Monday, December 22, 2008
The two most dangerous forms of American idolatry
1) Giving thanks to God for something that you or your ancestors actually took from other human beings. For example, the Puritans stole land and food from the natives and then turned around than thanked God for what they had stolen. For example, many middle class white people thank God for all of the privileges "He" gave them and then reflect very piously about the responsibilities (or should I say burdens) that come with them.
In reality, their ancestors created an unjust system that gave them these privileges. God had nothing to do with it. God is not in the business of giving the well-off more wealth. He is in the business of taking away their wealth in order to give it to the poor... or possibly multiplying the loaves and fishes so that everyone has more than enough to live joyfully. As a wise woman of color once said, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.... he has thrown the mighty down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly" (Luke 1:46-55). So when you thank "God" for lifting up the mighty and throwing down the lowly, you're basically worshipping the opposite of God.
2) Convincing yourself that you are Moses when you are actually acting like Pharaoh (or at least Pharaoh's loyal and wretched servant). Given the fact that God is in the business of throwing the mighty down from their thrones and lifting up the lowly, human beings are most spiritually alive when we are in the process of helping God tear down thrones.
Someday, hopefully before the second coming, we'll live in a society where the deepest moments of human spirit and striving come in peace and playfulness. But we're not there yet so at least the near future being fully alive means being the underdog struggling to tear down the thrones of our masters. Jesus said if we want salvation we have to take up our crosses and follow him.
That's easier said than done. One of the greatest modern temptations is the belief that we are taking up our crosses when we are really just sweating and getting a backache hammering the nails into Christ's wrists.
If being fully alive means being the underdog tearing down thrones, the modern middle class could easily be left out of this story. They are not lowly and they don't have a good record of tearing down thrones (yes, I know, they had their moment in Paris in 1793 but it was the working women of Paris that scared them into it!). So many modern middle class people have trouble placing themselves in the Biblical stories. How are you gonna be Moses when your entire life is based on enslaving Moses' people?
Well, one thing you can do is pretend to be Moses by becoming a nationalist. Modern nationalism is based on creating a mythology about how your people were wronged and how you need to fight your enemies to vindicate your national pride. It allows you to play the role of the underdog. It allows you to live the vibrant, intense life of struggle against oppression without actually fighting for justice. You can wage this struggle from your throne, comfortably shouting orders to exterminate your "oppressors." It helps to have "oppressors" with no money or weapons.
Nationalism has some validity when a nation is ACTUALLY oppressed - when it is fragmented and needs to pull itself together to fight for justice. For example, the revolutionary nationalism of people of color fighting colonialism is a good thing.
But nationalism is dangerous when Pharaoh wages it in order to play Moses. For example, consider white nationalism in this country. The soul of American religion consists of variations on the theme of "Go down Moses, way down to Egypt land.... tell old Pharaoh to let my people go." This spiritual was forged in the Black liberation struggle against slavery and has been taken up by the rest of the oppressed multitude that built this country including immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. But white nationalists like the Aryan Nations and Christian Identity flip this on its head. For them, Pharaoh is Black and the enslaved Israelites are white. They claim Black people run the world, and they claim Black people are oppressing them through things like affirmative action, welfare, and crime. They try to convince other white people to wage a national liberation struggle against Black people.
This is all bullshit. We live in a white supremacist society where a multiracial but largely white ruling class subordinates and dehumanized Black people. Most affirmative action and welfare historically have gone to white workers.
Now this doesn't mean that white workers can't join Moses..... just that they might come out of their whiteness when they come out of Pharaoh's Egypt. They might be reborn, baptized in the Red Sea as part of the mixed multitude.
In reality, many white folks ARE oppressed, just not in the way the white nationalists claim. They're not oppressed by Black people, they're oppressed by the white nationalists! What do you think these little Hitlers would do if they actually did manage to kick out the Latinos and Blacks who are "stealing" "white" jobs? They would give these shit jobs to white workers and they would treat them like Negroes.
In the meantime, white workers are oppressed by their white bosses who take away their health care and evict them, who send their kids to die in Iraq, who divide and conquer them, turning them against workers of color to prevent a rebellion of the motley majority against the rich white minority - to keep the true Exodus from beginning.
The international, multiracial working class is the most dynamic new Israel alive today. It is the most vibrant nation on Earth precisely because it is more than a tribe, it is a collection of unique peoples forged together wandering in the desert marching toward freedom.
Pharaoh is jealous of this nation, so he starts wars to prove how he can be badass too.