Civilization – Uptown Neighborhood News Sep 2012

Commentary by Phyllis Stenerson 

“There is as yet no civilized society,
but only a society in the process of becoming civilized.
From this standpoint, we can now speak of a collective task of humankind.
The task of humanity is to build a genuine civilization”.
Felix Adler

It’s time to talk seriously about big issues, really big issues like the future of civilization. When Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought about Western civilization, he said “I think it would be a good idea.” Now some 60 years later, one can only imagine what he might say.

By most measures, the United States of Americais moving in reverse. Poverty, homelessness and inequality are increasing. Access to opportunity through education and a middle class lifestyle is decreasing. The 2012 Global Peace Index from the Institute for Economics and Peace shows that the U.S. ranks 88 of 158 countries. Climate change is undeniably a critical issue yet corporate power has prevented us from addressing this very real threat to civilization.

“I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world
not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”
John F. Kennedy  

The 2012 election for President presents a real choice for American voters. The two parties and their candidates represent sharply contrasting worldviews on really big issues. One of the biggest differences of opinion is about the role government.

When Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President 30 years ago, he said “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.” The mantra became less government, no new taxes, a free marketplace. Trickle-down economics was the way to shared prosperity.

The fact that the United Statesnow ranks 31st out of 33 nations in income disparity indicates that didn’t work out so well. OnlyMexico andTurkey are worse. Yet, the right wing message machine persistently markets the myth that government be minimal and the free marketplace be dominant.

“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”
Moms Mabley

The ideological divide between today’s conservatives and progressives is so drastic that we basically do not understand each other. They offer no proposals for helping those who have fallen into poverty through no fault of their own but because of a marketplace run amok? To me, this is unconscionable.

The distinctly different worldviews are applicable to everything, particularly the role o government in solving problems and making change. It’s about our philosophy of civilization. Is it “We’re all in this together” or “You’re on your own?”

It’s become well known that newly selected vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan cites novelist Ayn Rand as a major influence. She is a thought leader in the “you’re on your own” category.

“Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good,
you ask for your own destruction.
When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another,
then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns–or dollars.
Take your choice–there is no other.”
Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged

The contrast to Gandhi’s philosophy said is extreme.

“Democracy must in essence, therefore, mean the art and science
 of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources
of all the various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all.”
Mohandas Gandhi

Millions of ordinary people around the world are committed to bringing Gandhi’s vision closer to reality. A few thousand elites are doing whatever it takes to hang onto their power and privilege, some citing Ayn Rand as inspiration.

The 2012 election is pivotal. Big challenges need big thinking – as big as the idea of democracy – government of the people, by the people and for the people. It’s the way we work together for the common good.

“Somebody has to do something and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”
Jerry Garcia

Phyllis Stenerson is the recently retired Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News. Her website www.ProgressiveValues.org provides context for this Commentary and related material.

Conservative Christianity’s Marketing Gimmick to Keep Its Old-Time, Heaven-and-Hell Religion Afloat By Valerie Tarico

by Valerie Tarico, AlterNet, July 10, 2012

The Southern Baptist Convention is a force to be reckoned with. As the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with over 45,000 affiliate churches, it have been shaping and channeling conservative Christian sensibilities since the Civil War, when Southern Baptists split from the North so they could advocate on behalf of slave owners. They fought to keep slavery and lost. Then they fought for Jim Crow laws and lost. Then they fought for segregation and lost.  Now, faced with eroding membership, the Southern Baptist leaders are fighting against irrelevance. Unfortunately, they have committed to a strategy that will make it harder for their members – and for all of us—to move toward a future based on collaboration, compassion and practical solutions to real-world problems.

With secularism on the rise, entrepreneurial Christian denominations have evolved a variety of survival strategies.  Anglican theologian John Shelby Spong (Why Christianity Must Change or Die) proposes a rigorous rethinking of Christian belief.  Mainline and Unitarian congregations have embraced Michael Dowd’s Evolutionary Christianity, an interplay between Christian worship and scientific wonder. Elsewhere on the spectrum, Joel Olsteen plays down theology, instead offering comforting platitudes and promises of prosperity to those who pray and give. Willow Creek mega-church in Chicago pioneered sound and light shows and indie rock bands that entice young people into the club by emulating familiar entertainment media. The Catholic bishops are brazenly trying to recreate an epoch in which they were ascendant.

A few weeks ago the Southern Baptist Convention voted to approve a name change. Congregations will now have the option to call themselves “Great Commission Baptists.” The name change is meant to distance from their past association with racism, but it does much more. To those in the know, it announces that their future will be focused on turf wars – on competing for members and dollars rather than any kind of forward-facing spiritual leadership. To draw an analogy, imagine that Coca-Cola decided to distance from its past sales of cocaine drinks by dropping the “Coca” and calling themselves “World Dominance Cola.” Imagine it announcing to the public: Rather than improving our product, we’ve chosen to focus on our marketing department. That’s essentially what the new name means.

The Southern Baptist denomination was formed in 1845 when Baptists split over a question of slaveholders as missionaries. Freed from the sensibilities of their Northern brethren, the Southern Baptists became strong and vocal advocates for slavery as a Biblical institution. As one leader, Dr. Richard Furman, wrote to the governor of South Carolina, “the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”

Over the years, Southern Baptist deacons and pastors moved in and out of Ku Klux Klan leadership positions. In 1956 the minister of the largest Southern Baptist church in the nation testified before the South Carolina legislature, voicing his support for segregation. It wasn’t until 1995 that leaders formally apologized for their defense of slavery and 20th-century opposition to equality for blacks. As recently as the Trayvon Martin murder, the denomination has struggled with embarrassing racist taint. Last week, along with the name change, the Convention elected a fiery black preacher as the first African American president in its 167 year history.

In an alternate universe, the Southern Baptist history of endorsing slavery and then Jim Crow laws, so shameful in hindsight, might have led to broad theological growth. For example, it might have softened the authoritarianism that caused ordinary believers to blindly follow whatever their preachers said. It might have called into question the notion of “biblical inerrancy,” which gives God’s seal of approval to every form of Iron Age bigotry in the biblical record. It might have led to an increase in denominational humility – the sense that maybe there are things to be learned from other kinds of Christians, the outside world, or the moral trajectory of human history. Alas. It would appear that the lesson learned was a narrow one: blacks are fully human and they can make loyal church members. A cynic might suggest that there was no lesson learned: economics were on the side of slaveholders at the start and are now on the side of putting blacks at the helm.

Like the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention almost made a leap that would have brought its teachings into line with compassion and the moral demands of the 21st century. In fact, by the 1970s it appeared that the Southern Baptists might be ready to move into a position at the vanguard of Christianity. Doors were slowly opening to women even at the flagship seminary in Louisville, and scholarship in fields like archeology, linguistics and the natural sciences was penetrating and changing theology discussions.

But then at the national convention in 1979, hard-liners seized the reins of power. Theological dissent was purged. Over a several years, women were removed from positions of spiritual leadership. By 1993 an adroit biblical literalist, Albert Mohler, who had been instrumental in the coup, was installed at the helm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A 1997 documentary, Battle for the Minds, tells the story of one well-loved but regrettably female theology professor, Molly Marshall, whom Mohler forced out. Under the leadership of Mohler and likeminded theological conservatives, the denomination has pursued the kind of authoritarian Old Time Religion that lead to the 1845 split, with biblically sanctioned sexism and homophobia replacing Civil War-era slavery endorsements.

Like the Catholics, the Southern Baptists recently have doubled down on controlling women as it has become clear that they are losing their battle to ostracize gays. Last year, Albert Mohler told Focus on the Family Radio that Christians need to prepare for gay marriage. “I think it’s clear that something like same-sex marriage is going to become normalized, legalized and recognized in the culture. It’s time for Christians to start thinking about how we’re going to deal with that.”

In January, LifeWay Christian Resources, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, published a two-volume Bible commentary about gender roles. The commentary promotes “complementarianism,” the idea that God made men and women for different purposes. If you couldn’t guess, the purpose of women is homemaking and childbearing. Men are made for marital, social, political, economic and spiritual leadership. Complementarianism is Jim Crow in the gender realm, a desperate last ditch attempt to ensure that straight white males keep dominance over somebody. To date it continues to have broad appeal among Southern Baptist members.

The Southern Baptists are staking their institutional future and finances on the idea that Old Time patriarchal heaven-and-hell religion still has a market and will for some time to come. In their choice of a new name, they have made clear how they intend to compete for mindshare in the coming decades: with better and more aggressive marketing of their traditional theological product. The Great Commission refers to a set of New Testament texts that mandate proselytizing. Quotes vary slightly from author to author, but they are always composed as words spoken by the resurrected Jesus to his disciples. Here are a couple examples:

Matthew: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19 NIV)

Mark: Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well. (Mark 16:15-18 NIV)

It’s not a given that Bible-centered Christians should make these passages about proselytizing, belief and baptism the cornerstone of their faith. Some New Testament texts advocate a very different set of priorities. In one place, Jesus says in graphic terms that hell is for those who fail to tend the needy and ill (Matthew 25:31-46). Elsewhere, he suggests that worldly riches mean a person is living outside God’s will (Mark 10:17-25). When asked which is the greatest of the Hebrew commandments, Jesus says that the Torah and Prophets can be summed up very simply: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22: 26-40).

Over the centuries many Christians have made these teachings the center of their faith and religious practice. The result is a spiritual life centered on simplicity and service. A Christianity centered on the Great Commission, by contrast has the following defining features.

1. Every member is a part of the sales force. Great Commission Christianity is first and foremost about recruiting, because membership is top priority. The Great Commission brand says that the most important thing churches can do is recruit more converts. Overseas medical services, inner-city food banks, even friendship –all of these can be smart marketing, but they should be a means to an end, conversion.

2. What is sold is a package of exclusive truth claims. A focus on outreach necessarily goes hand in hand with a certain kind of theology. The recruiting efforts would be pointless if there were many paths to God. The message of the recruiting is that there is only one path to God: being cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Interspiritual or interfaith perspectives are wrong, and adherents need to be wooed from their misguided beliefs to the Righteousness.

3.  The measure of a spiritual person is right belief. In this case right belief means something like: You deserve hell; Jesus died for your sins; accepting him as your savior will get you to heaven. Buddhists may believe that compassion is the heart of spiritual practices. Modernist Christians may center in on the words of the Great Commandment: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Priorities like these simply don’t work with the Great Commission strategy; they are too inclusive.

4. Other religions and denominations are competitors, not partners. The Great Commission is a competitive strategy; and in fact successful conversion activities often are described as “winning” souls. Creating heaven here on Earth might require interfaith teamwork. By contrast salvation through right belief is an individual affair, and those who believe they are saved and headed for heaven tend to get grumpy if someone suggests that there is no hell.

After failing on the great moral questions of the 19th and 20th centuries—full personhood for blacks and females respectively—the  Great Commission rebranding effort that inadvertently shows the world how little Southern Baptist leaders have learned from two centuries of ethical slumming. Mind you, the Great Commission strategy has been a winner for some mega-churches, and proselytizing is strongly correlated with the growth in minority sects like Scientology and Mormonism.

In past centuries religions could capture mindshare through conquest, which is how Christianity spread through Europe and how Islam spread through India. Competitive breeding was baked into both Catholicism and Islam because it offered some additional advantage. But in the last century, the primary mode of competition among religions has been evangelism.  In other words, the Southern Baptists have placed their bets on a strategy with some history of success.

Whether they win or lose from the standpoint of re-filling church pews and bank accounts remains to be seen. What is regrettable, either way, is that by choosing to be competitive they have once again pitted themselves against the moral arc of history. Whether humanity can flourish in the 21st century will depend largely on whether we can move beyond competition to collaboration. Population growth, resource depletion and weapons technology have carried us to the point that there are fewer and fewer “winnable” competitions. Humanity desperately needs to find common ground in our shared moral core and dreams for our children. Just as they did on the questions of slavery and the full humanity of women, the Southern Baptists have positioned themselves as moral dead weight, which is a loss for us all.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/156054/

Transformative Ideas

Get Apocalyptic – The Case for the New Radical By Robert Jensen, YES! Magazine, posted on Alternet.org, May 28, 2013 

We May Be Wit­ness­ing the First Large Global Con­flict Where Peo­ple Are Aligned by Con­scious­ness and Not Nation State or Reli­gion By Naomi Wolf, Al Jazeera Eng­lish, Posted on AlterNet.org, Novem­ber 1, 2011 - …Suddenly, the United States looks like the rest of the furious, protesting, not-completely-free world. Indeed, most commentators have not fully grasped that a world war is occurring. But it is unlike any previous war in human history: for the first time, people around the world are not identifying and organising themselves along national or religious lines, but rather in terms of a global consciousness and demands for a peaceful life, a sustainable future, economic justice and basic democracy. Their enemy is a global “corporatocracy” that has purchased governments and legislatures, created its own armed enforcers, engaged in systemic economic fraud, and plundered treasuries and ecosystems…

A vote for the future or for the past?

5 Things to Make Large-Scale Behavior Change

Obama’s challenge: Thinking big

The Big Theories Underwriting Society Are Crashing All Around Us — Are You Ready for a New World?

2048: Humanity’s Agree­ment to Live Together — 5 Ways to Achieve World Peace and Pros­per­ity by J. Kirk Boyd, May 12, 2010

Vision: As the Amer­i­can Cap­i­tal­ist Econ­omy Craters, Promis­ing Alter­na­tives Emerge, By Gar Alper­ovitz, The Nation, May 26, 2011

A Val­ues– and Vision-Based Polit­i­cal Dream by Ben­jamin Morde­cai Ben-Baruch, Tikkun, Win­ter 2011 - We need leaders and organizers to inspire people and communities to act on their values and hopes. We need help articulating our values and vision of the ideal future. Right-wing successes have been achieved by appealing to peoples’ fears, hatreds and prejudices. But the politics of hope is stronger than politics of fear. Imagining our future based on our highest ideals can mobilize us to overcome the paralysis of fear and hatred. The politics of hope is not issue oriented, and people who share the same values and vision often disagree on the issues….[people] have been misled into believing that their freedom and empowerment resides in “free markets” and that the government is Big Brother and something to fear. They have become paralyzed by their fears. The irrationality of these fears makes us vulnerable to demagoguery. We need to go beyond issue-oriented politics and the politics of fear to a public discourse focused on articulating our vision for the ideal future and what that future would look like. We need a vision of a society without the injustices of poverty and social inequality. We need a dream…Most Americans will understand that the kind ofAmericathey want to build is quite different from that of the new Conservatives and the neo-liberals. But we need clarity. We need help articulating our values and vision. We need help exposing the contrary values and vision of the neo-liberals, clericalists, religious Right, and ultra-capitalists. We need to overcome the politics of fear. We need to go beyond issue-oriented politics. (And we need to go way beyond cyclic party and electoral politics.) We need to engage in the revolutionary politics of hope. We need to build a social movement of people inspired and mobilized to act upon hopes and dreams.

Healing or Stealing? by Paul Hawken, Commencement Address, University of Portland 2009.…you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating.…Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades…what I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world…Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world…Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power.…The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history…We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable…Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past…This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened…

The Idea That Brought Slav­ery to Its Knees by Adam Hochschild,Los Ange­les Times, Jan­u­ary 25, 2005

Gar Alperovitz’s Green Party Keynote: We Are Laying Groundwork for the “Next Great Revolution” By Amy Goodman, Democ­racy NOW! 16 July 16, 2012

The Elu­sive Big Idea by Neal Gabler, New York Times, August 13, 2011

Telling the World a ‘Big Story’: RD in Con­ver­sa­tion with Karen Arm­strong by Lau­rie Pat­ton, Reli­gion Dispatches.org, Jan­u­ary 4, 2010

The decade we didn’t see coming

Nine Ways Our World Changed During the ‘00s by Sarah van Gelder , Decem­ber 31, 2009 by YES! Magazine

A New Con­scious­ness For a World In Cri­sis by Jes­sica Roemis­cher, Enlighten­Next

 

Our Human Family

 We’re all in this together

Five Lessons in Human Goodness From “The Hunger Games” By Jeremy Adam Smith
 YES! Magazine, Posted on AlterNet.org, June 28, 2012

Change Agent Karen Armstrong argues for practical compassion — interview with Heidi Bruce,  published in YES! Magazine, posted on Christian Science, April 17, 2012

How the Common Good Is Transforming Our World by Douglas LaBier, HuffingtonPost.com, October 17, 2010

The Commons Moment is Now – How a small, dedicated group of people can transform the world—really by Jay Walljasper, CommonDreams.org, January 24, 2011

Compassion/Empathy

The Compassionate Instinct by Dacher Keltner, Greater Good Science Center, Spring 2004

The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin, Interview by Amanda Gefter, New Scientist.com, February 17, 2010

The Empathy Ceiling: The Rich Are Different — And Not In a Good Way by Brian Alexander, MSNBC, August 10, 2011

Generational Justice

Our Three Bombs by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, October 7, 2009

The Decade of Lost Children by Charles M. Blow, New York Times, August 5, 2011

Why our children’s future no longer looks so bright By Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post,  October 16, 2011

Human Nature

The Fascinating Scientific Reason Why “Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness” By David McRaney, Alternet.org, January 25, 2012

The Social Animal by David Brooks, New York Times, September 12, 2008

Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn, The Nation,  August 11, 2010

Global economic crisis also values crisis – Davos poll - by Tom Henegan, Religion Editor, New Frontiers  |  Davos – PARIS, Reuters, January 27, 2010

Crisis

Humanity Must Stabilize Population, Consumption or Face ‘Downward Vortex’ of ‘Ills’ by Common Dreams staff, Common Dreams Report, April 26, 2012

How Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories May Pose a Genuine Threat to Humanity by Joshua Holland, Alternet.org, December 25, 2011