Fake news from the Pearly Gates

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Maid exposes Peter in the courtyard. The Denial of St Peter by Gerard van Honthorst (1622-24)

Saint Peter: Greetings, Donald. I’ve been expecting you, but not so soon. I have a few questions before you go through the Pearly Gates to the streets of gold.

Donald: Sure, fire away. I’m very familiar with pearly gates. It can’t be much better than Mar-a-Lago. Fire away!

Mar-a-Lago Club entrance gate

Okay, Donald. But I have to warn you–everyone up here is equal. There are no private clubs. No towers. No penthouses. No White Houses. No barrios. No borders. No trade restrictions. No nations. No classes other than the de-programming and re-training classes. Everyone has free medical care. No one is rich. No one is poor. It’s a lot like Karl Marx hoped society would be … except for God. Karl was surprised. Are you ready?

Are you serious!!! Why would I want to go in there? This is crazy. Karl Marx was evil. Communism was evil. Socialism is evil. Obama’s evil. Nancy’s evil! Are they here?

Barack and Nancy haven’t arrived yet, but, when their time comes, we’ll treat them the same way we treat everyone else. Lots of your friends are here in the re-training course: Joe [McCarthy], Roy [Cohn], other members of the Trump family.

What about Karl? He’s been dead a long time.

Karl is enjoying the pleasures of the equality he preached while still with you. Karl’s big surprise was that there is a God.

I don’t want to be any place where Karl is welcome. Jerry [Falwell] and Franklin [Graham] told me all about the Judgment. No way Karl is here! No way!

I guess that’s a matter of judgment, don’t you think?

Right. I’m President. I make the judgments. I decide.

I see. It seems you don’t quite get it, Donald. There are no presidents here. No one owns any property here. Everyone here is a child, just like Jesus said. Can I call you ‘Donnie’?

No. I hate that! Mother called me ‘Donnie’. My dad called me ‘Don’.

Okay, Don, I won’t call you ‘Donnie’.

And don’t call me ‘Don’. Dad kicked me out of the house and sent me away to a military academy. I hated that!

But your dad did help you avoid the draft, right? That bone spur thing. Remember?

I did have bone spurs! They were terrible!

Do you still have them? Show me your foot. Everyone up here has bare feet. There are no shoes. Nothing is hidden. Let me see your foot.

No, they’re gone!

Donald, bone spurs don’t just go away, and, when they’ve been removed, the foot will bear the scars from surgery. Show me your foot.

I don’t have a scar! My sister came to the rescue with EZorb. It went away! I’m not hiding anything. I don’t hide things like the fake news and the whistleblowers.

I see. Donald we have a truth problem. Your sister couldn’t have given you EZorb. It didn’t exist when the draft board gave you the deferments. Truth is truth up here, Donald.

That’s fake news! Fake news! You’re part of the deep state that was out to get me.

I’m sorry you feel that way, Donald. Here it doesn’t matter how you feel. It matters what you did. Only facts matter here.

I was making America great again. I’m not like you. I never let a maid expose me out in the courtyard!

You’re in for a great surprise. This is not Mar-a-Largo. Here the maids who spoke truth in the courtyards and cleaned the toilets, and all the undocumented workers, are equal to everyone else. It’s only a matter of time before your family’s driver and all those people at the border join the maids and me up here.

You believe everything you read in the Times? What driver?

Zoltan Tamas, who’s been in ICE lock-up for the last six months.

I don’t know anything about that! It’s all fake news. All fake news!

I’m sorry, Donald. You’ve failed the test. But, like I said, there’s grace here. Feel free take a seat here outside the Pearly Gates until your family’s driver and all the other ICE detainees arrive. In the meantime, a little scripture might help prepare you for the re-training.

I don’t need re-training by a loser, a big time lose just like Judas! Anyway, I didn’t bring my Bible.

I know! You don’t have a Bible, Donald. So…Click THIS LINK for Jesus’s surprising story of the sheep and the goats, the parable of the Last Judgment, to help you understand why people go through re-training here. The Losers turn out to be Winners, and the Winners are Losers. We do our best up here to keep hell empty!

— Gordon C. Stewart. public theologian, Chaska, MN, October 16, 2019

The Church as Opium Den

Opium Den, Manila, Philippines

Opium Den, Manila, Philippines

In our previous post “Just a Bunch of Hypocrites” we promised further commentary on the American religious landscape. Randy Beckum’s sermon — posted earlier today as “American Sniper, Selma, and Jesus” — followed the courageous preaching examples of William Sloane Coffin and Martin Luther King, Jr. He turned the Chapel of MidAmerica Nazarene University into Annie Dillard’s kind of place where worshipers are learning they’d better bring their crash helmets to church.

Chaplain Beckum’s body language communicates that he knew his sermon wasn’t meeting the standard expectations of the worshipers. There are moments where his hands take the lapel of his sport coat to draw his coat like a shield around him against the arrows coming his way. “He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day.” [Psalm 91:5]

So, one wonders, what might they, or other chapels and churches where a certain kind of American-Christian gospel, expect when they gather?

Imagine the Opium Den

The real world is hard. It’s disturbing, if you pay attention to all the bad news, and it’s often personally painful. Sorrowful. We need to be lifted up. Given a reprieve. Assured that all is as it should be, that “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.”

In many evangelical Protestant churches the messages from the pulpit, the music, and the prayers put people into a Christian nationalist stupor. God, America, Christianity, and Capitalism are like strands of a ball of yarn, indivisibly entangled.

These are the forms of religion the exemplify Karl Marx description of religion as “the opiate of the people.” The opium dens are places folks went to smoke themselves into another world, the temporary illusory high manufactured by the human mind under the influence of opium. The Opium Den – the flights into another world – are escapes from real life that allow the systems and sources of human suffering to continue without conscious criticism and the actions necessary to overcome them.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.

It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.

– Karl Marx, 1843, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

To the extent that a church serves as a relief valve for the suffering of its adherents and substitutes the amelioration of suffering through charitable programs for addressing the root causes of social suffering, it qualifies for Marx’s critique. Jesus and the Hebrew prophets didn’t fall for the opium den. They turned  to the criticism of Earth, of law, snd of politics…in the name of the God Who is beyond religion itself.  Like the psalmist,they rose above the fear of the terror of the night and the arrow that flies by day. They sound more like Marx than the sermons in the opium den, and they expect the same of their followers.

The Lonely Blogger and Steve Martin

It’s been lonely. Traffic is down on Views from the Edge. I ask myself why. But I suspect I know the answer. I’ve broken blogging rule #1. Blogs are mostly about entertainment, not serious stuff . People go to blogs to get away from serious stuff. Not that this one is all that serious, but it’s hardly a rendition of Steve Martin’s happy feet.

Then two comments arrive. The first is from Gary who shares the experience of being influenced early on by Ernest Becker’s seminal work, The Denial of Death.  The second comes from Jim, a former classmate. Both Gary and Jim went on to become teachers.

Gary wrote:

The book title Amusing Ourselves To Death by educator Neil Postman comes to mind. Postman believes we have reduced most values to equate with entertainment. Education he says has to be entertaining. We demand constant amusement through sports, films, travel etc. There is a constant search for entertaining experiences to make us feel alive. It is as though our existence is so fraught with escaping death that the only antidote to dying is amusement. Just as everyone uses humor to take the edge off of awkward social encounters, humor has become the background context of existence. Humor is used as a cover for what human nature really is about and that is “Real Politic” or the feeling that what needs to be done is whatever is practical to survive.

Two other books by Peter Gay and Karl Marx come to mind: Gay’s The Enlightenment: The New Paganism and Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Gay suggests the Enlightenment led to a loss of traditional religious metaphors to live by, resulting in new forms of paganism arising to supplant the old worldviews. These include everything from “consumerism” to “new age” religions like Scientology. Karl Marx says in his “Manifesto” that “capitalism will destroy all that is permanent”. I think we can say Groucho Marxism seems to be the preferred way to analyze our culture’s ills. Everything has to be couched in humor or it is considered boring. At best we can say humor functions as the sigh of the oppressed as we try to take the edge off of everyday existence that seems to be all about a belief in human society as a survival of the fittest existence. We all want something better but science has been hijacked by capitalism for its own need to constantly revolutionize production to keep novel products arriving to allow us to feel alive when we no longer can see loving people as the real antidote to a preoccupation with fending off death. That was Christ’s reason for sacrificing himself in the face of a pagan Roman Empire. We have come full circle. Hopefully the Coliseum isn’t next as we escalate the need to amuse ourselves to death.

Jim wrote:

Folks get twisted in knots over things which they have neither read nor understood. Back in the days of teaching I had students read a writer who argued that under pure capitalism if profits are to be maximised there are several alternatives: Raise prices; Lower Wages. Then you have a product your workers cannot afford to buy. Because there are more workers than capitalists they will soon suffer. They liked the argument until they learned its author was Lenin.

Thanks, Steve Martin. Thanks, Gary. Thanks, Jim. I feel better.

Four-letter Words

Two four letter words are clean as a whistle until placed side by side.

‘Karl’ could be just another guy, like George Karl, the NBA coach, Karl Malden…or maybe Karl Rove.

‘Marx’ could be Groucho, Harpo, Chico, or maybe Richard. Or it could be mistaken for the word ‘marks’ as in grades in school. Or for targets, as in ‘marksmanship’.

Each name by itself has four letters but is not yet a four-letter word. Either can be spoken out loud. But speak the two together, as in ‘Karl Marx’, and heads will turn, fingers will wag, charges will be brought, electronic ears will be listening.

It’s popular to be a Groucho, Harpo, Chico, or Richard. It’s not so safe if your name is Karl, unless your last name happens to be Rove.

The older Karl grew up in a white house in Trier, Germany, but he never occupied the White House

Karl Marx Haus in Trier

Karl Marx Haus in Trier

The White House

The White House

Plato on Wealth and Poverty

“The form of law which I propose would be as follows: In a state which is desirous of being saved from the greatest of all plagues—not faction, but rather distraction—there should exist among the citizens neither extreme poverty nor, again, excessive wealth, for both are productive of great evil . . . Now the legislator should determine what is to be the limit of poverty or of wealth.”

Sound like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)? Karl Marx maybe? Bill Maher?

It’s not. It was , Greek philosopher (427-347 B.C.) and “father of Western philosophy” who said it.
But it could have been Chuck Collins, grandson of Oscar Meyer, co-founder of Wealth for the Common Good. On their website, watch Chuck speaking on wealth inequality. I met Chuck three years ago at the home of a wealthy couple in Minneapolis.
I chimed in on the discussion in December, 2010 with a guest commentary on MPR, “Fear ‘redistribution of wealth’? Don’t look now”, arguing that the redistribution had already taken place – from the middle to the top of the economic ladder in America.
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Let me know what you think? Do you agree/disagree with Plato: “Now the legislator should determine what is to be the limit of poverty or of wealth”? Or with Chuck? Should the distribution of wealth (a ceiling and a floor) be on the table or off the table of a democratic republic? If economics is not on the table, what does democracy mean?

A Journey of Faith into Economics

 – Gordon C. Stewart Feb. 12, 2012

North Philadelphia street scene

Where I grew up Karl Marx was the enemy of all that was good and true. The United States and the Soviet Union were in a dead heat in the Cold War between the Christian and capitalist West, and the atheistic, Communist East. In elementary school we dove under our desks during air raid drills to prepare us for the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Broomall, Pennsylvania, population 1,000. We began the school day reciting the Pledge of Allegiance – “one nation under God” – and a prayer that asked for God’s blessing. In World War II our fathers had beaten back the evil of Nazism. Now, evil was threatening once again from fascism’s opposite, godless Communism. It was either us or them.

It took a while before I asked about the coupling of Christian faith and capitalism or read Marx himself. To read him or to entertain the idea of a classless society was heretical treason, or treasonable heresy. Church and nation were two sides of the same thing. But the more I recited the Pledge of Allegiance, went to worship and youth group,  and became acquainted with the poverty of north Philadelphia, I began to realize that “freedom and justice for all” was, at best, an aspiration, not a fact.  At worst, it was a compelling myth that allowed us to think of ourselves as the chosen whose job was to eliminate evil from a fallen world.

Two summers working as a street worker for the Presbytery of Philadelphia in the poorest neighborhoods rattled my world and shook me to my knees. Every Monday through Friday during the summers of 1961 and ’62, I traveled an hour-and-a-half by bus and subway from my suburban home in Broomall to north Philadelphia and back trying to make some sense of these two very different worlds. How and why did they exist – one white; one black? One materially satisfied; one not? Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement were answering that it was because of  the politics and economics of white privilege.

When I read the work of Willem Zuurdeeg, a Dutch philosopher of religion who grew up as part of the underground resistance during World War II, I found the philosophical mind that looked below the surface to the deeper convictions that hold our hearts and minds captive. The rest of the story is too long to tell.

Capitalism, like Communism, is an idol manufactured by the human heart, one of the convictions, often unexamined, that vie for our worship and allegiance. No economic system is now, or ever will be, perfect. Its efficacy and utility are to be judged by what it does to the people who live under its mindset and institutions.  Today, I hear strident voices that sound like the voice of the late Senator Joe McCarthy who turned over the tables looking for America’s internal enemies. I would like it to be said when I am gone that I honored the memories of Edward R. Murrow whose courageous reporting exposed McCarthyism, and of Joseph Walsh, the attorney for the Army who spoke aloud the words that brought an end to the power of the McCarthy Hearings to destroy decent, dissenting American citizens: “Have you no decency, Sir? Have you no decency left?”

Ours is a later time. The issues of our day are complex. But underneath the debates, the “us against them” mindset of World War II and the Cold War is no less alive than it was then. However and wherever McCarthy’s eyes flash while his finger points and his voice rises again, those of us who hear a Deeper Voice must not be silent. The Deeper Voice is the “still small Voice” of conscience and dissent.