Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dec. 9: faith and foreign affairs.... the hell... it's Sunday.

The top-of-the-page sermonette for this Sunday turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The first two-thirds of it was well-written, engaging - and made a point that had everything to do with faith without hitting the reader of the head with it. The final third, alas, slipped into the sort of conciously pious language that loses all but those who already have - or think they have - faith. Still, two-thirds good sense and plain speaking is far better that one sees in most faith page columns - or any TandT columns. It's a nice change.

There are also two innovations on the page, two articles by somebody called David Yount who, we are assured, has written 14 books. I can well believe it. There's a big market for people who write this sort of pious blather, people who sound impressive in grand and sweeping statements but who don't stand up to any thought at all. It's full of statements that sound scholarly, like "Historically, critics believed religion to be an obstacle to human freedom and progress.

What's wrong with that? Well, historically, many if not most of the critics of religion were people who didn't give a damn about freedom and religion. As well, people who called themselves religious HAVE often been opposed to human freedom.

Then, he says it is because we replaced faith in God with faith in man, we got two world wars, the gulag and the holocaust. Lord love a duck.

Hitler publicly and frequently declared himself a devout Catholic. Overwhelmingly, church-goers in both Germany and Italy supported fascism and all its works. The American bombs and napalm with which millions of Vietnamese were killed were dropped by observant Christians, supported back home by most of their churches and clergy. Cardinal Spellman blessed the bombs that were dropped on Cuba. As I write this, ardent Christians are pushing for a war in the middle east so they can go to heaven while the rest of us go to hell. If Mr. Yount really wants to know something about genocide, he might read The Bible - the part where God insists on carrying one out, and is angry when His followers don't complete the job.

He also contributes a column on job burnout among clergy which, again, sounds grand but does nothing to explain it.

The world is full of blather writers like this who church out piously grand statements that have no connection whatever with the reality of our lives.

Now - if they had a column on the morality of pouring money into the pockets of the rich while some people go hungry, or one on whether an economic system based on greed can really be Christian, or whether a newspaper that routinely misrepresents and/or hides the news is behaving in a Christian way, it might be worth reading.

These columns aren't about faith. They're about putting up a big wall between faith and the way our society really behaves. It's like the mindlessly cutesy signs I see outside a local church. The current sign is something like, "The wise men saw Jesus. Will you?"

If that is what Christianity is about, then Jesus wasted his time preaching. He could have made a fortune as a writer of half-wit slogans for bumper stickers. Worse, a sign like that does nothing to encourage faith among doubters. On the contrary, it encourages any thinking person to avoid any place that would put up such a silly sign.

And, please. Christianity is not the only faith in Moncton.


And then there's the Middle East and Africa.

Remember - until some 65 years ago, there as scarcely such a thing as a democracy in that whole area. It was all ruled directly by European powers, or ruled through their puppet kings and dictators. European rule slackened only after the weakening of western power after 1945. However, western influence never disappeared, notably in oil and mining countries. In this retention of power and interference, the US played a major part as it sought to pick up those parts of empire the Europeans had to drop. Notable was the American role in overthrowing the elected government of Iran in the early 50s, with a deal that gave the US a major cut of the oil fields.

What has followed has been over 65 years of poverty, political chaos, starvation and exploitation of Africans. (Canadians, especially in the mining sector,  have not been innocent bystanders.)  Nobody knows how many millions have been murdered or have died of hunger and disease as a result. The
 only concern of the West in that period was the possible spread in Soviet influence in the region.

But then the Soviet Union collapsed.

That led a group of prominent Americans like Jeb Bush (brother to you know who), Donald Rumsfeld (the man who arrranged for chemical weapons to be given to Saddam in his war against Iran, and secretary of the army under Bush), Dick Cheney (who would be V.P. under Bush) to plan for the future. The plan was to maintain economic dominance over the world. That economic dominance would be maintained through military power.

(Oh, course, they didn't call it exploiting or setting up dictators or anything not nice. they called it spreading American values.)

In the 1990s, they produced a proposal called Project for the New American Century. (you can still see it via google.)  Its starting point was that the collapse of the Soviet Union had given the US a chance for world dominance. But that chance was a window of opportunity that would close if a new world power should arise (read China). So the US had to act quickly to "spread American values" by military force.

An area of special importance was Middle-East- Africa. This area had important resources - but parts of it (Syria, Libya, Iraq) had been flirting with the Russia that had succeeded the USSR. This had nothing to do with communism, simply with markets.

That's why, when terrorists from Saudi Arabia attacked New York, Bush invaded Iraq and then Afghanistan.(The charges of Saddam having weapons of destruction were phony. As were those against Afghanistan. There is no evidence whatever that Afghanistan had anything to do with 9/11.) Not a word has even been said about Saudi Arabia, the country the terrorists came from.

The tactic since then has been to create "rebellions", either intervening directly in the rebellions or by supplying mercenaries and weapons.) thus we have seen troubles in Libya, Syria, will see them in Lebanon, and possibly in Iran. All were countries that were showing rather too much independence in their relations with Russia. That's why drones (quite illegally) are killing people, usually innocent ones, in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

But there are complications in Obama's way.
1. China and Russia are being forced closer together, though neither has much love for the other. They might well decide, and very soon, that they have to make military responses.
2. The US is broke. These wars have been ruinously expensive. That means:
     a) the us may soon have to reduce its commitment to the middle east and Africa to concentrate its military power on China and, to a degree, on Russia.
     b) war costs now absorb virtually all US tax revenue (partly because of the tremendous scale of corruption  in the US.
      c) The above, combined with unlimited free trade, has created stupendous levels of poverty in the US, with a real unemployment rate of 22%,and with even the employed often unable to buy basic necessities.
      d) most of the American population is fed up with wars. But there are still many of them to go. Put b and c together, and you get a high rate of unrest. That means increased repression, domestic spying on a level never before seen or possible, erosion of human rights and the constitution, itself, and the gradual conversion of the police into an army of occupation.
       f) the american dollar has value only because it is the recognized international currency. But, in real terms, the wild borrowing, the corruption of both business and political leaders mean the real value of the dollar is entirely artificial. It the world turns against the dollar as its major medium of exchange, then the whole house of cards collapses.  That's a prime reason for the threats against Iran. It has flirted with accepting other currencies in place of the US dollar.( Gee. I wonder why Harper is so desperate to increase trade with China).
      g) the old, west European empires like Britain and France, in particular, play along with the project for the New American Century because it is their passport to regain some part of the their former empires. France, for example,once ruled Syria. That is why it had made troops available to invade Syria.  Britain has interests in Africa. (So has Canada.)

     In the short run, watch for US intervention in Syria unless the "rebels" can win very soon. The excuse will be that Syria intends to use chemical weapons. Very few people believe that. And, for that matter, the US itself has scarcely been shy about using chemical weapons. It looks as though Lebanon will be next on the list, then Iran.

     Added to that are events whose meaning is not yet clear. The Petraeus case is one of them. Sex is a very minor element in it.This has every sign of representing a struggle going on within the US leadership. Similarly, the American army has just formed its own foreign intelligence agency. Isn't that what the CIA does? This is starting to resemble all the separate, internal power blocs that one often finds in dictatorships. Nazi Germany springs to mind.

Long term predictions based on the above would be a fool's game. We know how we got to where we are. But the factors are so many - and changing - that  I doubt whether even Obama can do more than guess where we  will be six months from now.

There is, perhaps, one thing we can be sure of. The Project for the New American Century has been a disaster, economic and moral, for all of us.

Church is a refuge from this. The real sins, the great sins, that go on in the world are almost never discussed in church. It's so much nicer just to hear blather like the books of David Yount. (He's the one on the Faith page.)

Come to think of it, how can the Moncton Times and Transcript have a Faith page? It's like have a pimp for Sunday School teacher.

1 comment:

  1. Excuse this long comment - I couldn't help myself.

    Jesus wants us to be rich?

    Of course, it is to organized religion's own detriment they have refused to keep pace with the times.

    Too bad the same can't be said for the selfish prosperity-preaching going on im many churches.

    Just so happened however, had this same discussion with a United Church minister in Fredericton over the weekend.

    No, I wasn't at a church, as a NB crafts-person, I was set up at a large, hand-made craft sale. (Did ok, but economy is on the ropes.)

    But, most church hierarchies have not accepted they need to change with the times. They need to speak in a new frank, and less rigidly formal, in a more sincere way with their members.

    Because they have not though, they've effectively alienated themselves from most if not all prospective younger generations.

    Today's young are savvy and sarcastically cynical from the increased technology at their disposal. They have no room for pretensions, or the affected, naive innocence of their great-grandfather's generation.

    To this I say; Let the religious scholars blather away in their ivory towers of babel. But as you say Greame, there is a danger in this too. Their messaging becomes confused for those who still attend church services.

    And I agree with you completely. Most Sunday sermons are weak, and confusing. They might as well be condoning violence against other nations for all that is being said. Most pastors, ministers, and priests clearly refuse to challenge the status quo by discussing the important political motivations and business agendas that drive our continuous cycle of modern warfare.

    Instead of anything meaningful, they carry on about how the meek shall inherit the earth, though when you have both your arms and legs blown off, how you're expected to give a shit is an immediate question that comes to mind?

    This is why church attendance today has fallen away by 75-90% for Christians from where it was 60 years ago. There is no longer any relevancy in it for today's young person. In today's world the clergy are preaching to a tiny market-niche of the general population, and mostly to an older generation who have a nostalgic wish things could return to what they used to be, but it is wishful thinking at best.

    If anything is going to change in the Faith section of the newspaper, then the clergy themselves will have to rise to the challenges of a new era.

    Another great, and thoughtful post Greame!