Anti-War Is Not Enough (Reflection)

Anti-Imperialist Button 1900I served thirteen years in the U.S. Army, including a consciousness-altering year of combat in Iraq.  Upon my return in 2010, I began the process of becoming an outspoken critic of war, especially U.S. wars. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1946, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” Yet, since re-engaging my anti-war activism I have discovered that hating war and being against violence is not enough. Because the causes of war are systemic, our whole way of organizing political and social life must change if we are ever really going to end war.

I know I am preaching to the choir when I repeat the immortal words of Jane Addams that “True peace is not the absence of war; it is the presence of justice.” This presence of justice, of course, can only be achieved when neo-liberal capitalist political, social, and economic systems, which create the impetus and machinery for war and the domination and subjugation of “weaker” peoples, are replaced by more equitable, human needs-based systems. Thus, true peace can only be established, not by simply holding a moral stance opposing war or witnessing to end violence, but by the more active engagement of joining the fight against imperialism—of intentionally opposing the neo-liberal capitalist system of the United States empire.

Recently, I have experienced pushback from some anti-war allies when I call for the expanded use of the term anti-imperialism. They say that the average person cannot understand the complexities of anti-imperialism.  Yet, this elitist position contributes to conflating instances of war with the systems that cause war, which keeps the anti-war movement in an infantile position where it doesn’t experience much success in thwarting or ending actual wars.

When I use the term imperialism, I mean when states, especially the United States, its allies, and their finance-capitalist handlers, attempt through huge corporate monopolies to exploit the resources of weaker nations.  Michael Parenti defines imperialism as “the process whereby the dominant politico-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials, and markets of another people.” If the weaker nations do not submit to the imperialist’s expropriation, then various forms of violence (military interventions, sanctions, blockades, etc.) are used to keep them in line or to punish them. In the U.S. where there is a significant labor aristocracy (a large so-called “middle class”) the imperialist system is seen as beneficial for the “majority” and thus must be maintained by scapegoating any nation or people group that is opposed to the imperialist’s will (through racism, xenophobia, sexism, historical revisionism, etc.).

As a Christian and an Eastern-Rite priest I have come to understand the evil of imperialism not simply through my experiences in war or even studying political theory, but also through the Scriptures which are clear about God’s opposition to the oppression of the poor, violence, racism, xenophobia, sexism, and capitalistic greed. The church is complicit with the imperialists when it does not stand in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, not just in our own backyards or communities, but also with those around the world. If the church is not the church of the poor and the marginalized but supports the neo-liberal capitalist status quo, then it is not the church of God. It is part of the empire.

Nevertheless, being an anti-imperialist cannot only be based on a metaphysically derived moral position or personal experience. It must be based on the concrete needs of all people to live in safety and have their needs met in interdependent communities of mutuality. The anti-imperialist position is one that is also understood through scientific study, which empirically shows that our humanity and our planet are sustainable only through cooperation, not “free-market” competition (the basis of neo-liberal capitalism). Thus, anti-imperialists promote the inherent dignity and interconnectedness of all of life. Anti-imperialists oppose racism, patriarchy, sexism, fascism, homophobia, and anything that undermines the dignity of the human person and the environment where we live. Being an anti-imperialist is to stand for and with the worker, the tenant, the immigrant, the transgendered person—all marginalized people—and for the protection of our sacred environment.

So, simply being anti-war is only the first step in coming to understand the more mature and intersectional anti-imperialist stance, which is the true basis of an effective mass-movement for peace and justice.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2018

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Jesus: Healer of False Consciousness (Reflection)

Fat Cats“Jesus said, ‘You cannot even see the Kin-dom of God unless you rise above your false consciousness’” (John 3:3).

Introduction
Yes, I have taken some liberty with the original text, but not the original meaning. Jesus proclaimed that to live by the Spirit, one needed to be “born again”—to see through the blindness that the “world” (or the empire) has imposed on the common people. This blindness or false consciousness is what Jesus came to heal (Luke 4:18).

False consciousness is the imposed and erroneous beliefs of the oppressed as they adopt the ideology of their oppressors—when the poor and working classes believe that the elite class deserves to unjustly rule over them by virtue of their place of power. False consciousness also manifests itself when the poor and working classes falsely believe that all individuals have the ability to become a member of the elite class.

False consciousness is often violently (verbally and physically) acted out by the poor and working classes in their misguided attacks on other poor and working-class people (e.g., blaming the poor or the victim, union busting, police brutality, participating in imperial warfare, etc.). Only when the poor and working class awaken (are born again) from their false consciousness can they be “set free” and begin to overcome their oppressors (Luke 4:18).

Jesus was assassinated by the Roman Empire because he preached class-consciousness (e.g., “blessed are the poor”) and he healed those blinded by false consciousness. Jesus healed through his preaching rebellion by the poor and working classes over the political and religious elite (“Do not be like the hypocrites…”). Jesus’s preaching took place in three arenas: the personal, the institutional, and the imperial.

Personal, Institutional, and Imperial False-Consciousness
In the personal arena, Jesus challenged the prevailing religious-elite imposed attitude that a poor or oppressed person was that way because of personal sin. “Jesus’ disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him’” (John 9:2-3). Jesus flipped the script on false consciousness which wants to blame the victim of poverty or disability. Jesus declares that poverty or disability are actually the means by which the goodness of God can be demonstrated.

In the institutional arena, Jesus challenged organized religion that regarded itself as a power to be obeyed, rather than as a vehicle by which the oppressed and poor could be served and set free. “Jesus said, ‘Tear down this evil temple which represents corrupt religion and in three days I will raise it up.’ ‘What,’ the blind disciples replied, ‘This temple took forty-six years to build and you think you can rebuild it in three days?” (John 2:19-20). Jesus, again, in healing the false consciousness of the working class, shows that any institution that doesn’t serve the poor and working classes is evil and must be destroyed.

Finally, in the imperial arena Jesus took on the Roman Empire, yet the religious elite (or labor aristocracy) of his time opposed him because of their false consciousness and desire to hold on to their own limited power. When Pilate, the representative of Rome, said he had the power to crucify him, Jesus replied, “You have no power over me, other than the power I give to you” (John 19:11). And then when Pilate presents Jesus as the “King” or “Emperor” of the poor and working classes, it is the co-opted religious elite who betray Jesus. “Pilate said to the religious elite, ‘Here is your King!’ At this, they shouted back to Pilate, ‘Crucify Him!’ ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but the Emperor,’ replied the religious elite” (John 19:14-15).

Conclusion
Our function as liberated and transformed spiritual individuals, people who have come into class consciousness, is to help heal other individuals trapped in false consciousness, to dismantle the corrupt institutions of the ruling elite, and, ultimately, to replace imperial, capitalist rule with the truly just rule of and by the proletariat (the poor and working classes).

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Our Daily Bread and Roses

Bread and Justice PrayerEach day I pray the Lord’s Prayer several times as part of my prayer practice. Today, let’s reflect on what it means for God to give us our daily bread (Mt 6:11).

Oftentimes Scripture is very simple, but also profoundly deep. Thus, simply, our daily bread should first and foremost be understood to be the basics of life, what we materially need to survive.  For the people during Jesus’s time, the material life may have been understood to mean just the big three needs: food/water, shelter, and clothing.

But when we consider the three basic material needs, we ought also to consider the other, more modern and interdependent material needs that relate to the three basics: education, environmental integrity, work, transportation, and healthcare. In a sharing society, one in which God’s norm of neighborly love is prevalent, no one would go without their basic material needs. Yet, to reduce material needs only to the big three, such that everyone has food/water, shelter, and clothing, but only some have good/meaningful work, healthcare, transportation or environmental integrity, is a grave error of reductionism—of oversimplification.

If we take Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seriously, and we should, then it also means what is basic to daily bread is more than material needs. So, if we do not have the safety and security of our basic daily bread (food, shelter, clothing, living wage jobs, clean air, transportation, education, healthcare, etc.) we are severely diminished from moving into the more important, or higher, levels of human flourishing.

Additionally, in light of the Lord’s Prayer we should also recognize that humanity has never lived in an age of scarcity. Scarcity comes into play when a small number of people (elites) believe they have a right to a greater proportion of the resources of the earth. These elites believe they are entitled to more of God’s daily bread than others. The elite prayer is “Give me this day and my future daily bread and forget the rest.” These elites today are the captains of industry, media, politics, and finance-capital. They continue to try to convince us that capitalism is good for all, even though the basic material needs of all people are not met, despite God’s abundant provision.

The system that is opposed to God, to Jesus’s proclamation of a Daily Bread society is known today as Neo-Liberal Capitalism.  Neo-Liberal Capitalism will never create the conditions where everyone will enjoy the abundance of God’s provision—Our Daily Bread. Capitalism is not the creation of a free-market. It is barbarism, where the greedy elite are permitted and encouraged to create and continue to maintain an unfair advantage over the mass of humanity. Capitalism is what creates scarcity.

So far what we have talked about is mostly a materialist approach to daily bread, but it should go without saying that the needs of humans are not just material: they are emotional, spiritual, and relational. Humans are not mechanical commodities, we are spiritual organisms. When we pray that God would give us our daily bread, our sustenance for the day, it is also Jesus, the bread of life, the Eucharist, that is necessary for us to truly be alive—to thrive.

Our human thriving does not come only from material things, but through the relationships, we are able to engage in and maintain because we are provided the basic material necessities in life by God through the loving, caring people-focused systems created by God-respecting folk (or “Spirit” Consciousness for non-theists/atheists).

Daily bread then also means that I will have not only bread but roses too (see Rose Schneiderman’s famous speech where she said, “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”). Daily bread is not just about material needs, but about human flourishing spiritually, emotionally, and creatively. Praying (and working) for the provision of daily bread is about thriving as loving humans in a caring society focused on meeting the simplest and the deepest needs of all people.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Faith “In” The Union

workers-fist(This post originally appeared as an article in my local’s newsletter.)

Why is a priest and chaplain writing an article for a union newsletter? Well, first of all, I am a proud union member just like you. Second, I am simply following a long line of people of faith who have believed in and supported unions and workers throughout history.

Way back in 1893, Terence Powderly, the founder and president of the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, wrote about labor history up to that day: “Trade-unionists, members of guilds, leagues and other organizations of workers embraced Christianity and proclaimed its doctrines as being especially advantageous to the welfare of the toiling poor.”

Another important historical story is that of Father Thomas Hagerty, a Roman Catholic priest, who co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union in 1905. Fr. Hagerty wrote the following powerful words in the preamble of the IWW constitution: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.”

It is my firm belief that these great men of labor history were simply following the tenets of the faith which they avowed. From the original believers in the book of Acts, to the English Diggers in the 1600’s, to the Social Gospel and Liberation Theology movements of the 20th Century, Christian faith has consistently witnessed to the need for justice in the workplace.

Because bosses, landowners, and “lords” have long oppressed workers, the prophets of the Bible spoke out strongly against them. Jeremiah warned those who acted unjustly towards workers saying, “Woe to the one … who forces his own people to labor for nothing, who refuses to pay them for all their hard work” (Jer 22:13). St. James would write as well to the rich, “Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your workers. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields” (James 5:4).

Unfortunately, fairness in the workplace and equitable wages and benefits for all has yet to be achieved in our country. In fact, the union movement is under attack from just about every corner. Worker rights that were hard won by the fighting unions of the early days are slowly being stolen from the workers. We need to return to the fighting spirit that characterized our faithful union brothers and sisters of old. We need to have faith in the union again!

So, what motivates me to be in the fight for worker rights, to continue to have faith in the union? It is the mission statement of Jesus that inspires my union activism: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19).

I hear the lowly carpenter saying to you and me today, “Now, go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37).

© Paul Dordal, 2018