POLITICAL AND SPIRITUAL CORRUPTION

America as a Barren Fig Tree. Hope as a Command

By Marc Batko


In the novel “Kaspar Hauser”, Jacob Wasssrmann tells a story that paraphrases the crises and opportunities of our time in the last phases of risk capitalism. Once upon a time a land was overcome with drought. For weeks and months, the wells were dry. People lived in tensions and daily conflicts; lies and scapegoats were constantly presented as imaginary solutions. Then a little boy played so beautifully on his flute that water rose again in the wells.

The empire sees the speck in its brother’s eye, not the log in its own eye. Economic/resource problems cannot be solved through militarism and overreach. Iran’s possible conversion from the dollar to the Euro leads Washington to portray Iran as a nuclear threat. Washington’s wars are always defensive wars to create or protect freedom and democracy.

In the Creole trick, the culprit stylizes himself as a victim. Cheap grace, self-righteousness and the Creole trick are marks of a false religion, a false consciousness and false security, the dance around the golden calf or golden ego. Jesus came to free us from idolatry to true existence as internationalistas and partners. Self-obsession and megalomania should be cast off as childish like the delusions of invincibility and invulnerability or the American model as the only model.

POLITICAL CORRUPTION

Political corruption occurs when the state becomes a trough for special interests, when elections are business affairs determined by campaign contributions, when CEOs are seen as job creators and work wages as cost factors, when the state abandons its functions of protecting freedom of conscience and helping victims under the wheel. In the dystopia “1984”, George Orwell wrote from a Swedish island. He warned of a time when children would be brought forth to serve Big Brother, when dissent and criticism would be expunged from people’s memories, when newspeak would redefine words (falsehood = truth, slavery = freedom) so the people would be passive and resigned and when war would be a domestic necessity to divert from domestic economic crises.

Refusing to face the realities of economics (accumulation crises, destruction of nature, stagnant wages and purchasing power, attacks on social security and oil dependence), neoliberal propaganda makes the market sacrosanct. The market is stylized as self-healing, total and absolute. While the market is only a tool helpful after initial political questions are answered (What kind of society do we want? Are people citizens as well as consumers? Are people only valuable in relation to profit? Should the public goods of education, health care, housing, water and media airwaves be protected? Should the state be demonized to facilitate corporate rule?), market fundamentalists transfigure it as the elixir to all problems. Since the market can do no wrong, all problems are seen as interventions in the market (government regulations, protection of workers and the environment).

In truth, the economy is part of a greater reality or oikos (household) of life. In truth, the market can turn rights into privileges (e.g. education, health care, housing, water) without state protection of public interest or public welfare. In truth, corporations are special interests that pretend to represent the community. In truth, the young, seniors, disabled and minorities need state protection and cannot be dismissed as special interests.

America, spared the trauma of wars on its soil, has given free reign to political and economic corruption. Churches, unions, universities and the media, called to be critical and independent, have become conformist and passive, afraid to criticize destructive domestic and foreign policy. The land of unlimited possibilities in the last phases of shareholder/risk over-accumulation capitalism seems symbolized in the barren fig tree cursed by Jesus.

Solidarity has become a foreign word. Social justice is reduced to equal opportunities and distributive justice replaced by performance justice as results of the capital offensive since the 1980s. The race to the middle has left us without political parties and promoted opportunists in payback time. As in Germany, monopolists and discounters often dominate the economy. Soaring profits lead to soaring speculation (in foreign currencies and housing stocks), not to increased employment. Private affluence is juxtaposed with public deficits. Corporations receive tax subsidies by promising job creation while practicing job destruction. The myth of corporate beneficence leads to the corruption and distortion of the state. The myth of nature as a free good, external or sink blocks the truth of nature as our mother, sister and brother, the foundation and provider of all life and future hopes.

Traditions of checks and balances are superseded by revolving doors. Public interests are stifled by special interests. Corporate welfare is seen as job creation and social welfare disparaged as dependency. The future and the welfare state are not Bolshevism. Perhaps after reducing freedom to property rights and freedom of contract, we took the wrong fork in the road and mistook the goat for the gardener, corporate success for community health.

SPIRITUAL CORRUPTION

Spiritual corruption occurs when the warrior cult obscures the critical and prophetic tradition. Jesus represented the third way of nonviolence resistance opposing the warrior cult and passivity (cf. Walter Wink, The Powers That Be, 1998). The prodigal son and the rich fool are warnings of false consciousness, false security and false religion.

Self-righteousness is the grand delusion (Eberhard Juengel) where self-obsession and megalomania takes the man or country pretending to be God. As no individual is alone, so no nation is alone but finds itself in the other, in interdependence and sharing power, in self-criticism and new beginning. Kairos time, the time of decision, the time when the foundations of faith and life are at stake, replaces everyday time. As the same Chinese letter represents crisis and opportunity, the crisis of over-consumption and credit-based jobless growth is met by the opportunity of alternative economics, sustainability and subsistence economics.

Hiroshima and nuclear weapons changed everything except the way we think, Albert Einstein lamented. The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. The war on Vietnam should have taught us that all people yearn for freedom and self-determination, that national resistance can overcome 500,000 American troops, that rewriting history and lies bring disrepute and instability. Nine-Eleven should have taught us that invincibility and invulnerability are illusions, that the West is greedy, arrogant and self-absorbed (former Canadian prime minister Jean Cretien). The war on Iraq should have taught us that greed and adventurism can bring self-destruction and that freedom is violated not protected through occupation. The Katrina disaster should have taught us that levees and wetlands must be protected and that cowboys and fear-mongers cannot replace environmentalists and long-term vision.

Love covers a multitude of sins, forgetting and losing is the Christian secret along with seeing the good. Faith is paradox, passion, sacrifice and engagement as Soren Kierkegaard in the 19th century wrote to win Copenhagen and the world from “comfortable Christianity”. Faith is more interruption than custom and more love and devotion than emotion, personal but not private. Our lives can be built on the rock of truth, not on the sands of lies and scapegoats.

Can we overcome historical amnesia? Can we rediscover nonviolence, humility and self-criticism as foundations of true individual and natural strength? Can we envision a future of interdependence and shared power, where we mend our own pockets and finally put the horse before the cart? Can we go beyond studies on limits of growth to practice simplicity and redefine work and success? Can we live sustainably, not taking the resources of future generations? Can we promote regionalization and de-centralization and reverse the trends to McDonalidization? Can countries be allowed to grow rice and beans for their people instead of cultivating orchids and strawberries for Miami? Can we live in double vision, in universal and particular history, where universities and communities have true autonomy and where all life is not ruled by profit maximization?

Freedom is impossible without struggle as crops are impossible without plowing. America can only find its way by overcoming its own hemorrhages and myths, its neoliberal propaganda, its normalization of war and militarization of foreign policy. Security is more political than military, the UN has emphasized.

Simplemindedness and false reasoning encourage myopia, colonial and economist mentalities. Can we see beyond the simplistic temptation? Here are two examples of rightwing simplistic reductionism. We reason from (A) we like to drive to (B) Therefore the oil is ours or from (A) defeating Hitler was necessary for world peace to (B) all war is necessary for world peace.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky warns that freedom would be sacrificed to the Grand Inquisitor for his promise of happiness. The right wing in America has offered myths and denial to counter the complexity and inscrutability of the modern world. In truth, the world is changing and uncertain. As Dorothee Soelle said, God did not create the world finished like a thing that is always the same.


May we open ourselves to all traditions of resistance and discover that resistance is part of our nature as antibodies are part of our bodies. Dietrich Bonhoeffer organized an underground Confessing church when a Reich bishop was appointed to make the churches subservient to Hitler. He distinguished faith from religion and ultimate reality from penultimate reality. One act of obedience is worth more than a thousand sermons, he said. Can we be harbingers of a post-fossil, post-Enron and post-Katrina world? Can we discover the stories in ourselves instead of only gazing at the stories of office buildings? The race is not to the fastest or to those who can avoid 100 questions in three days but to truth-tellers, to speaking the truth to power, to flute players who can make the water rise again in our deregulated wells.

Oil dependence cannot be solved by military overreach unless lies and scapegoats are stronger than truth, indifference is stronger than love and short-term interests are stronger than long-term necessities. In truth, nonviolence is stronger than violence. Narcissus’ wonder is gazing at the mirror is an ephemeral wonder. Security is more political than military. The child forgetting himself in play is our model, not the prodigal son, the rich fool, the judge caught in capital logic or the warrior caught in self-obsession, exceptionalism or national adventurism.

HOPE AS A COMMAND

Hope is what sets us apart from the rest of creation. We can go beyond everything past and present in the power of the coming, the power of the promise. This was Jurgen Moltmann’s discovery in a British prisoner of war camp in World War II. In a barbed-wire camp, he discovered hope as concrete and eschatological. Hope is different from planning as the eschatological, the last things, differs from the temporal, the penultimate.

Dreams that cannot become concrete still point the way. In a world that threatens to resign to the right of the stronger in the economy and society, Dorothee Soelle warned us that a people without the vision of justice perishes. With this prophetic word, she accompanies us in the uncompromising question about ways of liberation for the whole human community. This is directly connected with the promise that the unceasing and passionate search for God is part of this liberating way that will reach its goal. “If you seek me with your whole heart, you will find me.”

Suffering and hope are connected in a paradoxical way that can wean us from conventional ways of looking at the world. God is not free of suffering; ideal life is not a life of repression. The Greek view of God as beyond suffering is corrected by the Christian revelation of God as fellow-suffering and fellow-quarreling. “Suffering does not necessarily separate us from God but can connect us to the mystery of reality. Following Christ means sharing in his suffering, Sacrifice, the outgrowth of compassion, does not have a salvation quality. Sacrifice mirrors the involvement of people who do not resign but in a mystical defiance insist that nothing be lost.” (Dorothee Soelle)

In “One Great Family,” (cf. www.mbtranslations.com), the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff emphasized survival as a species is different from survival as a family. If we follow Jesus’ renunciation on power and violence, we can teach the world another language and another mathematics. If we bury the hatchet, we can become children, models of listening, singing and forgetting themselves. If we overcome the delusion of social Darwinism, we can live interdependence. The ego dies so the self can be born. Myopia, resignation, fatalism and self-absorption are replaced by international historical consciousness crucified and resurrected with the historical Jesus and the suffering and marginalized of the world. The last will be first. Blessed are the peacemakers, the merciful, the mourners and the nonconformists, those persecuted for justice.