A. Death. A few days ago the President of the University of Nevada died suddenly—he was having dinner with his wife and he suffered a massive stroke and that was that. Dying is such an amazing thing–so simple, so universal, so undeniable, yet so mysterious, so opaque, so final. Modern life doesn’t want to reflect on or even to see this reality, but exactly some such exercise of awareness and reflection is at the heart of all spiritual traditions. There we tell ourselves various stories about the meaning of death and what if anything lies “on the other side.” There are also people of no religious views or even of anti-religious views, and these have their own accounts of the meaning of death. But what if we just drop all these stories for a while and just look at the naked reality of death. Its opaqueness is disturbing. We see nothing, we know nothing beyond this facticity of death. Exactly what, if anything lies beyond the reality of death? Both believer and non-believer are in a sense on the same footing here in that death itself yields no answer. Both the so-called believing community and the non-believing community bring forth various stories to give an account of the meaning of death. Granted that the non-believer seems to have an easier time of it in a sense, maybe claiming that THAT is that and there is nothing else, lights out, end, etc. However, the non-believer does not know that with absolute certainty…..what if THAT is not the end…. There is no remedy for the opaqueness of death.
Now those of us who are in the Christian community present a story, through the lens of faith, that death is not the final word. In fact, in celebrating Easter, as we are doing now, we make quite an emphatic point that the Mystery of Christ’s Resurrection is the real answer to the Mystery of Death. However, and this is a BIG however, how we so often trivialize this. It becomes very “messagey” to enable us to live as “kinder, gentler consumers.” The Mystery of the Resurrection as arising out of the Mystery of Death loses its revolutionary force, its ability to turn upside down all social values that are connected to keeping us asleep about our real nature. We have a tendency to “picture” the Mystery of the Resurrection as a kind of “undoing” or reversal of death. Nothing could be further from the truth. We never really confront the fact that no matter the Mystery of the Resurrection, death is THE end of the “maintenance of the self,” into which so much energy is piled and around which so much of our culture is built. Another problem is that we tend to project our own distortions and hang-ups into the Mystery of the Resurrection. What Reality are you going to encounter as the last light fades from your eyes? Do you really think it will be some “finger-wagging God” who will scold you for being “bad” and then “punish” you. There are plenty of stories to that effect. Do you know how to read these stories? Or will they serve as a vehicle for instilling fear, manipulations, projections, etc. The old inquisitors used to threaten their so-called heretics with hell if they didn’t confess and recant something that nobody had any real understanding of anyway. Just an extreme example of what is probably more common among church-goers than anyone cares to admit.
Light an old candle and watch it burn out. Where does the flame go to after it goes out? The opaqueness of death permeates our whole frail reality. Now to find the Mystery of the Resurrection there!
B. The nation is going through all these paroxysms concerning the national budget and the so-called deficit and the national debt. Seems odd a bit to discuss this in a blog focused on spiritual realities, but this is actually quite a moral issue and it reveals who we are, our values and priorities, and if things continue to unfold the way they are heading there are going to be a lot of people suffering quite a bit. The Republicans, or at least those who call themselves Republicans today(Eisenhower, for example, would not belong in this group), want to slash government spending that most affects the poor and the middle class. Their real goal is dismantling all the achievements of the New Deal. The President is not inclined in attacking this problem in this way, but he does yield to Republican demands and threats way too much. The unfortunate thing is that both parties have done their share of hurting this economy over the last few decades. The Dems gave you NAFTA, which helped outsource jobs out of the country(and they continue making these trade agreements which are not in the headlines but which are not to the benefit of the American worker); and Dems also signed on to various tax breaks for the wealthy. The Dems also signed on(during the Clinton era) to deregulating the banks and financial institutions which led to the economic meltdown. Of course the Republicans decided to have two wars that they did not pay for—and that’s just a starter.
Consider this: we have over a 100 military bases all around the world, and our defense budget is larger than Russia’s, China’s, France’s, Germany’s and England’s all put together! And yet in the President’s deficit reduction plan all he suggests is 30 billion or so a year for the next 12 years(of course the Republicans have not even that)—we spent more than that in one year just in Iraq, so the military-industrial complex is only seemingly touched.
Consider this: Of the top 34 richest countries in the world today, we, the U.S.A., are dead last in spending for social welfare in terms of percentage of Gross Domestic Product, GDP—7.2% Canada, for example, is around 24%. Yet somehow this is portrayed as the problem area of spending. The media is dishing this stuff out, and people are being brainwashed into a distorted view of reality.
Consider this: Bank of America and GE, two of our largest corporations, paid no income taxes last year. Huge oil companies like Exxon even got a tax refund in hundreds of millions. Carnival Cruise Lines made billions last year but paid a tax rate of 1%. Hedge fund managers, who are basically gamblers, some are making a billion a year. The top 1% in this country are having a panic attack that they might be asked to pay a little more in taxes. Suggestions from the Left are being made that we simply go back to the Clinton-era tax rates, when we actually were running a surplus. During the Eisenhower–Kennedy eras the tax rates were much higher and we were actually much more prosperous economically speaking at the middle-class level. But the wealthy and their minions are calling for a TAX CUT for the rich and corporations. Take a look at this short article by Jeffery Sachs of Columbia University:
Consider this: The President worries me. Not only does he yield way too much to this present bunch of Republicans, but then he appoints a commission to study ways of debt reduction and they suggest attacking social security and medicare. He knew when he appointed these people that this was the view of some of these folk. By the way, that is why this commission is now popularly known as the “Cat-food Commisssion”—old people will only be able to afford cat food for food after these people get their way! He also appoints some very dubious people to be his advisers, like the former CEO of GE as his chief business adviser.
Consider this: the current popularity of the philosophy of Ayn Rand among top Republicans and top businessmen today is very troubling. It shows a complete loss of a sense of the common good, of the fact that we are not an individualized, atomized reality but interconnected. It is a glorification of the values of egotism, self-centeredness, selfishness, etc. With this kind of philosophy, capitalism becomes viral and toxic and destructive. For an antidote see the film, “I Am.”
Consider this: Even a dog knows when he is being kicked. But the poor and the middle class in this country seem to be so unaware that they are being kicked in a big way. Time for a revolution, but they keep electing the kickers back into office! So food stamp programs are going to get cut; school lunch programs are going to get cut; job training programs are going to get cut; unemployment benefits are going to get cut; etc, etc, etc.
Consider this: Mother Jones had an article recently with all kinds of charts showing the nature of our economic problem, which leads to a picture of a huge injustice, which is afterall a huge moral and religious problem:
One last note on this topic: Marie Antoinette is famous for her put down of the French underclass when told they could not buy bread: “Let them eat cake.” A few years ago the wealthy New Yorker, Leona Helmsly, said that “only the little people pay taxes.” Seems like the Republicans are listening to these women. Come to think of it, with Sara Palin and Michelle Bachmann, women are very prominent in this movement, and it just goes to show you, radical feminists did not get it right when they said that things would be different if women were present in “high places”. There’s something called the human heart that has to change for real change to take place.
C. Our environment keeps getting trashed, and this insane economy feeds off this. It is the one year anniversary of the big BP accident in the Gulf of Mexico–and there are still all kinds of signs of how trashed that body of water is. Yet due to the insanity of our tax code, BP is actually making money because of this incident. Is the government putting a halt to this risky kind of drilling? No. Are we in desperate need of oil? No. Obama himself said that the supply of oil is fine; the reason prices are going up and hurting the little guy is because of speculators.
D. This is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and some people are reflecting on what led up to that war and what each side was thinking at that time. One thing that stands out for me is that BOTH sides used the Bible to justify their positions and in their views of slavery. The Abolitionists in the North used the Bible to attack the reality of slavery even to the extent that violence was necessary to dismantle it. The South had many distinguished leaders that used the Bible to defend their adherence to slavery. People who just quote the Bible to make their point forget that the same book can be used by another person to go in quite a different direction. To use the Bible, even in a moral issue, is a tricky business and requires the additional use of reason and common sense.
- This is the best piece of social criticism that I have read in a long, long time. It is spiritually/religiously grounded without explicitly(unnecessary) “churchy” language that could turn off non-believers. This is the voice of a prophet like Jeremiah. It is Chris Hedges speaking in front of a demonstration in front of a Bank of America in New York City: