Monthly Archives: November 2012

Our Lower Lip

In the slapstick film The Great Race (1965), the Great Leslie, a dashing, turn-of-the-century daredevil, and his crew are stranded on a rapidly melting iceberg with arch-nemesis Professor Fate (boo! hiss!). Leslie takes daily measurements of the ice and privately expresses his concern to the cynical Professor:

Leslie: Thirty seven inches to go.

Fate: Oh, 37 inches to go. Huzzah! At the rate we’ve been melting, that’s good for about one more week!

Leslie: You’d better keep it to yourself.

Fate: Oh, of course I’ll keep it to myself. Until the water reaches my lower lip, and then I’m gonna mention it to SOMEBODY!

With both polar ice sheets melting at an alarming rate, a year full of record-breaking temperatures, droughts, massive wildfires, and dramatic killer storms, the American corporate media are still mum when it comes to climate change. Of all the news stories on the Colorado fire and Hurricane Sandy, none even mentioned climate change as a related issue. Although scientists the world over are in agreement as to the human causes of global warming (it’s no longer even an issue for debate), our media still has its head in the sand (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say, its mouth gagged). Meanwhile, the climate clock is ticking; each day scientists shake their heads over increasingly bad news that continues to sink their conservative models. While it is too late to head off the more immediate effects of rising temperatures (rising sea levels, disappearing islands, species extinctions, and more and more giant storms), it may not be too late to mitigate the even more dire long-range forecast, if we act now.

But that would take a miracle. It’s hard enough to get major industrial nations to work together, but having Big Oil (the most powerful force on the planet next to Satan himself) in the mix almost assures that nothing of any substance will be accomplished. That is, maybe, perhaps, until conditions get so bad that the water reaches our lower lips.

But for now, according to the corporate media, the major signs of the coming apocalypse are the yawning fiscal cliff and the demise of the Twinkie.

But take heart, here comes Seabiscuit. On a recent CBN broadcast, Pat Robertson made an earth-shattering, ex cathedra pronouncement. He actually admitted that Bishop Ussher’s 1654 timeline was “not inspired by the Lord,” so that the earth is not really 6,000 years old. Wow. In what is ironically quite a courageous statement for these Dark Ages we live in, Robertson announced that “if you fight revealed science, you’re going to lose your children.” I don’t think he meant it the way it sounded, but it’s quite prophetic really. Centuries too late on one level, but nonetheless prophetic on another.

So don’t fear. The church is on the march. At this rate we should be on target to issue an anachronistic apology about climate change by 2419. If there’s still anyone around to hear it, it will be just as stunning as the Vatican’s 1992 apology to Galileo.

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The High Price of A Discount Culture

Wal-Mart has been in the news a lot recently. No, I don’t mean all those grand sales and bargains. Over Thanksgiving weekend, workers at one thousand stores were on strike, protesting deplorable conditions and wages so low, the company trains its personnel how to apply for Public Assistance. Despite all the action and calls for solidarity, shoppers could not keep themselves away but came in like tsunamis to rake in all those lovely discounts.

Then on Saturday, a gruesome tragedy occurred in Bangladesh, with a fire killing 124 workers at a factory that produced garments for, guess who, Wal-Mart, among others. The mostly young women worked in deplorable conditions for 21 cents an hour. Meanwhile, Stateside, our annual yuletide shop-til-you-drop bacchanal is just getting into gear. “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

Does a house have to fall on us? I suppose that’s coming next. Are you getting the impression that people just don’t listen? Is it all part of the same systemic illness: people with middle and low incomes, continuing to lose economic ground because of corporate greed, and being forced to shop at discount chains where greed is enshrined and workers are paid a non-living wage? Sounds cannibalistic. Or is it just our consuming culture—as Shakespeare would say, “Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme”—that we would step over the bodies of our fellow human beings, or if necessary trample them, to snatch that bargain?

Whichever the case, it’s important that we see that no matter at whom we point the finger—Wal-Mart CEOs or their suppliers—we the consumer are the ones who drive this economy. Management may set the policy, but we give it legitimacy with our dollars. We may not create the beast, but we feed it, else it would starve.

If you listen to corporate media, you would think those women who burned to death beyond recognition were grateful to have a low-paying job. (I have to laugh with disbelief. It reminds me of the disgusting arguments 18th and 19th-century slavery proponents gave for the economic benefits of the slave trade.) Perhaps the workers were grateful to have any income at all, but I doubt they were grateful for the dangerous work conditions, for being treated with so little respect. I’m sorry, I don’t buy the line that my buying these products grows the economy in the world’s poorest nations. Not when Wal-Mart’s CEO makes more in one hour than the average worker in a whole year.

My household is committed to a Buy Nothing Christmas this year. (No, it’s not a Bolshevik plot. The idea comes from some cool Canadian Mennonites.) Not only will we not shop at places like Wal-Mart. We intend not to buy anything at all, if we can help it. Of course, we will give gifts, but they will be things we make, bake, giving of ourselves. The point is not just to save money or ruin Christmas, but to reorient our lives around the true meaning of the holiday and to stop feeding a consumer-driven economy that exalts greed, increases economic disparity, and trashes the planet. So if you are concerned about issues like injustice, globalization and climate change, check it out: http://www.buynothingchristmas.org/

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If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

It has been reported that MSNBC has decided to ratchet up its already partisan coverage in order to compete with its evil conservative twin Fox News. Well, it was bound to happen. But is this really what we need—a journalistic arms race, another partisan propaganda war? Seems like we’re going backward, returning to the early 19th century, when newspapers were scurrilous partisan rags that tarred and feathered their opponents with libelous accusations, while the public grew more and more ill-informed. Of this author Charles Dickens wrote,

“…[W]hile that Press has its evil eye in every house, and its black hand in every appointment in the state, from a president to a postman; while, with ribald slander for its only stock in trade, it is the standard literature of an enormous class, who must find their reading in a newspaper, or they will not read at all; so long must its odium be upon the country’s head, and so long must the evil it works, be plainly visible in the Republic” (American Notes, 1842).

Seeking the truth and informing the public are not sufficient rewards for corporate news media. They must, of course, entertain, compete for ratings and sponsor’s dollars. Where will it all end? Well, if the recent election is any barometer, with both sides having a massive arsenal of corporate cash and their respective propaganda machines trained on one another, it will end with nothing changing at all. Billions spent by both, resulting in the status quo, while millions of Americans go to bed hungry. As Isaiah puts it,

“We were with child, we writhed in labor, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not been reborn” (Isa. 26:18).

And what effect will this eskalation have on ordinary Americans but to increase acrimony and division in an already acrimonious and divided nation? Meanwhile, the real stories go un- (or under-) reported. Biased journalism is an oxymoron (with emphasis on the penult and ult). It exists to entertain, like pro wrestling.  Neither is it enough for journalism to be merely “fair and balanced.” That’s opinion. The truth is objective. This is why we need all the more to get our news from more reliable and independent sources. Good journalism does still exist– in the wild, lawless West known as the internet.

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Getting on the Right Side of History

During Tuesday night’s election coverage on Fox News, commentator Bill O’Reilly was asked how the race became so tight. This was his answer:

“Because it’s a changing country. The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things…The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that this economic system is stacked against them, and they want stuff. You’re going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things…”

One has come to expect outrageous and inflammatory comments from polarizing figures like O’Reilly. Such shocking drivel draws viewers. What hurts and offends much more deeply is to hear such things on the lips one’s fellow Christians.

Yet this, too, should not surprise us. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have often found themselves on the wrong side of history. Tragically, the very movement the Almighty intended for the uplifting of a downtrodden world has frequently proved to be a veritable millstone around the neck of human progress. History will not let us forget that Hitler was swept to power with the aid of German Christians. Slavery could not have continued to exist in the American South (and indeed elsewhere) without the assistance of the pulpit (just as Abolitionism could not have spread without the same). The Civil Rights Movement finds its roots in Christian theology; yet the church also nursed some of Dr. King’s fiercest opponents. Too often the church has sacrificed itself on the altar of the status quo, instead of on the altar of justice.

O’Reilly’s comments go beyond mere partisan politics. They are elitist, racist, and sexist to the core, designed to appeal to a broad section of white society that has always feared the advancement of women and people of color. O’Reilly would like to portray half of America as lazy, dependent, on the dole, taking and contributing nothing, expecting government to meet all their needs. His whining makes him the poster child of privileged white victimhood, which continues to shut its ears to the cries around it, as if we didn’t have 400 years of oppression and violence against people of color in this country, as if we’ve always had a level playing field. It reminds us of Pharaoh’s rebuke of Moses: “Lazy! That’s what you are! Lazy! You have too much time on your hands. That’s why you’re asking for these things! Now, go back to your bricks.”

What is it that this so-called “50%” really want? It’s true, they do want “stuff.” Stuff like the right to vote without being harassed. Stuff like equal pay for equal work. A living wage. A chance at getting a college education. And a fair shot at the American dream. Stuff like the rich and corporations paying their fair share of taxes. Being able to walk down the street without being stopped and frisked.

It is doubtful that they will get much, if any, of these things out of this particular president, who over the past four years has demonstrated little concern for the poor and marginalized, and little interest in taking on issues of race and inequality. This election was more about what they don’t want.

It is normal for people to feel disappointment, even resentment when their side loses an election. My concern is that if the Religious Right finds balm in voices like O’Reilly’s and learns nothing from this experience, if they become recalcitrant and even more firmly entrenched in their fading world view, if they continue to ally themselves with the forces of racism, sexism, and economic inequality, they will find themselves increasingly marginalized and irrelevant. It is honorable to be marginalized because one follows in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. It is foolish to become irrelevant because one has allied oneself with an elite and selfish power structure bent on preserving its privileges.

American Christians are generous people; they do an admirable job at giving things to the poor. Yet they frequently neglect something just as important: to speak on behalf of the poor, to speak prophetically against corrupt power structures and systemic injustice. Christians have no excuse for not knowing that their calling is to champion the poor and weak, that the kingdom of God is very good news for the oppressed, but bad news for the rich and powerful, that as Dr. King quoted, “The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice.”

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD. “I will protect them from those who malign them.” (Ps. 12:4-6)

“…He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Lk 1:51,53)

O’Reilly is right about one thing: this country is changing. In the very near future, white Americans (whom O’Reilly equates with “traditional America”) will be the minority. This is an indisputable and unavoidable fact. A preliminary tremor warning of this silent but inevitable shift is the fact that no presidential candidate can now win election without capturing the Hispanic vote. We saw that on Tuesday night.

It is ironic, even pathetic, that the “traditional America” we speak about so glowingly was, in fact, built upon tremendous inequality and injustice. White Christians now have an imperative opportunity to stop lecturing the poor and start listening to them, to cease whining for a past that really never existed, except in our selective memory, and to pull up a chair and realize we are no longer a dominant force, but one of many voices in an increasingly diverse nation.

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A Pyrrhic Victory

“If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”–King Pyrrhus, quoted in Plutarch’s Lives

A letter to the editor appeared in today’s issue of our city’s newspaper. (No, I did not write it.) It seems to encapsulate the disillusionment of a growing segment of our culture that increasingly identifies itself as religiously unaffiliated, secular, or even atheist.

If you read it with compassion, you might catch a tone of wistfulness and disappointment, as if the author once had higher expectations for evangelicals and perhaps still does. He may even be an admirer of Jesus, but certainly not of the church.

While the letter did not surprise me, it still filled me with sadness and not a little anger. As an evangelical,  I do not share all of the author’s opinions, but  I do understand his feelings– not because I support either candidate in this election or either party’s agenda, but because I, too, hope for much better from my fellow Christians.

If evangelicals claim victory in this week’s election, it may just be a Pyrrhic one, a case of winning the battle and losing the war.

Here is the letter:

The altar of politics

There’s no telling who will win the presidential election, but during the election process, I’ve learned quite a bit about evangelicals, who largely seem to be embracing Mitt Romney.

They do so despite the fact that Romney has based his campaign on unrepentantly telling lies. They do so even though Romney follows a religion that many of them, like the Rev. Billy Graham, have long claimed to be a cult. They do so despite the fact that his opponent spent his adult life in a Christian church and says he has been saved by Jesus Christ.

They have made abortion and same-sex marriage issues of their highest concern, rather than teaching salvation and caring for the poor. They seek to impose their beliefs on people who don’t share them, all the while ranting about liberals who seek to impose their beliefs of people who don’t share them. In doing so, they’ve turned their main issues of concern into idols and placed them above the love their God teaches and the free will that they claim to be our birthright.

They’ve abrogated women to the role of breeding cattle. They care more about a clump of unfeeling, unthinking cells, smaller than a pinpoint, than living, suffering people.

No matter which way the election goes, I’ll remember what I’ve learned about evangelicals, who have compromised their faith to become idolaters at the altar of politics.

“Evangelical” is no longer a religious description. It’s a political description.

PHIL RONALD TURNER

Winston-Salem

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