Category Archives: Poverty

In the Still of the Night

We are all alone at night. Even if there is someone close, as we drift off to our subconscious, we are alone. In the moments in time before you are asleep, what are those last thoughts before you drift off? Right now, I’m staring at the ocean. I’m thinking about the first bloody Europeans who saw this tropical paradise, before they set about claiming, colonizing, and ruining. It was a larger world back then and after months of nothing but water, it must have been glorious.

As I experience St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands), I see poverty and luxury. There is little in between. I see no natural enterprises that are not related to the service of tourism. And I feel a subtle resentment just below the surface from the natives. I don’t blame them. Though I believe I live modestly, the contrast between their lives and mine is embarrassing. This foreshadows the mainland US where I think the oligarchy intend a permanent underclass to clean their pools, mow their yards, and work in their restaurants. It is one reason why health care and education are only for the rich. Keep us scraping to survive so we don’t have the energy or courage to object. I guess they have forgotten the French Revolution. Ask Marie Antoinette how that attitude worked out.

I admit I am not a relaxed or enthusiastic traveler. I can’t wait to return home and see my dog. I’m the person who goes to a tropical paradise like St. Thomas and thinks about taxation without representation as a euphemism for colonization – which I consider a heinous sin. I feed the feral cats by the house and I would take them home if I could. But I also look at the vast water views and count myself fortunate to get re-centered. This beats the hell out of the smells that attack me when I head underground for commuter rail from center city to the suburbs.

And then, because I like thinking about religion, I think about God. When I think about the god that was force-fed on indigenous peoples along with brutal imperialism, I am sick and ashamed. This is one of many reasons I have resolutely denied a personal god for so long. But then it comes to the still of the night. The birds are quiet, the music in the house has been silenced, the ocean on the rocks is consistent and quiet from where I sit. It’s full dark with only moonlight. Not even tiny lights on the uninhabited islands dotting the horizon. The closest one is for sale for $30 million. Who owns an island? It seems sacrilegious.

Bill Maher is my favorite atheist. I imagine having robust discussions with him, though I know he just dismisses religion as silly and doesn’t really like these conversations. But he keeps me honest. How would I describe a good religion? You know, one that doesn’t hurt others but still enriches one’s own life?

Usually religion is about dogma and theology. These might be metaphysical and complex, but I think of little comfort in the still of the night when spirituality matters more. I would say in the still of the night I imagine a life force outside of myself. I must assign it female energy, or I’m just walking away. Then I imagine a great kindness. A kindness that surrounds me and comforts me in the very same way I work to comfort and protect my little dog. I would not mind having this for myself. So, if you’re out there, Mother God, surround me with kindness. Please give me a feeling that I matter. That is enough. Because the looking out for myself, helping others, sorting out right from wrong, well, I think that’s my job. So, if you could spare some kindness, I will be grateful. -J.B.

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Innocence in a Culture of Bigotry

You can talk to family members separately and each person will offer descriptions that sound like none of them came from the same family. Given that acknowledgement, my story is that my younger sister was a bully who was skilled at presenting herself like a victim and as a result routinely enjoyed my mother’s indulgence and I her scorn. The endless arguments led my brother to decide to be Switzerland. It would have meant more than I can adequately express to have him defend my honor. Here’s the thing about the notion of neutrality, when it comes to bullies or outright evil: not taking a side, is taking a side. During World War II Switzerland had a policy of denying entrance to Jews trying to escape the Nazis. Tens of thousands of would-be immigrants died because they were turned away by Switzerland. That’s how neutral looked to Jews fleeing genocide.

Switzerland and the Holocaust

If you are willing to take a position and maybe even help, how do you decide? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? The challenge is that often identifying the true victim is challenging because not every wronged person makes an ideal hero. We want to cheer for the unjustly accused as long as they suit our idea of someone blameless. If there are any shadows cast on someone’s character or details from their past that make us uncomfortable, then it gets muddy.

In early 2000, Adnan Syed was sentenced to life-plus-thirty-years for the murder of his ex-girlfriend. His guilt or innocence has been debated for many years by countless people. The debate went viral as a result of the podcast “Serial.” I was among the record-breaking number of people who listened in 2014. It was compelling. But in the end, “Serial” did not leave me with a clear conclusion, just disappointment. (I never listened to season two.) My perception is that Adnan did not make the perfect wrongly convicted hero, but was instead a flawed human being and in many ways an enigma. His story was told by producers who did not sufficiently address the impact of cultural and religious bigotry. It was addressed, yes, but not adequately

“Serial” – season one

Since the 2014 podcast I had not forgotten about Adnan; then, earlier this year, I met author Rabia Chaudry who wrote Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial (2016). In her book, she owns her bias as a family friend and advocate for Adnan. She has become an attorney since his conviction, and is the person responsible for convincing the “Serial” producer to take on his story. What I observed from the podcast in 2014 and I maintain now, is that I don’t believe that what happened to Adnan would have happened if he was a Caucasian/non-Muslim.

The bigotry began by the police not investigating the victim’s white boyfriend (or anyone else), and going out of their way to connect Adnan to the murder, while using his religion for motive. They chose their suspect then set about proving it. Claiming his religion was his motive is like saying that anyone who is Christian could have a motive for murdering an abortion doctor. The most shocking initial public display of apparent systemic bigotry was at his bail hearing. Prosecutor Vicki Wash argued that “…he has limitless resources…if you issue him bail you are issuing him a passport to flee the country…There is a pattern in the United States of America where young Pakistani males have been jilted, have committed murder, and have fled to Pakistan…” (p.97). There is no such pattern. And there was never any reason to jump to that conclusion about Adnan and his community. In place of evidence, the prosecutor used religious and cultural bigotry.

I was at a picnic last summer and somehow the subject of the plain Mennonites and Amish came-up. These women wear a yarmulke-like net cap called a covering. I compared it philosophically to a hijab. The response was that the Mennonites and Amish don’t commit honor killings. I hope that if you’re reading this, I don’t have to explain how far-fetched this assertion was. But just in case, the link below has actual data on honor killings which are not exclusive to Muslims or men commiting murder, though of course, it’s always women who die.

Honor killing awareness

What I am willing to say is that when I see women needing to take special measures in their dress to accommodate their religious and cultural customs, it disappoints me. I support their right to do so, but I wish they would make a different choice. I wish this of the Amish, and I wish it of women wearing the hijab. These practices exist in the context of male dominant cultures, which are many. Male dominance is so prevalent and so pervasive that we don’t always even see it. It’s just not conscious for most people. It’s one of those norms we have come to take for granted.

Our justice system is another norm we take for granted, with little questioning. We want to believe that people get what they deserve so we don’t feel vulnerable. But the system has a deep inherent flaw in that it is an adversarial system set-up to have winners and losers. Lots and lots of losers. And most of them are poor. Read their stories. The drive is not for truth or justice. It is to win. At any cost.

The Pennsylvania Innocence Project

I don’t know if Adnan did it. But I do know that he did not get treated justly because he is a Muslim. I choose to believe if enough of us care about making our defective system more just, it can happen. I believe if we send our intentions into the Universe things will happen, though not without us taking actions as well, of course. Don’t know where to start? I do. Start by reading more. If you read with the intention of impacting change, I promise you that the Universe will present you with ideas and opportunities. At least choose to not be Switzerland. -J.B.

“Hey, It’s Franklin”

Maybe it’s difficult to be the kid of someone famous. Gandhi’s son converted to Islam and was trading in British imports at the same time his father was calling for a boycott (“Father to a Nation, Stranger to His Son,” The Guardian, August 9, 2007). Not being able to reconcile with his son was one of Gandhi’s late-in-life regrets. While Gandhi was a spiritual and political leader, not such a hero of parenting.

Guardian article on Gandhi

Maybe desiring parental approval is an instinct, like with Franklin the turtle who helped in the garden so dad said, “Excellent job Franklin. That was real grown-up work,” (season one, episode four). His cartoons start with a simple, happy song: “Hey, it’s Franklin…” which always makes me smile. Very catchy. That’s why I get momentarily confused where I hear/read stories about Franklin Graham, the eldest son of the renowned evangelist, Billy Graham. He’s no Franklin the turtle.

Near as I can tell from (not at all exhaustive) Internet research, Billy Graham is alive and about 97. Just like Gandhi, Graham regrets not spending enough time with his family. When he retired, he handed his kingdom to his eldest son Franklin. In one of his last interviews after retirement he said: “I also would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.” – Billy Graham, CT, January 21, 2011.

Article on Billy and Franklin Graham

It is estimated that Billy Graham preached to 215 million people in his lifetime. Ordained in 1939, his career took off in 1949 after charismatic preaching in revival tents. He eventually expanded to television, radio, print publications, and filling stadiums. His moderate interpretation of Christian evangelism had a stronger emphasis on God’s love than sin. In his day, as he likely would be today, he was criticized for “being too liberal and refusing to play into partisan politics.” Perhaps the only way for son Franklin to distinguish himself from his prominent father is to pander to the element who criticized him. I would argue that Franklin’s harsh rhetoric is more about proving something to daddy than theology – though I’m not sure it matters.

Billy Graham biography

Franklin has supported the Republican candidate’s proposed ban on the immigration of Muslims (Washington Post). He said, “We have allowed the enemy to come into our churches,” including all gays and lesbians as “the enemy.” Poor Franklin is not content with his nearly $1 million salaries (plural intended). He wants to be a political voice. And just like the Republican presidential candidate, he is willing to spew hatred and stir-up the people with the pitchforks to do it.

Washington Post on Franklin
CSN on Franklin on gays

Still, I can’t bring myself to pity those who have been handed the world. Franklin draws two salaries from separate nonprofits. The link to the article below has a photo of Franklin with Sarah Palin.  The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association pays him $250,000 and the nonprofit charity, Samaritan’s Purse, pays him $650,000. Having worked in nonprofits most of my career, I can nearly guarantee you he is not working 80 hours a week. And even if he is, I can’t think of a single nonprofit leader who deserves $900,000. I remind you he claims to follow Jesus, yet Jesus traveled the countryside with no possessions whatsoever and regularly advocated for the outcasts. Apparently, Franklin wants to talk about Jesus, but not actually be anything like him. Well, mission accomplished.

Huffington Post on Franklin’s salaries

Maybe right now you’re thinking of asking me who cares? You weren’t paying attention to the likes of Franklin Graham anyhow. It matters because he is part of the contingent that regularly confuses religion and politics. Part of the contingent supporting him are those for whom ignorance has become an ideology. Not only an ideology, but one that people are holding-up as admirable. Here’s a real live bumper sticker I saw in traffic a few weeks ago: “Fairy Tales Say A Frog Became a Prince ‘Scientists’ call it Evolution.” It was on a piece of crap car that also had a sticker on it for the Republican presidential candidate. I wanted to tell the driver that if you had bothered with a better education, you might have a better job, a better car, and not be so damn angry. These angry white folks are squawking about what they think they don’t have, yet the average Trump supporter makes $70,000 (Bill Maher). That is a far cry from people living in multi-generational poverty.

The latest book I’ve been listening to on the commute to work is Anna Quindlen’s Rise and Shine. You can read or listen to anything she writes without disappointment. In this one she uses the story of two sisters to teach us about New York and go inside of lives of those living in privilege and in poverty and she paints a fascinating picture. When the famous sister has a crisis and winds-up losing her job and her spouse in the same week, I found it difficult to empathize. I’m more of the thinking that those to whom much is given, much is expected. Like Franklin Graham: Franklin is just another self-promoting, rich white man with daddy issues. We have enough of those. Learn a lesson from Franklin the turtle whose best friend is Bear and plays soccer with Goose and Fox.

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Rick Santorum and Blue Jays and Burqas

Blue Jays seem like they should be the stars of the “Angry Birds” game.  They are always caw-cawing at everyone, all the while making sure they are getting enough for themselves.  Cardinals and Robins don’t seem to take them too seriously, though they do intimidate the smaller, meeker birds.  That’s why they remind me of Rick Santorum, with apologies to Blue Jays, that is.

Sunday (3/11/2012) morning Santorum was one of the talking heads on the weekly television news shows (this one with David Gregory).  In the seconds it took me to wrestle the remote control from my spouse I had to listen to this Blue Jay in my living room caw-cawing about moral issues like he had been appointed by god – which he does seem to think is the case.  Even worse, he repeatedly mentioned that he was running for president because he and his wife had prayed about it.  If you are trying to convince me that god wants you to be president then your ego is too big and your god is too small.  Ironic, the prayer part though, since many of us in Pennsylvania having been praying Santorum would just go away.

Without taking a breath, he rambled on about what government should stay out of while insisting what government should take over.  Particularly, what the federal government should take over is the control over women’s bodies.  Here we go again, Ricky Blue Jay.

I have never written about abortion before because I consider it a personal ethical issue, not a religious one.  If you are opposed to abortion, then don’t have one.  The rest is none of your business.  I don’t object to the Roman Catholic Church, or any other religion, taking a position on this for its own practitioners.  However, in this secular country, it is not only wrong, it defies the U.S. Constitution for any one religion to impose its morality on everyone else.

Usually the louder the Blue Jay the more likely you will find situation ethics.  Santorum likes to brag about “home-schooling” his children.  Well, that’s not quite accurate.  They are enrolled in a Pennsylvania online charter school, paid for by Pennsylvania tax-payers, even though they are living in Virginia.  His caw-cawing-of-the-day can be found on the link below to a CNN story.  I wonder if he and his wife asked god’s permission to rip-off Pennsylvania like that?

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/13/santorum-rails-against-maher-on-christian-madrassa-comment/

But let’s go back to Virginia, for a visit to the Dark Ages.  It is not really for lovers, as their bumper sticker used to say.  It’s for rednecks and misogynists.  My very first blog in April 2010 was about Governor Bob proposing “Confederate History Month.”  The same governor was involved in Virginia’s latest plan to force sonograms on women seeking abortions.  This is legally-required rape using a medical instrument, since the law initially would have required a vaginal probe.  That it passed, minus the “probe,” is a small consolation.  That burqa is sounding pretty good right about now, isn’t it?  (You can read the Reuters update on the Virginia law at the link below.)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/29/us-abortion-virginia-idUSTRE81S0DR20120229

A more subtle form of demeaning women can also be considered in the context of freedom of religious expression.  For example, I support the right of Muslim women to wear a hijab, but I sure wish they didn’t want to.  In Lancaster County Amish women, and many Mennonites, wear “coverings.”  These are sort of a large yarmulke for women made of stiff white netting.  They cover their heads in deference to God and men.  Ask yourself, do men have to do it?  Of course not.  Again, the same principle as a burqa.

The rhetoric associated with the Virginia law is the ‘War on Women.’  If you actually think it was not going on underground (without regard to political party) then you are either lucky or oblivious.  The same system that patronizes and oppresses women regularly commits other sins.  Listen to the mean-spirited talk by Republican presidential candidates or radio-mouth-piece /hate-mongers and see how fashionable it is to pillory the impoverished, like poverty is synonymous for lethargy, not disadvantage.

When all the children of (at least) this country are well-educated and well-fed, then I am willing to engage in a conversation about abortion, but not before.  To caw-caw about protecting fetuses when already-born children are abused and neglected is a mask for oppressing poor women.  Keep in mind that women of means will always be able to get an abortion, so all the moral superiority by the Santorum Blue Jays of the world is moot for the wealthy.

There is a difference in both religion and ethics between influencing individual behavior and oppressing select human beings or groups of people.  I have written this before, but it bears repeating: protecting patriarchy is about power and control, not about God.  Religious folks trying to bully others into their own ethical system are just arrogant.  Politicians using religious rhetoric to procure votes are the worst sort of prostitutes.  Shameless politicians and religious bullies need to watch some Bill Maher and make less noise.  When I hear Blue Jays I just want to tell them to shut-up already.

-J.B.

Take Christ Out of Christmas

There is an old Gene Autry version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” with a lyric that says, “And let’s give thanks to the Lord above because Santa Claus comes tonight.”  This is a blend of the secular and religious that belongs on Anderson Cooper’s “RidicuList.”  Another disappointing example of blending religious themes with non-religion was posted on CNN’s “Belief Blog,” written by Tangela Ekhoff, “My Take: Being poor on Christmas.”  She said, “As our family awaits the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we anticipate and long for a better world not just for us but for others who suffer in the ‘new’ economic reality: poverty.  My greatest hope, as we await the birth of Jesus, is that God restores our family financially.”  (The full column can be read at the following link.)

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/17/my-take-being-poor-on-christmas/?iref=allsearch

The lead paragraph of Ekhoff’s column talks about the purchasing of “the Showstopper” gift for her children as the highlight of Christmas.  The inability to purchase a “Showstopper” gift is not poverty.  Not being able to buy groceries is poverty, and that’s for the working poor.  How about not having drinking water readily available?  There are millions of children around the world who do not long for a “Showstopper” Christmas gift, but a meal and a drink of water.

All those Christian fanatics complaining about putting Christ in Christmas need both a history lesson and to take a look at their own congregations.  The Christmas season has become a shopping holiday.  Secular capitalism owns the season from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to after-Christmas sales extending to Martin Luther King Day in January.  Even King is losing his day to shopping, as dead presidents do in February.  Occasionally there is some Secular Humanism mixed in the holiday season and some attention is paid to charitable gifts and actions.  However, Christianity does not have exclusive ownership of those activities either.

My friend Kathleen (I’ve mentioned her before-she’s the smart science teacher) reminded me that Jesus’ birth was not observed by the early church until hundreds of years after he died (Rome c.336, Oxford Dictionary of World Religions).  For those of you interested in the life of Jesus, he spent his time with the poor and disenfranchised.  When the Christian Bible talks about gifts, it is usually referring to the gifts that enable Christians to serve the needs of humanity.  By the way, I also don’t think Jesus expects Christian households to have a birthday cake and sing him Happy Birthday.  (Yes, I do know people that do this.)

Before any of you get all uppity about having Christmas swiped by consumers and non-believers, bear in mind the Christians stole this holiday from the pagans.  There is no record of Jesus actual birth day and the December observance coincided with winter solstice parties – which were not to be missed.  In other words, the early Christian church was having trouble hanging on to members so they adopted Saturanlia and transformed it to fit their own mythology.  So it should not be shocking to anyone that the run-away capitalism of this country would do the same thing in this century.

Santa Claus and Christmas gifts are no more Christian than July Fourth or Thanksgiving.  Both of those are secular holidays with non-religious traditions.  You can still go to church on these holidays and your religion can adopt its own interpretation of the holidays in keeping with its ideology, but in a pluralistic society, it would be ridiculous to impose those interpretations on everyone else.  In fact, trying to impose your personal beliefs on others is inherently un-Christian.

None of this means that Christians can’t enjoy a Christmas tree or gift exchanges – though I’d skip the birthday cake because that is over-the-top trite.  The point is that those activities, while pleasant, are essentially not related to Christianity.  So what?  There’s nothing wrong with secular rituals.  These help us connect with other people, which is what Jesus did all the time.

Consider Habitat for Humanity.  This is an openly Christian organization.  They offer houses to qualifying families, regardless of religion, and accept donations from religious and non-religious organizations and individuals.  They may have some religious expression, but conversion is not required to receive a home or to help build one.  One volunteer said, “Hey atheists don’t pool together and help build houses for poor people – we’ve got to go somewhere,” (p.211 Habitat for Humanity, Jerome P. Baggett).

Putting a nativity scene on your front yard does not keep Christ in Christmas and the compassion of Christianity is not a seasonal activity.  Enjoy the gifts, the food, the parties, and even the family – if that’s possible.  But consider my thoughts on how little of this season is related to the life work of Jesus.  Christmas is not an opportunity to bully people into the same interpretation that you have.  It could be the opportunity to share traditions in a pluralistic society in a way that we can learn from each other, rather than force a false theology.

What would Tiny Tim say?  “God bless us, everyone.”  Yes, everyone.  Even the pagans.

Happy Holidays Everyone! -J.B.

The War Monk: Yes, there is one

The death of Osama bin Laden is an opportunity for reflection.  He was a religious wanna-be.  He did not have religious training and his interpretation of Islam was neither Orthodox nor representative of the majority of Muslims (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/04/bin-ladens-theology/).  Every religion is vulnerable to the theft or distortion of ideology for political gain.  Buddhism is not immune either.  Yes, there is a “War Monk,” and he is Buddhist.

I was introduced to the War Monk in an article in Foreign Policy (FP) magazine.  He was quoted saying, “We musn’t talk to them; we can crush the LTTE [Tamil Tigers].  It is like surgery.”  He was not alone – he made the list: “The List: The World’s Worst Religious Leaders,” (4/7/2009).  FP was quoting Athuraliye Rathana, a Theravadan Buddhist Monk and member of the Sri Lankan parliament.  FP did not coin his nickname, and their list included representatives from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.

Most Americans are not looking for the latest news about Sri Lanka.  Searches of CNN and MSNBC produced very few stories.  There is one MSNBC/AP story today (5/6/2011) and one story on CNN posted 5/2/2011.  BBC News Online posted a story on April 13, “Sri Lanka rejects secret UN war report as ‘flawed.’”  The United Nations was looking into war crimes associated with the civil war between the victorious government and the Tamil Tiger challengers.  The top leaders of the Tamil Tigers are dead and the UN wanted to investigate both sides in regard to the civilian deaths which human rights groups say are in the thousands.

One would think that a UN report on war crimes would be sensational enough to grab headlines, but apparently not when it’s Sri Lanka.  What really grabbed the UK media was that the War Monk, Rathana, was wielding his rhetorical sword their direction.  On May 21, 2009 the London Times Online posted the story “Victorious war monk Athuyaliye Rathana turns on Britain.”  Well now, that’s a little closer to home than the Indian Ocean.

The history of this exotic Indian Ocean island should be required reading in all seminaries, kibbutzim, ashrams, and madrasahs.  The story of Sri Lanka is one of years of tragedy and violence that in proportion to its population, compares to the U.S.’s Civil War, World War II, Darfur, and al Qaeda all in one little slice of hell that is slightly larger than West Virginia.

The New Yorker had a comprehensive article (01/17/2011) by Jon Lee Anderson who had been to Sri Lanka before and since the current government crushed the Tiger rebellion.  His 15-page story is worth every word.  It should be read as a shocking example of what people around the globe have in common with Sri Lanka.  The Tamil Tigers were using suicide bombers back before most Americans gave that phrase a thought.  Sri Lanka’s 26-year conflict has followed ethnic and cultural lines in which the majority is Buddhist and the minority is Hindu.  The Tigers were “guerilla fighters” (p.41) who were eventually crushed by the government in shocking brutality which caught up thousands of civilians – one report said 40,000 (p.42).

When Anderson was in Sri Lanka in 1986 he said, “The Army had developed a pattern of mass arrests, torture, and, with growing frequency, murder.  He met with a Tamil Catholic priest about whom he said, “The conflict had grown so terrible that he had come to question the very existence of God,” (p. 45).

Remember, Hinduism was the religion of Mahatma Gandhi.  One of the five precepts of Buddhism is do not kill.  But in the end, the Sri Lanka story is not about Buddhism or Hinduism.  It’s about power and exploitation.  The exploitation is more potent when a religious imperative can be contrived, like using the Bible to justify slavery.  Sadly, Sri Lanka has shown us that any religion can be hijacked.

It seems disturbingly easy for humans to desensitize themselves to violence, and even grisly oppression, when all that matters is that you are not the one who is being oppressed.  When tracing the roots of atrocities (in which most religions have had some role over time), there is also some relationship to the local economy.  The poor were bin Laden’s target audience and the lack of egalitarian economic opportunity set the stage in Sri Lanka.

Bin Laden was one of the most notorious opportunists in recent history, but there are many like him and the War Monk, who take advantage of poverty, exploit religious rhetoric, and justify their own political agenda.  We should be more frightened of poverty than terrorism.  If people are not hungry and have jobs, it becomes easier to learn to separate the religious practices of the faithful from the propaganda of the unscrupulous.

I’m not sleeping better because bin Laden is dead.  When there are enough jobs in Sri Lanka and no more hungry children in Afghanistan, then I’ll sleep better.  That goes for things at home, too.  The original terrorist is poverty.

– J.B.

Jesus the Socialist

In a prior career, I was in advertising where I learned that seven words or less make the best billboard copy.  I always liked that method of getting to the point, but I would not confuse billboards with literature.  Not everyone would agree with me.

While I was sitting in a hospital waiting room the size of a walk-in closet, I had the unavoidable misfortune to overhear two local pundits discussing Obama as a Socialist.  I don’t want to sound like a snob, but I was pretty sure neither of these geniuses had ever heard of Friedrich Engels or Karl Marx, unless someone at their church had the same name.  I fixed one of those glares on them that my mother used to use on me and that was enough to provoke a response.  He said something brilliant like, “Looks like somebody doesn’t like what we saying.”  I simply replied, “It’s such a shame you don’t read much.”  That was less than I wanted to say because you see both of these inspired philosophers were carrying Bibles.  Then Intellectual Number One said, “I do read.  There is a billboard in Texas that says Obama is a Socialist.”  I’m not sure which was more disconcerting, that he considered reading a billboard really reading, or that he believed what he read on a billboard was absolute truth.

It’s a pretty safe bet that the intellectuals mentioned here can’t master a Google search, but I can dream that they have a dictionary.  A simple dictionary look-up offers a few manageable sentences to help understand the actual meaning of the word being tossed about.  Dictionary.com defines socialism as a system of community ownership.  Utopian socialism is even more interesting and is defined as, “an economic system based on the premise that if capital voluntarily surrendered its ownership of the means of production to the state or the workers, unemployment and poverty would be abolished,” (the same source).

From where I’m sitting, a system without unemployment and poverty deserves consideration.  Now, don’t overreact.  I’m not promoting socialism.  I’m just suggesting that unregulated capitalism has led to runaway greed, and as a result record unemployment.  In a capitalistic society, losing your job is economic cancer.  The social toxin more potent than racism is classism.  All races, more than anything else, don’t want live in poverty, and the lucky hope the poor did something to deserve it, so it doesn’t happen to them.

Since I outed myself in the last column as having more familiarity with Christianity than other religions, and since it is the majority religion in this country, I am comfortable addressing Jesus and socialism – a column topic recommended by my friend Kathleen.  Jesus was not a big proponent of social systems, though he was comfortable challenging them.  Challenging the status quo was something he had in common with Marx, Engels, and Max Weber.  He was also a big fan of the poor.  He spent most of his time with social outcasts.  In today’s world, I would suggest that to be AIDS patients (lepers), victims of domestic abuse (adulterous woman about to be stoned), blue collar neighborhoods (fishermen), and the like.

When most people today use the term “socialist,” it is to obtain emotional responses from the uninformed.  It is intended to evoke a similar reaction to the old Cold War era fear of communism.  Labeling Obama a socialist gives folks a way to name-call without being accused of racism.  You are free to criticize his policies or how they are implemented, but if caring about the poor, the unemployed and the uninsured is socialism, then we need some more of it.

Concern for the greater good and the welfare of millions of disadvantaged people is not socialism, it’s being a decent human being.  It’s about time some leader of this country tried to help those who cannot help themselves.  All the hunting in the world will not makes jobs available for everyone who needs one.  Obama is the one who told us in the campaign that we can’t expect folks to pick themselves up by their bootstraps if they don’t have shoes.  I don’t care if he has all the answers or perfect policies.  I am grateful that someone in leadership is even talking about helping others.  Jesus is the one that said if you do it for the least of these, you’re doing it for me.  Bring on the Socialist Jesus because this is one greedy, troubled country.  Hiding your racism behind inflammatory labels on the president does not help the disadvantaged.  If you carry a Christian Bible, then you are signing up to care about others.  Here’s my billboard: “If you’re racist, you’re not Christian. Choose.”  How about those seven words?