Sunday, December 18, 2011

Elz Curtiss writes in a comment on a post in Beauty Tips for Ministers (part of an extended multi-sided discourse on Almy's introduction of a clerical shirt in the hello yellow of the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign.)

It is my contention that today’s Unitarian Universalst Association has adopted demonstrations as a sacramental faith-revival tool, such as The Lord’s Supper used to be. Getting arrested is our new adult Baptismal ritual. There is no question that many UU Facebook threads brook no compromise on many political issues. This raises questions about our openness on political and cultural issues. Do we really want to be as politically narrow as the Religious Right tries to be? Many of those congregations, by the way, are reconsidering whether that is the best way to serve their God and members, as people leave when their politics soften or change.
I believe that she means for us to be shocked into recognition by her assertion that some religious liberals see the demonstration as equivalent to adult baptism.

I have been shocked into sufficient recognition to wonder if there is a problem here.  Maybe one's first demonstration is an adult baptism, and if so, is that theologically unsound?

It is said of the early Christian communities that "as they prayed, so they came to believe".  They prayed to Jesus as God before they had a theology of the Trinity.  They believed that Jesus died for our sins before they had a theory of the Atonement.

Of modern religious liberals it might be said that "as we say whereas, so do we resolve."  As we proclaim, so do we believe.  As we demonstrate, so will we believe.

In other words, we analyze social conditions first; we issue statements and make resolutions first; we take action first.  And then, we reflect theologically on the position that we have found ourselves to have taken.  Often times, there is a deeper theological significance to what we have said than we ever knew.

We are still  unpacking of the "inherent worth and dignity of every person" and the "interdependent web of existence."  It turns out there are important and unresolved theological issues lurking in each phrase.

The declaration of our intention to become an "anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural' religious movement, likewise, has some deep theological implications.

What does it mean to declare oneself against all forms of oppression?  What is oppression?  There are many instances of oppression, but what is it as a general thing?  I think that by declaring ourselves as against oppression in general, we make it a general thing.

I think that we are coming to the hypothesis that oppression is a general feature of all forms of social organization.  It varies in form and in severity, but human social organization seems to be  rooted in and manifesting all sorts of oppression.

This is a break from pre-existing liberal social theory which seems to assume that oppression is a particular aberration from the norm, a particular historical devolution from a pre-existing time when people were free.

 No, the norm, we are beginning to see, is oppression.  The forms of oppression change; arrangements that seemed normal for centuries are revealed to be oppressive.  It even appears that the oppressed and the oppressors can change places.  Nonetheless, it is becoming more clear that to live as a human being is to live in a social order that is oppressive.  Oppressive means that the burdens of human life (disease, isolation, exhaustion) are distributed unevenly among people as a result of social power.

Questions arise:  is this God's will?  Is this a fundamental aspect of the human character?  Is this unchangeable?  Can we stop it?  There is much to discuss.  All of the wisdom on the world's religious traditions are resources to this discernment.  Our traditions of religious liberalism seem to say that the oppressive social order is not God's will, is not immutable, and is something to oppose.

So, it seems reasonable to me that a religious movement that recognizes social oppression as omnipresent yet unnecessary would invite people into political activation.  One's first political demonstration is a baptism into a different way of looking at the world and a different intention  for living in it.

If one believes that the social order is fundamentally fair, although some people may have some particular grievances, then political activity is not essential to the life of a body of faith.  Diversity should reign.  But if we are moving toward a theological consensus that the social order is unmistakably oppressive and that a faithful life is anti-oppressive then our covenant must move in that direction.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

What to do about the "1%"

Remember, the 1% is political poetry.  There is nothing inherently wrong with making more than some arbitrarily chosen number of dollars.  There will always be a 1%.

The problem with our system is that too much of our national wealth is being invested by the financial markets: Wall Street.  Wall Street only knows how to do one thing: invest capital in order to produce the maximum short term profit.  It very efficiently moves money around to put money in the hands of enterprises which will make the most money right now.

What if Goldman Sachs announced a mutual fund that would invest in the creation of mass transit.  It would promise to spend whatever money it took to build a first class mass transit system.  It would not get any profits for decades if ever.  I don't know about you; I'm not putting my 401k in that fund.

The history of socialism and capitalism has shown that you cannot replace financial markets with government planners and still get efficient capital utilization.

So what do you do the financial markets?

1.  Regulate them, so they are transparent and fair.
2.  You tax the incomes of the people who operate them.  So much money flows through Wall Street that even microscopic fees generate huge personal incomes.
3.  You impose a transaction tax on the market -- every other kind of business is taxed in some way -- the financial markets should be too.
4.  Through taxation, you reduce the amount of money which is invested through the financial markets.  Government spending is another form of investment and can be used to invest in the things that capital markets cannot: projects and enterprises that produce public goods which are not profitable.  Public goods raise the living standards of everyone.  Transportation and communication infrastructure, medical research, even weapons production, while not immediately profitable to the government, create businesses and jobs for profitable companies.

Basically, to improve the standard of living of everyone, we need to (1) reduce military spending, (2) increase taxes on the wealthy (3) invest through the government in the creation of public goods and (4) regulate financial markets so that they are transparent and fair.