Fabian Synthesis in the Plays of Bernard Shaw

gbscopyright 2017, SJ Munson

In the tradition of New Comedy, that of the Greek pattern set forth in the plays of Menander (c. 342-290 BCE) and surviving from the works of Plautus (c. 254-184 BCE) to the present day, there is a thematic significance to the final resolution of social reconciliation. In “The Argument of Comedy,” Northrop Frye discusses the importance ofunion in the closure of New Comedy:

In all good New Comedy there is a social as well as an individual theme which must be sought in the general atmosphere of reconciliation that makes the final marriage possible. As the hero gets closer to the heroine and opposition is overcome, all the right-thinking people come over to his side. Thus a new social unit is formed on the stage, and the moment that this social unit crystalizes is the moment of the comic resolution.

At the end of the last act, with all the main characters on stage, there is a “renewed sense of social integration.” The symbolic expression of this reconciliation is normally some kind of celebration, such as a marriage, dance, or feast (Frye, 81).

Just as an ending serves to tie together the themes of a work, in the comedies of Irish playwright Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), final unions are symbolic resolutions or reconciliations of the dialectical conflicts between characters. Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic in the nature of his unions, or the quality that makes them peculiarly Shavian, is their significance as social syntheses of representative or allegorical figures. True to this own Fabianism, Shaw makes union the tool of his socialist purpose. Indeed, the allegorical union of faith and action, intellect and power, has a political significance for the author. Thus, any discussion of closure in Shaw’s plays, especially one that deals with the unions and sense of futurity in these endings, cannot ignore the influence of the playwright’s politics.

In order to approach these plays from a Fabian Marxist perspective, we must first define what we mean by Marxism and Fabianism. 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 (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). According to Marxism the only solution lies in radical socioeconomic change, or revolution, the first step toward which is the development of a class-consciousness on the part of the proletariat that will cause it to work in its own best interest. As a reaction (antithesis) to the vagaries of the capitalist market (thesis), this class-consciousness leads to the synthesis of social change in Marx’s dialectical materialism.

The Fabian Society, the socialist branch to which Shaw clung throughout his 65-year career as a novelist, then critic and dramatist, was not an organized political party but a group of intellectuals (Bentley, 2.). They distinguished themselves from traditional Marxists by rejecting the inexorability of revolution and embracing a gradualist and reformist approach. For the Fabians, socialism, chiefly the nationalization of industries, would come about gradually, not through violent uprisings but through the education of the men in power. The name they adopted, which reflects their classical education, refers to the Roman consul Quintus Fabius Maximus (c.280-203 BCE), who though vastly outnumbered, defeated the Carthaginian general Hannibal by avoiding direct confrontation. Instead of pitched battles, Fabius (named Cunctator, “the Delayer,” by his own troops) employed guerrilla tactics, attacking Hannibal’s long supply lines in a war of attrition (Plutarch, 175).

Fabian optimism was deeply rooted in early nineteenth-century utopian socialism, which believed that the more industrial civilization progressed, the more socially minded society would become (Wolfe, 245). In one of his many speeches on religion, however, Shaw points out that one of the “initial mistakes” of early “socialist bodies” was that they included everyone but the capitalists (“To the Progressive League,” 25). Without the power of the men of business who run industrial nations, change could never occur. The belief “that the whole thing will be done by ‘historical development’…” or natural “progress,” Shaw writes in the socialist paper The Clarion, is an “abominable idolatry” of an erroneous absolute (quoted in Bentley, 11). The end of Fabianism, then, is to reconcile the forces of money and political clout with the faith and intellect of the socialists, in an unbeatable superhuman union. It is the duty of the Fabian socialist not to exclude non-believers or remain an outcast but to “join every other society on the face of the earth” and “make his influence felt there” (“To the Progressive League,” 26). While the Society’s emblem is a tortoise ready to strike, the early coat of arms of the movement depicts a wolf in sheep’s clothing, indicating the disguise tactics early Fabians used to permeate every level of society (Perdue, 97). According to Shaw, Fabianism made socialism respectable without suspicion of being anarchistic or revolutionary.

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 (Dan Shaw). With his unique literary and oratory gifts, Bernard Shaw was able to “permeate,” that is, to extend Fabianism’s influence into, the realm of the arts, first as a music and dramatic critic, and later as a playwright, producing modern plays crammed with realism and socialist dialectic (Carpenter, 12). The Devil’s Disciple (1896), for example, Shaw’s eighth play first published in a collection entitles Three Plays for Puritans (1901), takes place during the American Revolution and ends on a note of celebration effected by a social integration. In Act II Mrs. Anderson, wife of the Reverend Anthony Anderson, describes Richard Dudgeon as a “bad man” and a “smuggler” who “lives with gypsies” and “has no love for his mother and his family,” a reprobate who “…wrestles and plays games on Sunday instead of going to church” (The Devil’s Disciple, in Bodley Head. II, 67-68). Likewise, because their theologies are mutually opposed, Richard regards the minister as an enemy, his dialectical opposite. In reality, the young villain is merely a Shavian type, what critic Arthur Nethercot classes as a Diabolonian, a rebel who, like the playwright himself, delights in shocking middle-class morality and exploding its hypocrisies (Nethercot, 73-74). Yet, when Dudgeon is mistaken for the preacher and arrested by British soldiers, this “Devil’s Disciple” refuses to reveal his identity and thereby proclaims his willingness to be hanged in Anderson’s stead. Dick’s sacrifice, however, is not of the sentimental kind made popular by Sidney Carton in Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities (1859), for he rejects the charge of love. He is really a vital man of “faith,” a being who stands above worldly attachments and a man of genius who sees things for what they are. On the scaffold he realizes that he risks his life for a far, far better thing than love, a greater more universal purpose. “My life for the world’s future!” (137), he cries, acknowledging his role as an instrument of some kind of Life Force, an almost divine, evolutionary power that experiments with humanity but also clearly drives at its betterment. By the end of the play, then, it has become clear that Dudgeon represents true humanitarian (or socialist) faith and intellect, unbowed and uncompromised, in Shaw’s allegory.

Richard is the vital figure around whom the play revolves; his character is subjected only to our reinterpretation, not to any great internal change. In the Reverend Anthony Anderson, however, Dudgeon’s sacrificial act effects a complete conversion. At the end of Act II, upon learning that the wrong man is to be hanged as the town’s preacher, the minister undergoes a startling transformation. In an instant he exchanges his Bible for a pair of pistols, all to the consternation of his spouse. When she asks if he will not even “say goodbye,” he blazes impatiently at her triviality: “And waste another half minute!” (107). Shaw applauds this apostasy instead of condemning it, since Anderson, for the first time in his life, discovers his true nature in leaving the ministry and converting to a Shavian “man of action” (139). The Reverend finds in “the hour of trial” that his place is “…amid the thunder of the captains and the shouting,” just as Dudgeon realizes it is his own “…destiny to suffer and be faithful to the death” (139).

By recapturing Springtown from the British, Anderson secures Richard’s release. We see then that the world is to be saved not through the individual efforts of men of faith or action but through the interaction of the two. When Dick bitterly accuses himself of making a “vain sacrifice,” the Reverend replies, “It takes all sorts to make a world—saints as well as soldiers” (139). It is the “natural tendency” of comedy, Frye writes, to include a variety of characters in its final social festival (82). Indeed, society accepts the Devil’s Disciple at the close of the play. Having shown its gratitude for the heroism of the minister, the crowd of spectators does the same for Dudgeon. The final stage directions read as follows: “Jubilation in the market. The townsfolk surge back again in wild enthusiasm with their band, and hoist Richard on their soldiers, cheering him” (141). From this point the clergyman will serve as Captain of the Springtown militia, and Dick will fill the minister’s shoes as the Reverend Richard Dudgeon and “wag his pow” in Anderson’s old pulpit (139). Shaw, then, divides his heroes into preachers and doers. Both kinds are needed, although in having the soldier save the saint, the playwright himself seems to favor action as indispensable to the survival and effectiveness of humanitarianism or religion.

Eight years later, in Major Barbara (1905), the playwright presents a much more physical union of faith and action, power and humanitarianism. The play is an arsenal of Shaw’s Fabian rhetoric, and in it his dialectical energy reaches one of its greatest heights. The author’s course is clear when, in his preface, he declares with the passion of a socialist that his main objective is to show “…that the greatest of our evils, and the worst of our crimes is poverty, and that our first duty, to which every other consideration should be sacrificed, is not to be poor” (Major Barbara, in Bodley Head, vol. 3, 23).

The character of Barbara Undershaft represents a woman of deep faith. Although she is a major in the Salvation Army, her religion, like Shaw’s, appears to be a “quite original” one (120). As her fiancé Adolphus Cusins discloses, “…the power Barbara wields [in the shelter, or] …the power that wields Barbara herself…” is not the Army’s own Methodism (119). Rather, the source of her faith lies within herself. Thus like so many of Shaw’s central characters, she too seems to be inspired by a divine will or Life Force.

In the millionaire Andrew Undershaft, however, the playwright presents the Major’s dialectical opposite, a man of power and action “…who has become intellectually and spiritually as well as practically conscious of the irresistible natural truth which we all abhor and repudiate”: namely, the iniquity of poverty (23). The cannon-maker is, as Bentley describes him, an example of that ever-present kind of Shavian freethinker, the “soft-spoken” vitalist “in harmony with himself,” a man who has “ideas and impulses” rather than “ideologies and habits” (150-51). Born orphaned and poor, Undershaft clearly recognizes, just as Mrs. Warren justifies her role as a procuress in an earlier play, that “…when society offered him the alternative of poverty or a lucrative trade in death and destruction, it offered him, not a choice between opulent villainy and humble virtue, but between energetic enterprise and cowardly infamy” (27). The munitions-maker’s “sin,” however, is also like Mrs. Warren’s: that he has continued to deal in his iniquitous trade though he has made enough money to retire.

In the two Undershafts, then, Shaw gives us two types of freethinkers, one with a love for mankind, the other with the power to destroy entire nations. Both, however, serve a universal purpose. Barbara herself admits in Act II: “My own father’s a Secularist, I think. Our Father—yours and mine—fulfills himself in many ways; and I daresay he knew what he was about” (105). As in The Devil’s Disciple, however, the author waits until the end of the play to show how these two opposite figures can work together for the amelioration of the human state.

Adolphus Cusins becomes caught in the middle of the dialectical battle. He loves Barbara for her vitality; yet beneath his contention with Undershaft, it is obvious that the two men share an affinity. The professor of Greek, for example, becomes immediately smitten by the cannon-maker’s candor in saying that the only two things necessary for salvation are “money and gunpowder,” since without them, Christian virtues remain unaffordable to the common man (116).

In Act III Cusins becomes a partner in the munitions business. His being, to some extent, an orphan satisfies Undershaft’s requirement and makes him symbolically marriageable to the firm. The professor of Greek will also marry the Major, and thus, at the close of the play, the possibility arises that he may serve as a bridge between socialism and political power. Symbolically, Cusins can combine socialist faith, intellect, and power to act. He will gain the first in a spiritual union by marrying Barbara; the second he already possesses in abundance; the third will come with his partnership in the munitions industry. That the meek professor of Greek will not hesitate to use this power is evidenced by his formerly having supplied a pupil (going off to fight the Turks) not with books but with “a revolver and a hundred Undershaft cartridges” (182). His future course, however, will not be solely one of death and destruction. Instead, it will be the path of the Life Force, not of “petty good or evil.” As Cusins discovers, man must first learn to control the forces of war before attempting to change society for the better. Indeed, the young couple join with the cannon-maker because he represents a magazine of Dionysiac forces, capable of obliterating human kind until its energies are harnessed for the universal welfare. For Shaw, power, in the form of capital and political clout, is preliminary to socialism. Without this strength one cannot dispense justice, truth, mercy, and other virtues. Just as Anderson saves Dudgeon from death, so has Undershaft rescued his daughter from the seven deadly material sins so that she can be free for religious contemplation and possibly make his own work unnecessary. At the play’s end, the munitions-maker challenges her to give up bribing poor, starving people with bread, but to try converting his own factory workers, whose souls are hungry because their bodies are full. Here we have an example of Shaw’s version of Marxist dialectical materialism, in which the material takes precedence over the spiritual. Satisfying the person’s material needs opens the door to the spiritual, which in turn creates a more ideal society.

In the physical configuration of socialist faith and power, the author demonstrates that, while the cooperation of the men in power may be indispensable to the implementation of socialism, this step is not the only one in the path of social change. Some degree of force may be necessary in order to save the socialist cause from dying out. In his letter to The Clarion, Shaw refutes the argument of other socialists who contend that there are two courses to follow, those of Parliamentary cooperation and physical force, and that each excludes the other:

Parliamentary action is usually the first stage of civil war. It brings the issues before the man in the street; it works up public feeling; and when the reactionary party is not prepared to fight, and the advancing party is, it settles the question without bloodshed. It is, of course, possible that Capitalism will go under without a fight; but I confess I should regard any statesman who calculated on that as an extremely sanguine man. The mistake made by our wildcat barricaders is not in believing that the revolution will be effected by force, but in putting the fighting at the wrong end of the process (11).

The First World War, however, shattered much of Shaw’s Fabian optimism. On the home front, the author saw enough dim-wittedness on the part of the men in power to dispel his hope for their eventual conversion. He learned rapidly that he had been screaming into deaf ears. Heartbreak House (1916-17) is evidence of the searing effect the global conflict had on Shaw the socialist. Here, the playwright presents in the character of Captain Shotover a man who has given up on the Fabian means of making the men of power wise, that is, “permeation” and cooperation (Bentley, 140). Instead, the crazy old man concentrates his energies on the perfection of a mysterious “mind ray” capable of exploding all the forces of destruction (Heartbreak House, in Bodley Head, V, 102). In other words, as Bentley states, Shotover “…is trying to attain power by means of the mind” (140). He has given up on dialectical materialism.

Mangan is the splendid capitalist, admired as a “Napoleon of industry,” yet even his millions are nothing but a mirage; he went bankrupt long ago. Yet, the awe in which he is held and the power he wields in government are a dangerous combination for the world. As one character remarks, “It’s madness: it’s like giving a torpedo to a badly brought up child to play at earthquakes with.” Mazzini Dunne was once a socialist activist who “…joined societies and made speeches and wrote pamphlets,” but all that came to nothing, since the people in the societies never learned how to handle money or manage anything. “Every year I expected a revolution, or some frightful smash-up,” he says. “But nothing happened, except, of course, the usual poverty and crime and drink that we are used to. Nothing ever does happen” (175). Instead of a socialist firebrand, Dunne has become that most well-meaning and ineffectual of individuals, the modern liberal. Here, the playwright trains his cannon on his fellow Fabians and their Labour Party comrades who, despite their idealism, have never learned to lead, thus allowing the British ship to founder. What is lacking here, obviously, is the usual Fabian duumvirate of socialist intellect and capitalist power. Yet, with capital in the hands of fools like Mangan, and socialism in the hands of Shotover, a disillusioned alcoholic, or the feckless Dunne, the only course is national disaster.

If Heartbreak House were one of Shaw’s earlier works, the play might end with a glimmer of hope for societal change. Yet a bloody world war has entered onto the stage since the composition of Major Barbara, and so the Captain’s dream of a mind ray turns out to be nothing but rum, an opiate against despair, and the play concludes with the failure of vital forces to counteract the destruction of the death-mongers. Indeed, disillusionment is the principle theme of this later play.

It would be difficult to overestimate the influence the war had on Shaw’s re-evaluation of Fabianism. Yet the faith he lost in the men and political system of his day was replaced by an increased, almost mystical conviction that the Life Force would never lose the will to fulfill its own purpose. “Shaw never abandoned his socialism,” Bentley explains,

But he did come to place less faith in the usual political machinery. And, as his faith in quick progress waned, his faith in slow progress increased. As he became less and less of an optimist over the short period, he became more and more of an optimist over the long period. This sort of optimism necessarily has its roots in a kind of faith that cuts deeper than legislation, political or economic, that cuts deeper, in fact, than socialism (45-46).

As Carpenter maintains, the playwright slowly evolved from a “gradualistic meliorist” to an “otherworldly impossibilist,” becoming more of an “artist-philosopher” than an “artist-Fabian” (88). Earlier in his career, in his essay The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1891), Shaw gives a hint at his burgeoning belief in a “crablike progress of social evolution, in which the individual advances by seeming to go backward,” a fact that “continues to elude us in spite of all the lessons of history” (20).

In the earlier comedies of Bernard Shaw, the final scenes represent more than traditional social reconciliations; they are a synthesis of thesis and antithesis, the very dialectical opposites that create the tension of the play. Specifically, the partnership of humanitarian faith, or socialist intellect, and capitalist economic and political power creates the kind of superhuman union required, from the Fabian perspective, for the transition between capitalism and socialism. Shaw was long-lived, however, and his socialism was practical and malleable as it underwent change. The First World War brought about a crisis in his growing disillusionment with Fabianism, as seen in Heartbreak House, a play that leaves us unsettled and questioning. Yet the playwright had a back-up plan, coming to rely increasingly on his faith in a kind of evolutionary drive toward progress, which he calls a Life Force and which, while not God, ever has humanity’s social amelioration (and therefore socialism) in its sights


Works Cited

Alexander, James. Shaw’s Controversial Socialism. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Bentley, Eric. Bernard Shaw. New Directions, 1947.

Carpenter, Charles A. Bernard Shaw as Artist-Fabian. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Frye, Northrop. “The Argument of Comedy,” in Theories of Comedy. Ed. Paul Lauter. Anchor Books, 1964, 450-460. http://www.yumpu.com. https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/ view/ 12290257/northrop-frye-the-argument-of-comedy-facultad-de-humanidades. Retrieved 4 April 2017.

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 4 April 2017.

Nethercot, Arthur H. Men and Supermen: The Shavian Portrait Gallery. Harvard University Press, 1954.

Perdue, John B. The War of All the People. Potomac, 2002.

Plutarch. Lives. Tr. Bernadotte Perrin, vol. 3. Harvard University Press, 1916.

Shaw, Bernard. The Bodley Head Bernard Shaw: Collected Plays with Their Prefaces. Ed. Dan H. Laurence. 7 vols. Max Reinhardt, 1970-74.

____. “To the Progressive League,” in The Religious Speeches of Bernard Shaw. Ed. Warren Sylvester Smith. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1963, 20-28.

Shaw, Dan. “Sergei Eisenstein.” Senses of Cinema, vol. 30, 2004, sensesofcinema.com/2004/ great-directors/eisenstein/. Accessed 4 April 2017.

Wolfe, Willard. From Radicalism to Socialism. Yale University Press, 1975.



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Why People Believe Fake News

If you haven’t read this article, it’s worth a read.

“…challenging someone’s political beliefs activates the same areas of the brain involved in personal identity and emotional response to threat.”

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The Great Dictator

In 1940 Charlie Chaplin released his first all-talking picture, The Great chaplinDictator (13 years after The Jazz Singer had broken the sound barrier). In the early 30s many had remarked how much he looked like Adolph Hitler, particularly around the upper lip. Der Führer apparently never thought the comparison was funny. His propaganda machine targeted Chaplin as a “Jewish acrobat,” part of that Jewish conspiracy that he believed controlled the world. That’s when the silent comic thought of capitalizing on the likeness by making a film lampooning the fascist leader. He knew one thing dictators cannot stand is being laughed at, although Chaplin later admitted that he never would have attempted such a film if he had known the true depth of the atrocities of the concentration camps.

The film was a hit, two hours of slapstick gags and political satire, all poking fun at the most hated man in America. But at the end of the film, Chaplin did something shocking and risky. He got serious. He had spent almost 30 years building capital in the hearts of Americans, Britons, and people the world over. Now he was going to spend it. He was going to use the end of the film to speak his mind. And that’s exactly what he did– for 8 minutes, he appeals to all peoples to stop the madness. Though still essentially in the character of the Jewish barber who is mistaken for Der Fooey (Der Führer), Chaplin skewers everything from fascism and capitalism to modernism and technology run amok

“I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery…

“To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

“Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

“Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!”

With the world at war, few could find fault with Chaplin’s sentiment at the time. But 7 years later, in the war’s aftermath, in a new Cold War, the filmmaker came under new scrutiny. Funny, there’s nothing like spouting off about freedom, peace, unity, and democracy to make people suspect you of communism. (Jesus would have fared no better.)

Listening to this speech today, in the context of the insanity that now passes for American politics, Chaplin’s words can give us both hope and courage.

(To read or watch the speech in its entirety, click here.)




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How to FINALLY make America Great: Author and pastor has 11 ways to stop the rhetoric and live a Christian life

[The following interview appeared in the Feb 6th edition of Spark Magazine, a quarterly publication of the Winston Salem Journal.]

By Jodi Stephenson Sarver

Feb 6, 2017

The Rev. S.J. Munson’s name might be familiar to readers of the Winston-Salem Journal’s Opinion pages as an occasional letter writer. Writing is one of his passions, and he is the author of two books, Christ Held Hostage and The Treasure of Israel, as well as plays, theological articles and fiction.         

          His other passion is ministry, and for three decades he has been an outspoken activist with a deep concern for the issues of poverty and justice. After years of identifying as a conservative, Munson had what he calls a “political epiphany” during the 2000 presidential election. He discerned that issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and prayer in school became the hot-button topics that politicians kept using every two to four years to hijack Christianity, exploit voters and win elections, he says. He checked into liberal candidates, and he found similar problems in how their platforms meshed with biblical principles. He looked to independent candidates, and felt that they fared no better. Like Goldilocks in search of the right bed, Munson felt as if none of the political parties fit “just right” with Christ’s teachings.
          “Jesus is neither Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. You can’t classify him,” Munson explains. “I can safely say that Jesus never conceived that the church would be joined at the hip with one political party or another.”

          In his book Christ Held Hostage, Munson explains that political campaigns and the corporations that fund them politicize issues that “point a finger at others for being the source of our nation’s problems” and never make most Americans face their own complicity in a corrupt and unjust system.

          He decided it was time to focus on the issues that are most prevalent in the gospels: poverty, injustice and caring for the weakest members of society and then support the behaviors, policies and candidates in line with those teachings, regardless of party affiliation. What follows are Munson’s ideas about how Americans can challenge their biases and start the process of making this country great.

          Don’t Tolerate Intolerance. More than 85 percent of American churches are still mostly segregated, according to a 2014 study by LifeWay Research and corroborated by the Brookings Institute. It’s a passive form of racism when we segregate to worship, and it’s not reflective of how heaven will be, Munson explains.

          “The church looks all the more out of touch when it doesn’t reflect its community,” he says. In Acts 7, the ancient church was also confronted with the problem of cultural intolerance. A committee was formed, and church leaders decided that the best way to defeat intolerance was to transfer power from the current ruling church group to the outsiders.

          “A great way to diffuse racism is by transferring power to the powerless. The church has to be proactive and promote people of different races to power positions,” Munson says. “The church should not be a haven for racism, misogyny or xenophobia. It should be a place where our bigotries are exposed, not massaged.”

           Work for Peace Not War. How to treat other people … our enemies, immigrants, refugees, the poor … is all covered in Old Testament law and New Testament gospels, where compassion and mercy are foundational elements.

          “We have to disenthrall ourselves of violence, hate, greed and empire,” Munson says. As a country, he believes that Americans have become desensitized to what’s done in our name around the world by our leaders.

          “We must realize that those dots on a map are real people crying out for food, jobs and life. Isn’t being concerned about the victims of war a family value? If we don’t hear them, how do we expect that God will hear our cries?” Munson asks. “How can we want food, jobs and life for our family but not for others? Sabre-rattling is not Christianity. It’s not conservative versus liberal. It’s right versus wrong.”

          Build Bridges Not Walls. Many people know the parable of the Samaritan helping the Jew, but the cultural significance of this act can be lost today. He got him to a safe place and paid for his medical care, despite harboring deep-seated dislike and distrust.

“It’s a radical teaching,” Munson says. “Not only is our enemy our neighbor, but he is also the example of how to behave.” When Jesus talks about loving your enemies, he’s talking about people who may want to hurt you, he says. “That may seem unpatriotic, but we’re Christians first. Our citizenship is not of this world. We have to choose our heavenly citizenship.”

          Be an Involved Citizen. Have you seen Finding Nemo? At the end of the film, Nemo and Marlin are reunited, but Dory and other fish are caught in a trawler’s fishing net. Nemo and Marlin mobilize the fish to swim down, and the combined pressure of all their fins swimming in the same direction snaps the net.

          “Swimming together is how change happens. Voting every two to four years is not enough to make positive change happen,” Munson says, adding that as citizens we have to get involved. “Positive change happens when like-minded people band together and demand change,” he adds. Throughout this country’s history, Christians have banded together to take on issues including workers’ rights during the industrial revolution, women’s suffrage and child labor. “It’s not up to our president to change the country. It’s up to us to step up and work together to change something,” he says.

          Another civic duty citizens have is to ensure that the information they’re reading is coming from reputable sources. Using reliable and vetted sources from ethical journalists helps ensure people aren’t hearing propaganda, Munson says. “Don’t just believe what you see, hear or read. Check it out. Truth isn’t relative.”

          Ditch the Partisan Politics. When President George Washington left office, he gave a farewell address that is amazingly prophetic. In it he says that partisan politics has the ability to destroy a republic, serving as a distraction for leaders and agitator of the public, and it “opens the door to foreign influence and corruption” and causes men to “seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual” who in turn brings about the end of the republic.

          “Bailing out of the political party system is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m not invested in the party. I’m invested in the truth and what’s best for our country,” he says.

          Rediscover Humility. Humility should be an important aspect of Christian life, but there seems to be an idea among Christians in America that they need to be in control to effect change, but this is not a biblical concept, Munson explains.

“Jesus said the greatest among you will be the servant. He led by example, and that example is to be servant.” History shows that change isn’t effective when it comes from top down by edict, he says.

          “Christianity is much more effective when we live scripture and become a moral influence than a political power. Political power just makes us hated.” Munson believes that atheism and disillusionment are on the rise in U.S., and it’s mostly due to political partisanship.

          Become an Ethical Consumer. Many Americans love discounts, inexpensive products and finding the best deal. But what’s behind the “sale” sign is likely the product of child labor, sweatshops or even slavery.

          “We have a discount culture, and we want to get the most for our money, but we need to keep justice in mind. Is what we’re buying the fruit of injustice?” Munson asks. Although fair trade clothing is expensive compared to going to discount stores, thrift stores and garage sales are good shopping options, he says.

           “Every purchase we make is a blow for or against justice, so be informed where products come from,” he advises. A good website to refer to is greenamerica.org. Another area of financial responsibility for Christians is in retirement choices. “It’s important to do business with companies that are trying to take a stand against bad practices,” he says, and he lists ussif.org as a resource for people to use to find socially responsible investments or SRIs. “They’re not perfect, but they’re companies that are trying to be ethical and take a stand.”

          Care for God’s Creation. “From page one of the Bible we’re told to take care of the environment. It should be a no-brainer for Christians,” Munson says. “And how do you take care of something that’s not yours? You take special care of it because you have to give it back.”

          Educating ourselves about the cost of what we consume and, for example, purchasing grass-fed local beef, would have a huge effect on reducing greenhouse gases. “In Revelations 11:18, God says he will destroy those who destroy the earth. If our interpretation of the scripture causes us to disrespect people or the Earth, then we need a new interpretation because it’s not following the spirit of Christ,” he explains.

Stand up to Corporate Greed. Have you seen the bumper sticker that quotes part of 2 Chronicles 7:14? “If my people will humble themselves and pray …”

          The ellipses replace an essential part of the verse, Munson says. It’s “turn from their wicked ways,” so what are our wicked ways, he asks? They are the corporate sins that we participate in because we’re part of a system, Munson explains.

          “Greed is the most serious threat to our survival as a species, and it permeates society at every level,” he says. The Bible has a lot to say about greed, and Munson refers to James 5 where Jesus’ brother chastises the rich for cheating workers and fattening themselves at the expense of the poor.

          Greed is also the main reason that Sodom was destroyed; its citizens were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned about the needy, he says. “We need to reread scriptures with new eyes and discover what’s important to God and why. We have cultural, political and religious filters that we need to remove and discover God’s priorities.”

          We’re in This Together. Another area where political leaders have hijacked Christianity, Munson notes, is by painting America as “the city on the hill,” a metaphor from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

          The phrase comes from a sermon delivered by Gov. Jonathan Winthrop to Puritans sailing to the New World, except he said that in order to become a shining city on a hill, its people had to be governed by justice and mercy, by love and generosity in their relationships and commerce, Munson says. Instead, to Americans it’s come to mean that the U.S. has a God-given destiny to enforce its will around the world and that its policies are supported by God, he explains.

          Relying on Isaiah 58, Winthrop did not envision a society where each member could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, Munson says. “His vision could be achieved only if all worked together, sacrificed, shared with and cared for one another. But I have faith that when the word is preached that the Holy Spirit is present, and people can be transformed,” Munson says.


S.J. Munson’s book Christ Held Hostage is designed for group or individual study and is available in paperback and Kindle versions on amazon.com.


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“Let the Record Show”

A worthwhile read from an honest pastor here in NC. Wish there were more like him.

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What Would MLK Jr. Say?

In honor of MLK day, Huff Po has run a series of articles about how Dr. King would view Trump’s America. Regarding the GOP’s nomination of far-right candidate Barry Goldwater, King noted in 1964,

The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, amlkjrnd extremism…On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represents a philosophy that is morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I have no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that does not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.

To read more: This MLK Quote Sums Up The Rise Of White Supremacy Post-Trump

Also: 5 Lessons From Martin Luther King Jr. To Apply To Trump’s America 

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And Now a Message from the Father of Our Country


No doubt about it. We live in a time of partisan division not seen since the Civil War. Just last week, in a spirit of revenge, the GOP-dominated North Carolina state legislature voted to strip the incoming Democratic governor of some of his powers. Throughout this past presidential election cycle, voters were the targets of a relentless, partisan-driven campaign of misinformation. Emails of both parties were also hacked by a foreign power bent on influencing the election. Yet all of these outrageous acts (political revenge, misinformation, and foreign meddling) were foreseen 220 years ago by the Father of our country, George Washington.

In 1796, upon declining a third term, our first President (with the help of Madison and Hamilton, who both at some point had a hand in the writing) issued a bit of parting advice to the fledgling nation. Partisan politics and the evils bred by political parties come under  especial condemnation because of their power to destroy a republic. His words now seem tragically prophetic. (Italics mine.)

Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

To read the entire “Farewell Address,” click here.


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