Archive for March 2007

David Grossman’s cri de coeur

March 29, 2007

It seems the world has caught up with Israel and its shameful treatment of the Palestinians. In an era of instant communication, the ugly face of oppression snd the stench of Gaza and the persisitence of the Palestinian people has moved the world.

In November in a little noted speech the noted Israeli writer David Grossman spoke out. with the clarity that only comes with deep suffering, Grossman gave a speech on Rabin Day, November 4, His words were particularly poignant as his son Uri had been killed in the Lebabnon War. He stated that this year, “It was not easy to look at ourselves.” Israel has come to face to face with a crisis in every part of its existence.Grossman spoke as a Jew with no religious faith but one who like many of us, saw the creation of the Jewish state as nothing less than a miracle.

“We had the opportunity to create an enlightened, properly functioning democratic state that would act in accordance with Jewish and universal values. A country that would be a national home and refuge, but no only a refuge. It would also be a place that gives new meaning to Jewish existence. A country in which an important, essential part of its Jewish identity, of its Jewish ethos, would be full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens.

Look what happened.”

Here Grossman referred to the obfuscations, stalling, lying of its leaders in its unimaginative failure to end the criminal occupation of national humiliation

“Rabin decided to act because he detected  with great astuteness, that Israeli society could not long continue in a state of  unresolved conflict. He understood, before many people understood, that life in  constant climate of violence, of occupation, of terror and fear and hopelessness, come  at a price that Israel cannot afford to pay.”

And then this cruel cut—the stunning elevation to the Israeli cabinet of an out and out racist Avigdor Lieberman “ the appointment of a compulsive pyromaniac to head the country’s firefighters.”

“And these are some of the reasons that, in an amazingly short time, Israel has degenerated into heartlessness, real cruelty toward the weak, the poor, and the suffering. Israel displays indifference to the hungry, the elderly, the sick, and the handicapped, equanimity in the face of, for example, trafficking in women, or the exploitation of foreign workers in conditions of slave labor, and in the face of profound, institutionalized racism toward its Arab minority. When all this happens as if it were perfectly natural, without outrage and without protest, I begin to fear that even if peace comes tomorrow, even if we eventually return to some sort of normality, it may be too late to heal us completely.”

Such beautiful words from an artist—totally lacking in diaspora Jewry whose only response is to send more cheques and support the worst instincts of the right wing.

Can one imagine anyone in the US Congress so terrified of AIPAC the Israel lobby speaking like David Grosssman:

“Appeal to the Palestinian people. Speak to their deepest wound, acknowledge their unending suffering. You won’t lose anything, and Israel’s position in any future negotiation will not be compromised. But hearts will open a bit to each other, and that opening has great power. Simple human compassion has the power of a force of nature, precisely in a situation of stagnation and hostility.”

Language like this we are longing to hear. Judaism of the Torah we long to hear. Cheque book Judaism is absolutely irrelevant, harmful and nothing short of a betrayal of those jewish values David Grossman talked about.

Charlie Angus for P.M.

March 25, 2007

I like what the Hill Times, the Ottawa parliamentary paper said about Cobalt’s Charlie Angus:

Now and then some MPs come along and rise above the rest. Take note of NDP MP Charlie Angus, no ordinary member of Parliament. A federal politician who has chutzpah and a whole well of integrity.

That about sums up the reason why I went to Charlie’s fund raiser in downtown Toronto last week.I venture to say that there are many good people in public life but there are few like Charlie that combine rigorous analysis and a deep gift for the plight of average working person in this country.The NDP federal member for Timmins-James Bay redefines the meaning of an MP for me. I’ll fork out $100. for Charlie any day.

I wouldn’t even know where to begin to describe his abundant gifts—and I’ve known him since he was a skinny bass player in a punk rock group called L’Etranger which he and and Andrew Cash formed in the late 70s. He was then about 16 (he’s now 45) and full of fire and passion for God’s reign on earth and the privileged place of poor people.

I’ve watched him educate himself, start a Catholic worker house and a family in his early 20s in Toronto’s east end, then move with his great wife Brit Griffin back north where his family came from. All the while he kept singing the people’s songs with his group the Grievous Angels. His faith and politics were one. Gzowski loved him-called him “ the poet laureate of North Ontario.” He started a magazine (Highgrader) which dealt with the struggles of the north. He continued to crank out great columns for the Catholic New Times. He wrote books about the north and the great human struggles of a people against the land.

The NDP convinced him to take his faith into the public arena and against all odds he was elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2006. The Liberals sent the Big M Mahovlich in to defaet him. The people knew better. Among other accomplishments, he became such an eloquent voice for the First Nations of Kasechewan where no Liberal had ever dared to venture before.

And here he was back in Kensington MArket supported by the great musicians he started with 25 years ago. Andrew and Peter Cash, the Skydiggers, Jason Collett, Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies They all donated their time and money to make sure the poet stays in Parliament.

His brief speech was to the point—he simply laid out the wedge issues that Steven Harper uses to divide people, how they become spun and repeated, hopefully enough to get a majority so he can give this country back to the corporations and abandon the poor. Charlie looked at the musicians who supported him. ”We all began together, we stuck together.That’s what it’s about, community over individualism.”

Asked why he joined the NDP he said it was the only party he had seen consistently stand with the poor, mentioning Tommy Douglas and Ed Broadbent among others.

And the band played on. And Charlie took a few more bucks north to continue the fight.

The Gospel of Bondage

March 22, 2007

It is gratifying to see Charles Taylor, the McGill philosopher given sudden prominence in our media. Labouring as most philosophers do below the cultural bar of the least common denominator of ephemera-like diversions such as sport and celebrity, Taylor is having his 15 minutes of fame as the winner of the prestigious Templeton Prize for Religion. In 1972 when the wealthy Brit set up his lucrative (1.8 million) award, he asked this significant question:

“How can we learn to encourage progress and discovery in ways that tap the deep symphonies of divine creativity and involve us in God’s purposes?”

Never was the importance of this question needed more.

The prominent Catholic writer Gary Wills in a public lecture in Oakland California spent 20 minutes responding to this question: Can American Christianity survive the Bush administration? In a similar vein, the brilliant Canadian troubador Bruce Cockburn 20 years ago wrote a song called The Gospel of Bondage” which addressed the same issue. Later Cockburn said the reason he shied away from calling himself a Christian was the popular assumption that the televangelists like Robertson and Falwell represented Christianity.

While it is true the Father/Mother’s mansion has many rooms, none of them come with gold brocade, defended by a nuclear arsenal.As James Forbes the pastor of New York’s Riverside Church put it, if the New Testament is any yardstick, nobody gets to heaven without a reference from the poor.

Taylor would be one of those “pointy headed intellectuals” that men like Falwell and Bush would sneer at. The reason being is reason. Taylor consistently argues for the rationality of faith and the irrationality of the obviously specious public manifestations of biblical faith, none worse than that exhibited by GW Bush’s term in the White House.

Bush who had the stupidity to refer to the american Republican plutocrats who backed him as “my base” has turned Christianity’s option for the poor on its head . The McClatchy group of newspapers in the US in February showed that the number of people living in extreme poverty had grown by 26 per cent since 2000 and the number of severe poor has grown 56 per cent faster than the overall segment of the population characterised as poor – about 37 million.

Factor in the devastation of the Iraq war (655,000 dead Iraqis, 3,200 Amercans at a cost of 455 billion dollars) which now includes over 1 million refugees in Jordan and Syria and you end up with an abysmal reflection of how a Christian acts in the public square. As Jim Wallis put it a few years ago, “how did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war and only pro-American?”

After the Great War, organized religion in Great Britain, realizing that it had been used by the jingoists and imperialists suffered a huge loss in adherents. The leakage has already begun with young evangelicals.

Charles Taylor has been asking good questions for a long time, perhaps the foremost one being “what makes us go one way and not another?” “How do we get more (Nelson) Mandelas and fewer (Robert) Mugabes?”

And I would add G W Bush.

Norman Alcock, dreamer

March 20, 2007

AlcockThe special message of the world’s avatars was that their gift of a closeness to God was something which could and would be acquired by everyone. When? Jesus did not say or the Buddha. But more recent philosophers of the soul did suggest the end of the twentieth century as a time when accelerating numbers of people would acquire the “cosmic sense.”

Norman Alcock in a Trumpet of Angels

Opening the Star yesterday I was brought up short to see that another beautiful dreamer has left this planet, my friend Norman Alcock who died on March 11 in Huntsville, Ontario at age 88. We became friends in 1980 when the Catholic church was still engaged in the great human struggles of our time and I was sent to meet regularly with the World Council for Religion and Peace (WCRP). The times were dark and Ronald Reagan was just beginning to rattle the apocalyptic nuclear sword.

One of Canada’s most brilliant math students, Norman took his engineering degree from Queens in 1949 and did graduate work at the California Institute of Technology and McGill. From there it was radar research in Ottawa and employment at Chalk River. In 1961 he and wife Pat founded Canada’s first peace research institute in Dundas, Ontario. Alcock the rigorous scientist wondered why there were wars. Could science help unpack this conundrum? Why was the human race so violent in flight from its best instincts? Over the years Norman and others identified many obvious causes of war, from arms races (always begun and accelerated by the U.S.) rabid nationalism, fundamentalist religious orientations, etcetera.

Norman, however, as well read as he was in the social sciences, began to think outside his scientific box and look into the spiritual causes, the root of humanity’s alienation from each other, nature and ultimately from God or “the higher power” as he described the Divine. In many ways, Norm was a Teilhardian, a secular scientist who believes that humanity is on a cosmological journey to a leap in consciousness. Next stop “the noosphere.” Some of these ideas he put between the covers of his book a Trumpet of Angels: A Scientific Inquiry into the Growth of the Human Soul. Norman’s magnum opus took 15 years to write.

I was the only Catholic delegate to that Toronto group which had correctly divined the serious escalation of the arms race under Ronald Reagan. WCRP was largely the aging remnant of the Protestant social gospel along with convicted humanists “of no fixed religion” like Norm. By then he had passed on his Peace Institute to others, moved to Huntsville with his wife Pat and commuted to Toronto for meetings.

Time went by and Gorbachev shamed Reagan into cooling his saber rattling, but a new ugly virus was raising its ugly head: neoconservatism, a blatant global attack to reverse the post war gains of working people. Both in Canada and in the U.S., capital had reorganized for a savage attack on the common good. Privatization and deregulation of the global commons came to Ontario in 1995 under Mike Harris. Many of us redirected our energy into defending our unique Canadian narrative of inclusion.

In 1998 I was invited by Greer and Margaret Boyce, two United Church friends (Greer was a minister) to the beautiful resort town of Gravenhurst to speak on the common good. In the middle of my talk I spied Norman in the crowd, a big grin on his face and jokingly asked him why he was here. “His reply cracked the crowd up and slightly embarrassed me: “To see my favourite Catholic!”

In 2004 at age 85, Pat and Norm traveled to Ottawa where Norman was awarded the Order of Canada by the Governor General. His citation read:”This former nuclear scientist has worked tirelessly for peace and disarmament. His institute put Canada on the world stage for its innovative scientific approach to the study of peace and its applications. Through his writings … he has helped us to better understand the complexities of war and peace.”

Yiddish has a wonderful word for people like Norman Alcock. In 1960 he would have qualified as a “Luftmensch,” a guy with his head in the clouds, a dreamer, a bit of a fool who thinks he was doing something useful. Norm would readily admit he didn’t know if he was advancing civilization or not. He used to agree with all his detractors who ridiculed his early efforts at understanding why humans went to war. Undeterred, he persisted in his folly. He usually answered his critics with a shy smile and a quiet riposte which I have often quoted. “Why do I do it? It’s easy. I do it so that maybe somebody else will see me and my life will give them permission to come on the stage.”

None of us comes full-blown from the head of Zeus. Signs are given on the way –which we either catch or miss. Many of these messengers (or angels as the Greek styles them) are flesh and blood like ourselves. So the Divine works in this sacramental universe. Norman Alcock, the erudite, shy and gentle professor arrived in my life as a messenger of radical hope, one of the many who gave me and countless others our cues to come on stage.

Thank you,Norman.

Sobrino gets public scolding

March 18, 2007

So the modern Inquisition has finally got to Jon Sobrino, the brilliant Basque theologian who has given his life to the poor of El Salvador. Sobrino escaped with his life in 1989 when the death squads invaded his residence and murdered his equally brilliant collaborator, Ignacio Ellacuria and 6 others . Now he can be disinvited from speaking at the whim of a bishop though no outright ban or sanction has been handed down. Sobrino insists that the Vatican has misrepresented his positions.

Make no mistake- this ruining of reputations and in some cases, the health of several serious theologians will be seen as one of the darkest times of the “Catholic” 20th century. Pope Ratzinger’s previously heavy handed modus operandi silenced 100 theologians in his former incarnation as papal enforcer. Perhaps with this mild public shaming, the Pope has learned a thing or two in his new job as a gospel reconciler. In his previous one he never learned to use John XXlll’s “medicine of mercy”. His was theological castor oil, with the only result being the calcification of theology in Catholic institutions of higher learning.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sees its duty to protect the little ones in their faith. Fair enough. For them Sobrino’s writing on Jesus ( primarily Christ the Liberator) is a threat to the purity of doctrine. Apparently Sobrino is deficient in his understanding of the divinity of Jesus, placing too much emphasis on his humanity. Like most theologians Sobrino begins his theologozing “from below”, the only place anybody can logically begin. From this ground zero, he asks in what way do we understand the concept “divinity.”, It is obvious that no Jew would ever equate himself with God. And even Jesus prays “Our Father.”

One assumes good will on both sides but given Jon Sobrino’s existential commitment to God’s holy poor even this mild public rebuke is way too heavy handed. Such discipline should be left to Sobrino’s peers and few have found anything to quibble with, outside of the obnoxious Colombian cardinal Lopez Trujillo the bane of all liberation theologians.

Sobrino is engaged in the age old work of the theologian struggling to make the mystery of Jesus understandable to this generation. Given the appalling literalism still afoot in our increasingly fundamentalist world, the simple equation Jesus=God is the faulty baggage too many Christians carry around with them. Brilliant men like Sobrino and Roger Haight another theologian under a cloud,struggle heroically to advance the cause.

Simplistic statements, like Chalcedon,(451 CE) so essentialist and so foreign to the modern mind are unacceptable. “We teach . . . one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, known in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” This terminology, understanadble at the time, speaks to few today.

Sobrino claims that even the New Testament witness to Jesus crafted in the first century is closer to today’s understanding. Chalcedon, by using Greek philosophical ideas of nature, the co-existence of humanity and divinity in Jesus, misses Jesus’ relationship with the Father. “This is a serious lack” according to Jon Sobrino. For this theologian “we need to rethink Jesus’ sonship starting with his historical relationship with God. This sonship needs to be seen primarily in his self-giving.” Sobrino consistently argues for history, relationship and in Jesus case, the kingdom or reign of God which is absent in the Chalcedonian definition written 400 years after his real life and real death.

Sobrino concludes, and I would think the great percentage of Catholic theologians would as well, that “the Chalcedonian definition is lacking in actuality, history and relationality.”
Divinity and humanity—yes, but the struggle to express this in today’s terms, that is the ongoing task.

The poor will never read Sobrino’s theology. They do know the strength of his witness. And I suspect the Vatican does as well.

Charles Taylor and Islamophobia

March 16, 2007

Charles Taylor is the first Canadian to win the prestigious Templeton Prize for Religion, the Nobel of philosophy and religion. The Montrealer who taught for decades at McGill and ran three times unsuccessfully for the NDP, has been writing latterly on the whole philosophical problem of modernity. He has long been an interdisciplinary thinker on the interconnections between religion, spirituality and public policy. The best read might be his 1991 Massey lectures published as “The Malaise of Modernity.”

In New York on March 14 to meet the press, Taylor said a number of interesting things. The following is fairly typical:

“I believe that the barriers between science and spirituality are not only ungrounded, but are also crippling. The divorce of natural science and religion has been damaging to both, but it is equally true that the culture of the humanities and social sciences has often been surprisingly blind and deaf to the spiritual.”

Raised as a bilingual Roman Catholic, Taylor has always been fascinated with the nexus of religion and politics and indeed by modernity’s cavalier exclusion of religion from the public square. The Templeton Prize has often focused on science and religion but has also awarding its million dollar plus prize to people like Billy Graham and Mother Theresa.

I saw no references in print to the following but I was struck that in his CBC interview Taylor alluded to one of the huge problems bedeviling the west, the rise of Islamophobia and our unwillingness to distinguish between fringe Islam and the vast percentage of Muslims. Those who think that Muslim countries and pro-terrorist attitudes go hand-in-hand will be shocked by new polling research that reveal Americans to be more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country, except for Nigeria.

Coincidentally the same day another philosopher raised the same point in a column by Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star. Anwar Ibrahim, a very brave opposition figure in Malaysia echoed Taylor. The former deputy PM and director of an International think tank on crisis resolution in Brussels was quoted as saying the obvious “prejudice and intolerance, ignorance and arrogance have been driving American foreign policy. The war on terrorism, which has created more terrorism, has caused so much damage that it would “take the world years to recover.”. A persistent critic of Muslim fundamentalism at home , Ibrahim lamented the “oversimplified view” of Muslims and Islam, in the West which is so “lacking in credibility that people don’t trust you anymore.” The U.S. and its allies have caused havoc and destruction in Muslim lands and are treating Muslims so shabbily that “people everywhere are angry and agitated.”

Judging from the appallingly dumb emails which come across my desk from Canadians whom I thought knew better, we need to hear the words of wise philosophers like Taylor and Ibrahim.

Who is Chalmers Johnson?

March 14, 2007

The problem was that I knew too much about the international Communist movement and not enough about the United States government and its Department of Defense. … In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement. For all its naiveté and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong.

Chalmers Johnson

For those of us who read history seriously, we marvel at the very best that the USA produces. One of those is surely Chalmers Johnson, now a spry 75 year old emeritus prof at the University of California. What makes Johnson believable is that he comes from the belly of the beast, the over-extended American empire. The opening quote serves as a reminder that even former CIA operatives like Johnson can wake up to become serious truth tellers. Many will say that most Americans have been asleep for decades as to the nature of their government but that’s beside the point.

Having retired as a Japan specialist, Johnson wrote Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire in 2000. The book gained immediate traction after 9/11 and “blowback” entered 9/11 discourse. It means retaliation for U.S. covert actions which many considered 9/11 to be. All this despite American naivete about their country. Next came The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004) and now Nemesis the third volume in his trilogy. You see where he’s going with this.

What disgusted Johnson the cold warrior was the failure to realize the peace dividend after the Wall fell in 1989. After all the Soviet threat was the raison d’etre of the whole military industrial complex. Surely better use could be made of the billions spent on the whole Pentagon apparatus. As the entire justification for this disappeared, Johnson discovered that when you create an empire it is hard to give it up. A whole economy had developed around “military Keynesianism”, a terribly expensive way to drive your economic engine. No pun intended but you you do not get much bang for your buck. When you build a missile it sits there, does not move into the broader economy to create more wealth. Nobody can live in in, drive it and if you use it…well let’s not go there.

Johnson began to see that all these bases around the world were simply there to project American power. In the Philippines for example the locals began to get very angry that their women were being used as prostitutes to serve the American troops at Clarke and Subic bases. Most Filipinos are idolators of all things American but this conflicted with their Catholicism. Few asked the question: what the hell are two huge bases doing here? There is no war. Is there not a better way to spend money?

Johnson became disgusted that there were now more than 700 US bases around the world. 38 of these were major outposts employing thousands. Nobody could tell him why. The Friends (Quakers) website puts the question simply: If the U.S. is ultimately leaving Iraq, why is the military building ‘permanent’ bases?

Institutional fundamentalism

March 12, 2007

A gay man sacked by a bishop imposed on the people of Victoria, B.C. This is the year 2007. A popular priest refuses to do the dirty work. Forced to resign by bishop. Parish up in arms. Bishop meets with parishioners who are unsatisfied with his answers. The fired employee , given a buy out is still stewing. Powerless priest later signs statement with bishop. All this at Holy Cross parish in Victoria.

Sadly, this incident appears commonplace in today’s Church. Educated laity, nourished by a Vatican ll belief in the People of God’s right to co-responsibility, transparency and accountability chafe under a reassertion of “institutional fundamentalism” where the status quo ante of rigid clerical control is reclaimed. Bishops are nominated and imposed on dioceses all over the world with no input of those who make up the faithful. These men are chosen on their servility to Rome and their willingness to be the agents of a locked down curial centralism.

Such strategies are an insult to the growing maturity of adult Christians.They are also a variant of fundamentalism sweeping the world today. The Catholic church is not yet free of this nostalgic yearning for a tightly controlled clerical church where power is expressed in a top down, monarchical away. The following is an attempt by the steering committee of Holy Cross parish to make sense of this sad situation.

Statement from the Steering Committee of
Restoring Our Church with Kindness (ROCK)
March 2, 2007, Victoria, B.C.

The thundering silence that has met our many requests for assistance has alienated the Roman Catholic faith communities of the Diocese of Victoria from the Church hierarchy, whose mission is to serve the faithful. Vancouver Island Catholics have written to the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops, the Assembly of Western Canadian Bishops, and Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the Vatican’s Apostolic Nuncio to Canada. So far, we have received only one response, when Archbishop Ventura’s office stated that these events are internal diocesan issues, and that Bishop Gagnon will handle them.

If the joint letter of February 25, purportedly from Bishop Richard Gagnon and Father Michael
Favero, is representative of Bishop Gagnon’s handling of the matter, then it is a handling we cannot accept.

Archbishop Ventura’s response indicates that a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church is an absolute monarch, accountable to no one. A bishop’s unlimited and unchecked authority in a diocese leaves the door open to abuse. We have seen the Church rocked by scandals involving child abuse, misuse of funds, abuse of religious, loss of academic freedom and threats to the faithful.
Many of these scandals have been exacerbated by subsequent cover-ups. The People of God must have some recourse when facing abuses within the Church.

We know that when the hierarchy of the Catholic Church wants to deal with an issue they have no problem making their displeasure known and exerting control. The only thing we can conclude, therefore, is that the Roman Catholic Church is quite happy to let bishops like Bishop Gagnon contravene the Church’s own teachings on discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation.

The fact that our diocese forced an employee to leave his position on the basis of unsubstantiated
allegations regarding his sexual orientation is a scandal. That a priest was removed from his post for refusing to hide the facts about such a breach of both Church teaching and simple justice is beyond belief. For our own Church hierarchy to watch all this take place and do nothing is a disgrace.

The community of Holy Cross parish has been devastated by these events. Attendance at mass is down significantly, as is participation in children’s and youth programs. Many parishioners have stopped their financial contributions to the church as a protest against the diocese, which receives twenty percent of all collections, and because they object to the fact that Holy Cross will pay for the settlement with John Oetter, which was a settlement between the diocese and Mr. Oetter, with no Holy Cross consultation. A number of parishioners have left the parish completely.

Liberationist bishop challenges Vatican

March 10, 2007

The Church in America is not an institution which travels a path parallel to the world, She is a Church, present at the heart of the reality of this world. This Church, which walks to the same rhythm as humanity, shares the earthly destiny of mankind, of the marginalized, of the excluded, of those who live in precarious situations. The Church in America is discovering that this is the vision of Christ himself, who shows himself in the great labor of the gathering of mankind in communion.

Fernando Lugo Mendez

Consecrated a bishop in 1994, Fernando Mendez has resigned his office to run for president of Paraguay in 2008. The Vatican has responded with a heavy hand and thrown all sorts of suspensions on the liberationist cleric. He should be about “saving souls” Cardinal Giovanni Re, the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops stated. Souls however are disincarnate. Humans on the other hand are incarnated spirits—literally “in carne”—flesh, materialist and ultimately real people who suffer, sweat and struggle in this world. This is what Christians mean by “the incarnation”. Souls are foreign to scripture. Mendez understands this and is willing to give up his priesthood to address the massive problem.

Vatican ll insisted that “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of those of this age, especially those who are poor…are those of the Church”, a point hammered home by Bishop Mendez and seemingly downplayed by Cardinal Re.

Mendez is going ahead anyway, stating that “hunger and unemployment, lack of access to health and education” have no ideology.” He is challenging the ruling Colorado Party which has had a lock on Paraguayan politics since the time of the “dictadura”, (harsh dictator) Alfredo Stroessner.

According to the populist movement (El Movimiento Paraguay Posible) led by Mendes’ brother, Pompeyo, half of Paraguay’s 6.5 million people live in poverty and 20 percent are mired in extreme poverty. The most popular figure in the country, Mendez, resigned his priesthood in December to skirt the law against clergy running for office. Disgusted by the deep seated and enduring poverty, the charismatic bishop whose oratory is reputedly spellbinding, stated that from now on, “his cathedral is the nation.”

The right and the the privileged are now playing the “Red” card, saying that Mendez is fomenting “class divisions” but the bishop is quick to deny anything that looks like a revolutionary approach. Hugo Chavez he is not.

Things do look ominous as organized crime groups were threatening both brothers, according to Pompeyo. “They are threatening to put a bullet or a bomb in us.”
Both are forging ahead to to transform their native land. As far as the Vatican suspension, Mendez said, “The Pope “can either accept my decision or punish me. But I am in politics already”.

A little history here.

John Paul ll listened to the angry voices of several Latin bishops in the 80s after then Cardinal Ratzinger’s totally black view of liberation theology. The latter who had never pastored so many people (not souls) who were living under grinding poverty, totally over reacted in his 1984 Instruction on Liberation Theology. John Paul had already made a terrible gaffe on evaluating Oscar Romero a result of very poor advice from Cardinal Casariego of Guatemala, who was the only Central America cardinal at the time and a great supporter of the Guatemalan military and of militarism in general.

To give the last pope credit, challenged forcefully by Latin bishops, he realized his mistake and wrote a letter to the Brazilian bishops on Easter, 1985 after Ratzinger had produced two documents trashing liberation theology. John Paul said that a true liberation theology purified of Marxist elements, was necessary and an acceptable development in the life of the church. When the Bishops heard this they wept. A pope can learn.

Maybe the Vatican can as well—if they could internalize the suffering of the “poor Paraguay” as Bishop Mendez obviously has.

Poll has Israel as least-favoured Nation

March 8, 2007

Israel and Iran share status as least-favoured nations, according to a new BBC World Service poll on the positive or negative influence of 12 of the world’s major countries. Israel topped Iran by 2 percentage points. The results were released on March 6.

This poll reiterates the findings of a similar poll last November which showed that Israel is suffering from the worst public image among all countries of the world.The study, called the National Brands Index, conducted showed that Israel is at the bottom of the list by a considerable margin in the public’s perception of its image.

The Index surveyed 25,903 online consumers across 35 countries about their perceptions of those countries across six areas of national competence: Investment and Immigration, Exports, Culture and Heritage, People, Governance and Tourism. The NBI is the first analytical ranking of the world’s nation brands.

The results have predictably evinced howls of outrage from diaspora Jews apparently befuddled by the findings.

Two comments must be made about this disconnect. The first is that the world has caught up with the shocking plight of the Palestinians. The cumulative, unarguable evidence of overwhelming oppression has convincingly brought Israel to judgment in the court of public opinion. Despite the self-censorship of too many Christians,still rendered mute by the spectre of the Holocaust, despite the ferocious targeting of any critics by the pro -Israel lobby, despite the craven cowardice of the US Congress and those running for president in 2008, particularly Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain, the miserable conditions of Palestinians has struck a human chord.

Secondly, the trance-like blindness of diaspora Jewry, its absolute unwillingness to see first hand the abysmal conditions particularly in the world’s largest prison, Gaza, has for too long precluded any chance of a settlement in the mid-East. This blindness has embarrassed the thousands of Jews of conscience who have finally found their voice in both Great Britain the USA and Canada. Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) arose in England with a much more holistic attitude to the Middle East They include: putting human rights first; giving equal priority to Palestinians and Israelis in their quest for a peaceful and secure future; and repudiating all forms of racism aimed at Jews, Arabs, Muslims or whomever. IJV concluded its statement with this :We believe that these commitments – not ethnic or group loyalties – define the limits of legitimate debate. We invite like-minded Jews in Britain to add their names to the list of IJV signatories.

In Canada he Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians serves as a Canada-wide umbrella organization for Jewish individuals and groups whose views are not represented by the government of Israel or by the uncritical positions taken by the leadership of the major Jewish organizations in Canada.

“We also need to explain to the Government of Canada that Jewish Canadians do not speak as one voice with respect to current Israeli policies, and that thousands have grave doubts which until now have been muted” says their vision statement.

Going by different names, they have separated themselves from the lemming-like stampede to a ‘my country, right or wrong’ attitude of those in the diaspora. Jews, like Christians under advanced capitalism, have long been in exile from the prophetic principle which in ages past allowed believers to move beyond tribal loyalties to universal solidarity.

Alexander Schindler the former leader of American Reform Jewry made this trenchant and perceptive comment 25 years ago “We do ourselves irreparable harm when we make Israel our surrogate synagogue.”

”Cheque book Judaism” in the end is as noxious as ultramontane Catholicism.