Hard-hitting article in HuffPo: “White Evangelicals Will Never Make America Great Again.” The title says it all, but here are a few quotable passages…

This “great” America ostracizes the marginalized, seeks profits over people on a global scale and uses inflammatory rhetoric to justify its violence. It is a version of America where Muslims are not allowed entry, where buying a wedding cake cannot be a free act for LGBTQ people, where children are separated from their parents and put in cages and all the while a real-estate investor-leader of the free world threatens his nuclear power with impunity…

It seems that the more immoral Trump’s behavior, the more evangelicals scramble to his defense, throwing the Bible at his scandals to defend their political savior. From defending the caging of children at the border by quoting Romans, to using the Scriptures to smooth over an affair with a porn star, white evangelical politicians are maintaining that into order to make America great again, we must in effect make America Christian, leaning on the myths that the United States was ever good, virtuous and committed to the teachings of Jesus.

In seeking to be the light of the world through moral control, Christians have succeeded only in giving power to the whites of the world while perpetuating darkness for people of color and other marginalized identities.

It’s become clear that the way and teachings of Jesus are inferior and disposable when political power is on the table. Evangelicals have exchanged the way of Jesus for a mythical past greatness where America was Christian. They live to reach backward to a time of greatness as fictional as Narnia, seeking a magical land where they are given power by God to dominate all others instead of simply admitting that they have created and perpetuated that power all by themselves…

They have ignored present demographics that prove that “American” does not mean “white,” because if they acknowledged the full humanity of people of color, they would have to reckon with historical slavery and genocide, and the present-day caging of children and police brutality.

They have ignored the calls of Jesus to make ourselves humble and small, to love our enemies and to choose the non-violent way because if they were to acknowledge these teachings, they would have to reject the militarism (and its subsequent budget), their obsession with guns and make reparations for our historical globalized violence.

A group that cannot decide between God and country will always inevitably choose the country that blesses them with tangible and violent power, and they will settle with attributing that to God. The power that Jesus offers seems to be much less politically sexy. Jesus asks us to rely on the power of gentleness, and inclusion, and reject the fear of the “other” in the spirit of greater life for all, not the protection of power and authority of some.

Jesus never asked Christians to make a Christian nation. On the contrary, He asked them to pledge their allegiance to His kingdom. The notion of prioritizing country is inherently unChristian and it has become exceedingly clear that while evangelicals claim to want greatness in the name of God, that they will settle for creating a pseudo-theocracy in the image and name of President Trump.

Evangelicals continuously use the Bible in order to oppress others and have called it greatness. This community will never make America great because it cannot see its own hypocrisy. Evangelicals will sacrifice every word of Jesus in order to see their political ends met.

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Where the Devil Sits

A few weeks ago I went for a routine blood test. As normally happens, the phlebotomist looked at the long list of tests ordered by my physician and whistled. I suppose it was to distract myself from counting the number of tubes she was extracting from the drawer that I asked how she was “surviving the Age of Trump.” She is African-American; I’m white. Over the past year and a half we’ve had a few good heart-to-heart conversations about what is happening to our country. Like me, she’s in her late fifties, a committed Christian, active in her church body. I shared with her some of the struggles we’ve had, as parents of a biracial child, finding a church here in the Bible Belt.  I told her a few stories of the subtle racism that we’ve encountered. She had grown up in the South, had attended church all her life, so I knew what I shared wouldn’t surprise her, as it has me. She just nodded her head sympathetically. Then, when I was done, she looked at me, sighed, put her hand on mine and said something succinctly profound: “Honey, when it comes to racism, the church is where the devil sits.”

I’ve just endured my daily scanning of the headlines, read the transcript of another creepy press conference from hell in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders (à la Jeff Sessions) defended the separation of immigrant children from their parents, citing the Bible. I can only feel pity for someone who is clearly a shipwrecked soul. One could say, when you mix religion and politics, you get politics. Yet the twisted sophistries that come from her mouth have an old and familiar ring.

The racist policies of this administration, which seem daily to out-Herod Herod, are deeply rooted in a cruel and cultic brand of white-European Protestant Christianity that centuries ago allied itself with colonialism (which was also an outgrowth of capitalism). It has had various manifestations, justifying genocide, slavery, manifest destiny, Jim Crow, white supremacy, the re-education of Native American children. We thought it was dead, or at least dying. In reality, it was just waiting in the corner doing push-ups, getting ready for the last battle, waiting for a champion.

Let’s face it. When it comes to racism, the church (55 years after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech) is still where the devil has his seat. We thought we had evolved beyond this, that we could solve this through education alone. But racism is also a demonic principality that must be pulled down, through repentance, prayer, and the word of God. Racism is not powerful merely because of what it is, but also because of where it sits, cockily ruling over the hearts and minds of those who call themselves “God’s people.” Unless pastors wake up and start attacking this dragon from the pulpit, unless we repent, disenthrall ourselves, and start praying, we will still be fighting this battle a century from now.

 

 

 

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7 Myths about the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Helpful things to keep in mind while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flares.

Also, here’s a site with shocking but reliable stats on the conflict.

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Which Country Will the U.S. Invade Next?

Disturbingly insightful article in TruthDig about the role of big banking and the dollar in U.S. foreign policy. The author concludes that what makes certain Middle Eastern countries ripe for U.S. invasion/toppling is not human rights violations, dictatorship, state-sponsored terrorism, WMDs, or just oil, but an economic decision to move away from the dollar as hard currency toward other currencies like the euro or dinar. Saddam Hussein did it. So did Gadhafi. Then Syria. Now Iran. Last week, Iran made the decision, so not surprisingly, the engines of U.S. propaganda are revving up for war.

Many of you know about Gen. Wesley Clark’s famous quote about seven countries in five years…. “We’re going to take down seven countries in five years. We’re going to start with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, then Libya, Somalia, Sudan. We’re going to come back and get Iran in five years.”…

“What do these seven countries have in common? … [N]one of them is listed among the 56 member banks of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). That evidently puts them outside the long regulatory arm of the central bankers’ central bank in Switzerland. The most renegade of the lot could be Libya and Iraq, the two that have actually been attacked.”…

In fact, on Jan. 4, it was reported that Pakistan was ditching the dollar in its trade with China, and that same day, the U.S. placed it on the watch list for religious freedom violations. The same day? Are we really supposed to believe that it just so happened that Pakistan stopped using the dollar with China on the same day it started punching Christians in the nose for no good reason? No, clearly Pakistan had violated our religion of cold hard cash.

This leaves only one question: Who will be next on the list of U.S. illegal invasions cloaked in bullshit justifications? Well, last week, Iran finally did it: It switched from the dollar to the euro. And sure enough, this week, the U.S. military-industrial complex, the corporate media and Israel all got together to claim that Iran is lying about its nuclear weapons development. What are the odds that this news would break within days of Iran dropping the dollar? What. Are. The. Odds?…

Point is, as we watch our pathetic corporate media continue their manufacturing of consent for war with Iran, don’t fall for it. These wars are all about the banking. And millions of innocent people are killed in them. Millions more have their lives destroyed.

 

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Why African-American Christians Are Leaving White Churches

Check out this New York Times article on the “quiet exodus” of African-Americans from white churches.

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Good article in HuffPo about U.S. economic inequality.

Despite all the hand-wringing about economic insecurity among white voters during the last election, white families in the U.S. are doing pretty well for themselves. In 2014, the median income for white households was $71,300 compared to $43,300 for black households. Among households headed by someone with a college degree, the median income for whites was $106,600, much higher than the $82,300 median income for blacks.

An even starker measure of inequality than income, and a more enduring one, is wealth. Think about the difference this way: Income is what you get weekly or monthly, and wealth is what you would have if your income stopped. Even average white families have a huge wealth advantage, but they don’t realize it. Census data reveals that the median assets of white families amounted $132,483 in 2013, compared to just $9,211 for black families. Yet white Americans, and especially higher-income whites, vastly overestimate the progress toward economic equality between blacks and whites, according to a 2017 article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

…Even the language of the “wealth gap” in the well-meaning Center for American Progress report misses the role that white families play in perpetuating these inequalities. The report describes blacks as “struggl[ing] to keep pace with their white counterparts,” which makes the wealth gap sound like a failure on the part of black families to “keep pace.” The truth is that white families took advantage ― and continue to take advantage ― of racist housing policies and pass the resulting equity on to their (presumably white) children.

…Consider the issue of school segregation, a classic case of white families ― especially white mothers ― hoarding resources for their children at the expense of their non-white peers. Reporter Nikole Hannah Jones has documented white parents’ efforts to fight the desegregation of public schools, a fight that recalls the black-and-white photographs of the 1960s and the busing riots of the 1970s, but that persists today, even in self-proclaimed liberal communities.

The problem of wide gaps in school funding is directly linked to housing segregation, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We could fund all schools equally so that all children had the same quality education. Instead, we have built ― and white families continue to insist upon ― a system in which being able to afford a more expensive house means you can send your child to a better school. That’s a form of hoarding of opportunity for the children in one community at the expense of all the children.

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Deux Jours, Une Nuit (2014): a Marxist Perspective

deuxjoursunenuit

Copyright 2017 by S. J. Munson

 

Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night, 2014) is a Belgian film directed by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and starring Marion Cottilard. It is an encouraging story of a female factory worker who finds both courage and identity in the face of the betrayal of her coworkers and the intimidation of her employers. The film also depicts the conflict between capitalism and humanity and exposes a very old strategy of exploitation, both of which themes lend themselves easily to a Marxist interpretation.

In order to approach this film from a Marxist perspective, we must first define what we mean by Marxism. In its original form, as developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Marxism is a system of thought that views socioeconomic history through the lens of class conflict. In the capitalist stage of economic development, the class struggle is between the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, and the proletariat, who, having no means of production themselves, must sell their labor for wages. The concentration of the means of production in the hands of a few allows the capitalist class to exploit labor as a commodity (“The exploitation of the many by the few,” [Marx and Engels, Manifesto, ch. 1]). The laborer, who is treated as merely a means of increasing capital, rather than as a being with physical, social, and spiritual needs, therefore becomes alienated not only from her own work, but also from her own humanity (Marx, “Working Day,” 388). The first stage in revolution, or radical socioeconomic change, is the development of a class-consciousness on the part of the proletariat that will cause it to work in its own best interest.

The film’s setting is symbolic: located outside of Liège, Belgium, along the Meuse River, it is a region significant as the first site of European industrialization in the early nineteenth century, and since the 1960s, known for its high unemployment and labor unrest (Baum, 104). Thus from the outset, the directors, well known for decades of filmmaking addressing the lives of the working poor in French-speaking Wallonia, seem to want to connect this intimate story with the wider history of capitalism and issues of labor injustice (Baum, 103).

Sandra Bya, the film’s protagonist, a young woman married with two children, works for a small company that manufactures solar cells. At the beginning of the film, she is just returning to work after a leave of absence due to depression and a suicide attempt. It is hinted that her nervous strain may be the result of work-related stress and of the family’s ongoing financial difficulties. Thus, from the start, as a protagonist, she could be said to represent self-alienation resulting from capitalist exploitation. According to Marx, capitalism not only robs human labor of its “moral and physical conditions of development;” it may also be responsible for the worker’s early death. The capitalist sees excess population as a labor surplus (cheap labor), rather than as “generations of human beings stunted, short-lived, quickly replacing each other” (Marx, “Working Day,” 390).

“These laborers,” write Marx and Engels in their Manifesto, “who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market” ( ch.1). In the film, due to increased global production, and thus competition, the factory must cut costs. To save money, the owner M. Dupont plans to eliminate one position, Sandra’s. Her prolonged absence has demonstrated that they can do better financially without her and with only a slight increase in overtime for the others. However, to silence any potential objections by other employees, he decides to piece out the blame for her redundancy by allowing them to choose: Sandra may keep her job if they are all willing to forgo their annual 1,000 euro bonus. By this Mephistophelian strategy Dupont hopes to stifle any opposition and to set the workers against each other, all under the guise of a “democratic” vote. He counts on the success of this scheme, since he knows that his workers, many of whom are immigrants, live on the threshold of poverty and must work two or more jobs to support their families. As Marx and Engels state, “This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves” (Manifesto, ch. 1). If capitalism has one fear, it is the solidarity of its workforce. Thus Dupont seeks to divide in order to dominate. Any possible division or competition among his workers is exploited to prevent them from finding a common cause, and thus organizing resistance.

Sandra cannot afford to lose this employment. Her family has already lived in subsidized low-income housing, and she does not want to return there. As stated in the Communist Manifesto, “No sooner is the exploitation of the laborer by the manufacturer so far at an end that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.” (ch.1). Thus, Sandra’s dilemma is a product of a bourgeois system of oppression, both inside and outside the workplace.

The dehumanization of laborers and their alienation, first from their work, then from one another, are important themes in the film. It is not surprising, for example, that the first vote is taken in Sandra’s absence. This way, her coworkers need not look into her eyes. In fact, every-thing has been arranged by the employer in the most aseptic manner to avoid contamination with human emotion. “It’s as if I don’t exist!” she complains. She does exist, however, and she arrives at the factory just in time to give a human face to the dilemma. The rest of the film follows Sandra as she visits the homes of her fellow employees, trying to sway their vote by proving to them that she does indeed have a face. She has an uphill battle since many of her coworkers refuse even to see her, while their spouses try to shame her for trying to take food out of their children’s mouths.

Although Sandra eventually loses her job (the final vote is an 8-to-8 tie), M. Dupont, impressed at how passionately she has campaigned to keep it, offers her another position, that of her coworker Alphonse, a poor Congolese immigrant who voted for her, but whose contract is about to expire. Through her ordeal, however, she has come to know her fellow employees and their families personally. Thus, for Sandra, Alphonse is no longer just a “contract,” as he is to Dupont; he has a face, a wife, and children, and as an immigrant, an economic plight even more dire than her own. From a Marxist viewpoint, Dupont is simply trying to force Sandra to accept that competition among employees is an economic reality, a “natural force” rather than a choice (Manifesto, ch. 1). Turning down the offer, she leaves the factory, now unemployed but with a new sense of self-worth and empowerment. Thus the film’s ending represents a kind of personal triumph of humanity over greed, of solidarity over anonymity, and of humanization over dehumanization. She has rediscovered her humanity and has a new, though developing class-consciousness.

According to classic Marxism, true art should reflect reality honestly, as well as be a means of raising class-consciousness, of transforming the audience and motivating them to action (Shaw). As a film Deux jours, une nuit approaches this goal. Unfortunately, as true as her con-version seems, Sandra is only one person. This focus on individual transformation rather than that of society as a whole continues to be a tendency of Western, and therefore capitalist, cinema. By contrast, many Marxist films of the early Soviet era shunned individualism and star-centered narratives in favor of a more collective approach: society is changed or transformed not by individuals, but by the collective action of anonymous people working in solidarity. One might cite as an example Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1928), which uses no professional actors and depicts the Revolution as being accomplished by crowds of people.

Seen through a Marxist lens, Deux jours, une nuit gives a human face to the ongoing class struggle between labor and capital. As a proletarian exploited for her labor and alienated both from herself and her coworkers, Sandra is a mere commodity to her employer and therefore expendable. Yet faced with the loss of an income her family desperately needs, as well as the in-human and manipulative methods used by her employer to force her out, the normally passive protagonist grows angry and decides to fight back. Her efforts to get to know her coworkers, and to get to be known by them, put her on a sometimes frustrating but ultimately rewarding journey of developing solidarity and class-consciousness.

 

Works Cited

Baum, Christopher. “A Working-class Tale of Embodiment and Belonging: Two Days, One Night.” New Labor Forum, September 2015, pp. 102-04, http://journals.sagepub.com. libproxy.uncg.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/1095796015597452. Accessed 9 March 2017.

Deux Jours, Une Nuit. Directed by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, performances by Marion Cotillard and Fabrizio Rongione, Cinéart, 2014.

Marx, Karl. “The Working Day (1867).” Critical Theory, edited by Robert Dale Parker, Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 388-94.

——, and Friedrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Marx/Engels Selected Works. Translated by Samuel Moore, vol. 1, Progress Publishers, 1969, http://www.marxists.org/ archive/ marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/. Accessed 9 March 2017.

Shaw, Dan. “Sergei Eisenstein.” Senses of Cinema, vol. 30, 2004, sensesofcinema.com/2004/ great-directors/eisenstein/. Accessed 9 March 2017.

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