Archive for November 2008

The apocalyptic Baptist

November 30, 2008

stjohnthebaptist1Isaiah 64:1 Oh that you would tear the heavens, that you would come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence, 2 as when fire kindles the brushwood, and the fire causes the waters to boil; to make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome things which we didn’t look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 

So goes the first reading of the first sunday in Advent. Note the cosmological signs—tearing the heavens, mountains quaking, nations trembling. All apocalyptic language.Trito-Isaiah was written after the return of the exiles from Babylon (5th c BCE). Like other points in Jewish history, a time of lamentation, of waiting, of disappointment.

Now Jesus  in the gospel simply says, “Stay awake.”

It  is surely ironic that all the endtimers who promote the nonsense of the fiery ending and the dramatic Second Coming never quote Jesus who tells the people that we do not know the hour or the day.

There is no doubt that the Baptist who plays such a dramatic role in Advent was a raving endtimer. Next Sunday we see him coming like a wild man out of the desert,proclaiming God’s judgment…”the axe is lying at the  root of the trees…” and the bad ones will tossed into the fire.His winnowing fork is in his hand…”

John felt deeply the crisis time under Roman occupation, the deep suffering. 

The difference between “the greatest prophet in Israel” as Jesus calls him and the Baptizer is that Jesus accepts that God is intervening in history…NOW. But he broke with the Baptist’s “God is judgment” prediction and proclaims:

NO, God is mercy!

Not divine judgment but a divine banquet. The kingdom of grace and forgiveness acted out in a eucharistic setting.

Jesus and NT apocalyptic

November 29, 2008


Ernst Kasemann wrote in 1964 that, “Apocalyptic was the mother of Christian theology”. This insight had been building since Albert Schweitzer’s commentary of the early 1900s. In November in the Catholic lectionary we see several examples of end time predictions on the lips of Jesus. They are classic apocalyptic images, some of cosmological eruptions (Nov. 26 and 27)—”the sun and the moon and the stars” and “distress among the nations”. We have “the roaring of the seas and the waves” and “people fainting from fear” as the “son of Man comes on a cloud”(Lk. 21:25 ff).We have the “little apocalypse of Mark 13  and several passages in Paul which point to the shared idea that the end times were expected.

What else would you expect at this juncture of Jewish history?

Whether  Mk 13 was inserted after the shocking devastation of Jerusalem in 70 when the blood in the Temple ran knee deep or whether in the life of Jesus, scholars are divided. The grinding poverty of the tenant farmers under the latest oppressor, Rome was becoming too difficult for many people to deal with.When would the Lord intervene? Apocalyptic is a legitimate historical response.

H.L. Mencken and the modern Know Nothings

November 28, 2008



After the Scopes Monkey Trial which humiliated William Jennings Bryant and the cause of biblical literalism in 1924, one of the most acerbic newspapermen of the 20s, H L Mencken said this:

“Heave an egg out of a Pullman window and you will hit a fundamentalist  almost anywhere in America today. They swarm in the country towns…They are thick in the mean streets behind the gasworks. They are everywhere  learning is a heavy burden…even the vague, pathetic learning on tap in little red schoolhouses.They march with the Klan, with the Christian Endeavour society, with the Junior Order of  United American Mechanics…with all the rococo bands that poor and unhappy folk organize to bring some light of purpose into their lives.They have had a thrill and they are ready for more.”

Mencken could have just as easily written those words in 2008. About one fourth of Americans are still biblical literalists.After universal education and intellectual advances everywhere, the Know Nothing southern red states still voted for the most craven and opportunistic gang to ever sit around the White House table.They were small, uninteresting and venal  men who stopped at nothing to manipulate “the sheep without a shepherd.” And at their worst they played the Jesus card.

John McCain finally had to reject the endorsement of one of the biggest biblical illiterates ever to appear on television—with the money the sheep had sent him. I refer here to John Hagee, a preposterous Biblicist poseur whose rants about the end times and Israel’s role has  done so much harm to global and domestic American peace. And if you knew what Sarah Palin believed about the Apocalypse, you’d run.

As the economy implodes, the direct result of GOP greed, the fundamentalist apocalyptics will be having a grand time.The poor old Book of Revelation will once more  be held hostage to ranters and ravers.

The Mapah: the feminine just won’t quit

November 24, 2008

Surely one of the major neuralgic issues bedevelling the Catholic Church is the inability to acknowledge the feminist breakthrough as a manifestation of the Spirit. The idea is a long time aborning.

I recently ran across an interesting historical footnote as part of the apocalyptic ravings which have broken out in every era. 

On the day of the Assumption, August 15, 1838,  French seer Abel Ganneau, called the Mapah( a combo of Mom and Pop) declared the first day of Evedah, when the old world ended (a favourite theme in Revelations) and the new one began. On this day the androgynous Evadam  was born and  in that new guise , the new entity, woman, slave and mother became God’s chosen instrument to liberate the weak—the equality of the sexes , partners within the ideal being–all of which prefigured  human relations which were yet to be perfected. Crazy shit, I agree but underneath the dross, the brother was on the cusp of something important.

Apparently woman as liberator was not an uncommon theme in the mid-nineteenth century.Amazingly this was also the time of the many Marian apparations….which we recall were often used to stay the wrath of God.

Feminine outbursts everywhere!

And they will continue with both men and women participating and demanding the obvious:equality

Ayn Rand’s Canadian friends

November 21, 2008



THE CBC led by Pastor Mansbridge caught Steve Harper and Finance Minister Flaherty out on Wednesday Nov 19. They showed clips of both saying “Never” to deficit spending.The neocon movement had even spooked Jack Layton into making the same ridiculous promise. Might as well tell people with mortgages to cease and desist.Same principle. It shows you how far the political climate has changed in the world.

Now that supply economics has been shown up for what it is and Friedman and Greenspan have egg over their Ayn Rand faces, even true believers Flaherty the architect of Ontario PM Mike Harris’s brutal attack on the common good and Oil Patch Harper have had to eat crow.

And now this—Kevin Page, the new Parliamentary Budget Officer, concludes that the federal Conservatives are likely to run budget deficits “in the near term,” possibly beginning this year, and that the fault lies as much with Flaherty as it does with the weak economy.

Why? it is not the weakened economy.

 Page says the deterioration of the federal government’s financial picture in the first nine months of 2008 is not so much the result of the weakened economy as Flaherty’s policies, particularly the latest reduction in the GST tax and reduced corporate income taxes. This has caused federal revenues to decline by $353 million in the first nine months of this year.

Would they love to have that GST money back as well as those ridiculous tax breaks to the richest people in this land.

Princes in glass houses

November 17, 2008

What can you say about “The Rt Rev “ Patrick O’Donoghue, the Bishop of Lancaster,who recently opined in Britain’s Tory paper the Telegraph  that graduates are spreading scepticism and sowing dissent. Instead of following the Church’s teaching they are “hedonistic”, “selfish” and “egocentric”.

Turns out our brother Pat was not finished.He also claimed that influential Catholics in politics and the media were undermining the Church. Both groups have been compromised by their education

O’Donoghue  recently published a report on how to renew Catholicism in Britain,

First of all this is just the type of story right wing Catholicism loves and many of these Colonel Blimps have made it to the Tory top in the UK. I recently sat with one at a wedding—kids in what we call private schools,working out of a privatized spirituality which lacks a social dimension, reactionary when it comes to women in the Church and generally believing that we are moving to hell in a handbasket, “Prophets of gloom” as John 23 called them. They embrace the Church as the spotless bride, surrender all authority to the hierarchy and in general know little history and very little recent scriptural scholarship.

Why would the Telegraph highlight such an ill informed screed?

Not that the bishop is not right in being concerned about societal influences. The Church and its members live in society and are influenced—for good and bad by contemporary currents. I have no doubt that those of us in the hypercapitalist West have been corroded by materialism, quite possibly  by other isms as well.

However, the Spirit has been at work as well in our history. “The  “signs of the times” (God’s irruption in our world) have been abundant to many of us but the sclerotic institution has been slow to grasp them since the end of the Vatican Council (1965). Foremost among them has been the inbreaking of feminist wisdom—rejected by the Church. Catholic women are lagging far behind women in other institutions. This is “sinful” and it has hurt the Church immensely.

Another “sign” acknowledged in our secular lives has been “the cry of the earth”.So little action at the parish level, such poor pastoral planning, so few dramatic homilies as God’s body has been mercilessly assailed. Right to life apparently does not include the planet’s right to life.

IN Toronto recently the local bishop just called a conference on Humane Vitae! Catholics have long decided the birth control issue. Why is energy being placed here when we face such global problems demanding our care?

Too many of these JP ll bishops, good men like the bishop of Lancaster, absolutely missed the central understanding of both Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes…the Church must serve the reign of GOd. When it does the people will follow. As it is now the clericalunknownleadership has become so obsessed with itself that people are walking away—and men like O’Donoghue are refusing to look inward at the hierarchical, clerical, misogynist state of an aging  institution.

Obama, America’s first white president

November 12, 2008


Who could not be thrilled with the victory of Barack Obama in the US election,their  first white president.

Pardon the joke.

There is no doubt that Barack energized Afro-Americans —but also younger white Americans. It was only the sleepy seniors who gave McCain the nod. Along with less educated red states. Every other demographic voted Obama—that is the Catholics who attend mass regularly. What does that tell you? You tell me.

These brothers and sisters have not done their homework, deeply understood the massive Republican attack on the poor and the common good, have succumbed to the narrow “abortion only” mantra of a few bishops.

Obama is the first post-racial candidate. The subject never came up in his campaign other than to deal with Jeremiah White, an Afro-American of another generation who spoke, albeit bombastically, about the deep suffering of that generation of blacks. Brother Wright was a little over the top but dead on about the USA

60 minutes ran an interview with Obama’s brilliant white advisors. Their colour as well was irrelevant.

They told Steve Croft (60 Minutes) that race never came up in their meetings. Obama ran as an intelligent American who called forth the best in that sorely divided country. A brilliant strategy for sure.

Obama had to appear “white” in a country 90% white. He hardly ever appeared in totally “black” venues and in no mosques, a shrewd political move. Raving idiots like Rush Limbaugh kept referring to him as Barack HUSSEIN Obama. Another pathetic fear stoker like the rest of American AM radio. Obama never sounded “black”, never shucked and jived like our cartoon picture of black America. Nobody hearing him heard the Afro-American accents of a Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton etc. He talked educated—much like Bill Cosby and the Huxtables!  And let it be said, like millions of Afro-Americans who never get to prime time.People dug him because he was not black or white—but damned intelligent and persuasive. In  McLuhan language he was “cool”, non-threatening unlike Rev. Wright’s “hot” rhetoric.  He is Tomorrow’s man unlike the grumpy old white guy he beat, the 90% defender of the virulent assault on Amerca’s poor.

Obama in fact was raised largely by his strong  white mother and white grandmother Madelyn Dunham who sadly died the day before his election victory. He was fulsome in his praise of her deep influence . It was strangely ironic that this man whom the black community claimed as their own was raised largely by strong white women. The first “black” president did not come out of the historical civil rights struggle. So what. As an intelligent Harvard educated lawyer he understood that and internalized it.

So what if he is as white as he is black. Surely it is long overdue to leave behind that most ephemeral of human differences, skin colour. Having said that what about those incredible black women who raised families with so much love in the land of bigotry. Barack’s victory is theirs for sure.

Obama’s challenge is to pick up the prophet’s mantle (ML King Jr) and advocate for poor people—not black, white, Native American or whatever. Doc King was never totally about race. it was just that most poor folks happened to be black.

However one would have to be a fool not to appreciate “black” America’s palpable joy.

Wasn’t that a day, Lord!



The unwise autistic men

November 9, 2008

galbraithEconomist James Galbraith (son of the late/great John Kenneth Galbraith who wrote The Great Crash about the depression of the l930’s) recently wrote

But there are at least 15,000 professional economists in this country, and you’re saying only two or three of them foresaw the mortgage crisis?

Ten or 12 would be closer than two or three.

What does that say about the field of economics, which claims to be a science?

It’s an enormous blot on the reputation of the profession. There are thousands of economists. Most of them teach. And most of them teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. 

Economics as I have come to learn in many places is a junk science, a model driven abstraction which bypasses the human condition and real lives.

About a decade ago in France, neoclassical economics came under serious assualt. Sorbonne economist Bernard Guérmien addressed a conference on the above theme-the disconnect between the teaching of of neoclassical economics and reality. Shortly after several students approached their professor and confessed the same disenchantment. The autisme economie (PAE) was born with the rallying cry, “we wish to escape imaginary worlds !  We no longer want this autistic science pushed on us.” The revolt stunned the media as well as the often elitist French academy. Hundreds of students signed on as well as many prominent economists.

The wave  moved throughout Europe,supported by France’s leading economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi who proposed new courses ignored by mainstream economists, namely unemployment and the environment. The movement found a similar response in Cambridge and Oxford. And with the same threatening consequences of professional marginalization that Galbraith  himself had experienced battling for tenure at Harvard. The young turks this time were supported by Galbraith’s son James, now a distinguished economist in Texas. PAE textbooks began to be printed  and translated into Chinese.

I trust they are still in use.Or are “the fundamentals still strong”?

Post mortem 2: Palin

November 7, 2008

blog-full-33402“Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.”

William Shakepeare

One of the major reasons for the sinking of the good ship McCain was the shockingly poor judgment of choosing faux feminist Sarah Palin as his VP nominee,

After the original shock value (Americans love celebrity, novelty,  the latest buzz) Palin’s deep ignorance  began to show, First her interview with Katie Couric where she blathered on in platitudes than Charlie Gibson and then no more interviews with the press as it was obvious she was way out of her depth. Howlers like the VP presided over the Senate, Africa was not a continent,global warming a myth  etc showed just how dumb she was.A deep insult to the US democratic system and a terrible condemnation of McCain’s judgment. 

A quick look at Palin’s resumé (and the names of her children)  would have indicated not ready for prime time…4 second rate colleges akin to the University of Centre Island might have made her acceptable as mayor of a small town but VP—? You gotta be kidding.

Interviewees swooned that “she was one of us”—that what was precisely wrong with her. Presumably you need people smarter than you to meet today’s challenges

Then there was her nutbar religious beliefs—another endtimer…all that America needs; another convinced that God somehow blessed the invasion of Iraq.

Palin was an absolute disaster,a deserving national object of ridicule, one hoisted on her own petard of her overweening ambition.

One can only hope she fades back to the obscurity she so richly deserves.

Her 15 minutes we hope are up.

But then Madonna is still with us!

Post-mortem 1: McCain no war hero

November 5, 2008


There was the CBC in its election coverage consistently referring to John McCain as a war hero. Peter Mansbridge, Alison Smith and Rex Murphy were particularly effusive in their praise of McCain. Let it be said that McCain’s concession speech was first rate, classy and conciliatory. Let it also be said that John McCain is no war hero.

John McCain was shot down on his 23rd bombing mission over Vietnam, a country which had never attacked the USA, he was part of an imperial invasion of a neutral country. civilian casualties range from 1-2 million. In 1995 the North Vietnamese estimated the number at 2 million. 

McCain who referred to the Vietnamese in racist terms(”gooks”) in a 1973 article, landed in Truc Boc lake in Hanoi, was saved from drowning by a citizen.He claimed he was tortured but always has refused the release of his government debriefing.

A war hero? Hardly. Bombing innocent civilians in a foreign country which did not threaten you makes you complicit in war crimes. Only in a country where militarism runs rampant could such a character be deemed a war hero, virtually beyond criticism.

McCain has been dining out freely on this spurious claim for over 40 years.

Now it is “received wisdom” beyond dispute,

Is it any wonder why the media is losing respect?