the power they have to change the bleak and seemingly hopeless circumstances that face them. It is time for the worker to understand that their worth is much more than 1/204th of that of the CEO’s, who smiles at them and declares his/her feigned charitableness by handing out hormone inflated turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas. If we truly believe in a God of Righteousness, then we must listen as He/She speaks to us... Amos 5 vs 21-24:

I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The resetting of our priorities to which we are directed by this rebuke has its very essence in the reality that to “do justly and to love mercy” is in fact the ONLY meaningful religion. The virtuousness of this statement is however not reserved for the religious. Prosperity does not happen in a social vacuum. The law of the jungle might have a certain appeal to the greed induced coma that typifies the behavior of those who have blocked the need to be “righteous”, but it only sets them up for destruction by the hosts of the aggrieved. The “jungle” is by no means a desirable social ideal. Ultimately our hopes for progress are rooted in a fundamental understanding of the kind of community where justice is a shared value. A society in which I-Thou takes the place of I-it in our socio-economic interactions. It is the need for this kind of community that beckons us to treat with greater urgency the need for greater equity among us... The need to become a more just society.

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