Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Book on Working People’s Environmentalism in the US

September 16, 2017

Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States (London: Continuum 2011)

I found this yesterday in the £3 bookshop on Bristol’s Park Street. It’s clearly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which told the story of the US as it affected ordinary working, blue-collar Americans and other marginalized groups, like Blacks and the indigenous peoples. It challenged the dominant, right-wing narrative of how America was founded by rich, White, and immensely wise Founding Fathers as a uniquely just society. Zinn has since passed away, but his book inspired Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s collection of radical British historical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport. Contemporary scholarship has superseded some of Zinn’s work, paradoxically showing that in some areas such as ethnic minorities, his opinions were too moderate. But the Republicans still utterly despise him and his book. Looking at one right-wing website I found a list of books its readers hated and considered harmful to America. Zinn’s was one of them.

This book on working Americans and the environmental movement is particularly urgent now that Trump is set on trying to complete the destruction of both. I haven’t done more than glance at the book, but there’s a summary of the book’s contents by Kathryn Morse of Middlebury College on the back cover. This states that it’s

An engaging, critical synthesis of 20 years of new scholarship in environmental and labour history, this book tells a new story of the emergence and power of environmentalism as a movement forged by common people in defence of their lives and livelihoods. Countering previous arguments that environmentalism began in post-World War II middle-class suburbs, Montrie redefines environmentalism as a grass-roots, working class response to industrialization and urbanization dating from the early 19th century.

From the start, this movement included workers’ resistance to elite attempts to control nature both for profit and for upper-class leisure. Montrie narrates the growth of working-class environmentalism and its successes and failures from the textile mills of New England, to the Chicago streets around Hull House, to automobile plants of New England, to the coal mines of Appalachia, and to the agricultural fields of California, with other stops along the way. This detailed by accessible book offers a forceful new interpretation of American environmentalism and rewrite the narrative of the modern environmental movement.

The Republicans and the corporate backers fear and despise the Green movement, denouncing it as a strategy for introducing redistributive taxation and Socialism by the back door. They hate the way Greens recommend that rich, polluting industries should be taxed, and clean, non-polluting energy sources – like solar, wind and wave energy – should be developed to replace fossil fuels. These have got to go, as the Republicans and Libertarians are funded and bought by the Koch brothers and other oil and fossil fuel magnates.

And when the Republicans and the corporate paymasters aren’t foaming at the mouth about environmentalist ‘socialism’, they’re claiming that it’s another form of Nazism, because the Nazis were very keen on protecting the German environment. Well, they were, and this had been a major part of the German racist, volkisch movement since the 19th century. But this doesn’t mean that environmental per se is simply Nazism under another form. Where it appeared in Britain and America, it was an attempt by working people and the authorities to protect the environment and allow ordinary people to live clean, healthier lives and enjoy the beauty of the countryside in which their ancestors had lived and worked.

Hitler would have liked the Nazis to have been a party of the working class, but he hated organized labour. The first thing the Nazis did when they seized power was smash the German trade unions. But as this book shows, after the War American trade unions played a major part in the Green movement in the US. Which also explains why the Republicans go bug-eyed about the Greens and Socialism. The environmental movement and its connections to organized labour and the American working people marked a challenge to capitalism and the power of big corporations, not just to exploit the environment, but also to exploit the blue-collar, working women and men, who claimed their rights at work and to enjoy America’s great scenic beauty.

Another strand of their ideological attack on the environmental movement is to claim that it’s pagan, and so Christians should have nothing to do with it. It is true that much modern, Neopaganism is centred on the worship of the earth mother, and that pagans have been particularly environmentally conscious since the emergence of Green movement in the 1960s. But Christian writers were describing the beauty of the natural worlds and the wonders of its creatures as evidence of God’s providential handiwork from at least the Middle Ages onwards, and I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest that caring for the environment in itself is at all antichristian. Indeed, some theologians have pointed to Jean Calvin’s belief that as God has given human stewardship of the Earth, they have a duty and responsibility to protect the environment.

I haven’t really had time to read the book properly yet, but I will have to. Trump and the big corporations which control him are a real, present threat to the environment, working people, and indeed the future of the Earth and humanity, just as the Tories and their paymasters are over this side of the Pond. We have to protect both in order to create a better future and preserve the planet.

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The Young Turks on Pizza Delivery Drivers Being Replaced by Driverless Cars

September 3, 2017

This is probably going to be the reality behind the driverless cars the car industry and the media have been hyping. In this short clip from The Young Turks, the hosts Ana Kasparian and Brett Ehrlich report and comment on the story that Domino’s Pizzas are planning to replace their pizza delivery people with driverless cars.

It’s only a trial run at the moment. They intend to go through their customers at random, and ask them if they’re happy with their pizza delivered by a driverless car instead. The vehicle will take a maximum of four pizzas to them. To get their orders, the customers will have to punch in a code into a keypad on the car.

After a bit of silly banter about the number of pizzas people usually order, they get down to discussing what this really represents. Kasparian says that when they usually talk about American jobs being lost, they’re usually reporting on corporate outsourcing. But automation is the other way in which people are losing their jobs in America. Kasparian she states that she isn’t against technological innovation, but points out that not only are people going to lose their jobs as pizza delivery staff, but they’re also going to lose an opportunity to acquire useful skills to succeed in a very competitive jobs market. She also states that we also need to give young people proper, affordable college education as well.

Domino’s has released a statement saying that they have at the moment 100,000 pizza delivery people. They hope that when this comes in, they will be able to find other positions within the company. The Turks end by saying that they hope so too.

To be fair, the BBC has carried news and documentary programmes, which forecast that in the coming decades, 1/3 of all retail jobs will be lost to automation. Nevertheless, whenever you see driverless cars appear, the overwhelming message is one of boundless enthusiasm, with the presenters raving about the technology. Clarkson went on a driverless truck on Top Gear, and went almost berserk with excitement when it started to make its way without human guidance.

Driverless trucks are due to be trialed on roads in Britain, according to a report in the I newspaper. They’re going to be tested in groups of three. I talked about this technology and its threats to jobs with a friend a little while ago. He told me that there are about 40,000 truckers in Britain, so that’s 40,000 people, who stand to lose their jobs.

Counterpunch has run an article on this, stating that there’s no desire for the cars from ordinary people. They’re being hyped and pushed by the insurance companies, who hope that their appearance and promotion as being safer than human driving will allow them to put up their premiums for people, who won’t use them.

What also struck me was how cold, lonely and impersonal the future represented by this type of automation is. In much SF depictions of an automated future, the machines performing human jobs also have something like human cognitive abilities and personalities. Long term 2000 AD readers will remember Dredd’s little robotic companion, Walter the Wobot. The character had a lisp and was a gentle soul, providing a contrast with the brutal machismo of Mega City 1’s toughest lawman. Or the robots in the Robohunter strip. These were extremely strong characters with all the traits, foibles and psychological failings of the human creators, including stupidity, thuggishness and all-round criminality. Like the God-Droid, the automatated underworld boss, a machine version of Marlon Brando with a sign stamped across its stomach reading ‘Omerta’, or the incendiary temperament of Molotov, the automatic cocktail-shaker and head of the Amalgamated Androids’ Union, who lectures Spade on the evils of human exploitation. Or Ro-Jaws, a chirpy, bolshie, foul-mouthed sewer droid, and his more dignified mate, the war-robot Hammerstein, and the moronic and sadistic Mek-Quake, the main characters in the Robusters strip, and its spin-off, ABC Warriors.

These fictional machines all had real, authentic characters. They had minds and characters like human beings, even if their bodies and brains were of metal and plastic. And so the strips’ writers could use them to make serious satirical points amidst the cartoon violence and mayhem. From the first, the ABC Warriors strip included a bitter commentary on the horrors of war, and the way soldiers lives were sacrificed by an officer and political class insulated from the actual fighting. The fact that robots were machines, with no rights, also allowed 2000 AD to explore real issues like slavery, racism, and institutionalized discrimination with deliberate, and sometimes very obvious parallels to the experience of Black Americans before Civil Rights.

But the real machines taking our jobs won’t even have personalities, friendly or otherwise, with which we will interact. Admittedly, there isn’t much social interaction with the mail and other delivery people, who turn up at our doors. The conversation is naturally very limited. But with these machines, we won’t even have that. Just a car turning up, following by the customer trudging out to punch in a code to open the doors.

Silent, efficient, and coldly impersonal.

And this is going to make the atomization and despair of contemporary western, and particularly American society, much worse. I’ve also come across a series of videos Chris Hedges has also made, in which he talks about the new American Fascism, and specifically the Religious Right. I think Hedges is probably an atheist, from some of the things he has said about the religious right promoting magical thinking. But he has a divinity degree, his father was a politically radical Presbyterian clergyman, his mother was also a divinity student, and so Hedges doesn’t hate religion or regard the antics of the religious right and the frauds and bigots leading it as normal. Indeed, he is at pains to show that, for all that they scream that they represent traditional values, they don’t. He states in one video that they’re as far from traditional Christian religious doctrine and practice as the religious liberals they despise.

One of the points he makes in these videos is that these bigots have been assisted in their rise to power by the social atomization of modern American society. In places like LA there are no pavements, so people can’t walk down the street. You have to drive. And so people drive straight to work, and then straight home. They don’t really meet or interact with anyone else. And the religious right has exploited this atomization, this alienation, by offering people a community in the ideologically enclosed space of their megachurches. And the people they target are those who have suffered from the attacks of neoliberalism – people in the rustbelt, who have seen their jobs decline and their communities fall into poverty along with them.

Other observers of the American Right have said the same. One of the essays in the book attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservativism, states that these b*stards are able to get away with promoting bigotry and racism, because of the decline in genuine, working class communities. The jobs are going, and White flight has meant that Whites have moved out of racially mixed areas in the centres of town to the suburbs. Community centres have also closed, and the attack on trade unions has also destroyed this pillar of working class community. The result is that the individual is left isolated from both people of other ethnic groups, and similar people to him- or herself. He or she goes to work and comes home. This isolation leaves them vulnerable to the vile propaganda spewed at them by bigots like Jerry Falwell and the rest of the rightwing televangelists that were thrown up by the 1980s.

This atomization and alienation is one of the fundamental characteristics of totalitarian societies of the Left and Right. In the Soviet Union, society was arranged so that people were deliberately isolated from each other. The only way of keeping in contact and forming communities and relationships, at least officially, was through the party organisations. Ditto with the Third Reich. Hitler boasted that they would never leave the individual alone, not even in a poker club.

And the driverless cars also remind me of another dystopian vision of the future, that of Ray Bradbury’s The Pedestrian. This is a tale by one of the great masters of SF, in which a man walking late at night is stopped and picked up by a police car. The car’s not crewed. It’s entirely automatic. Bradbury describes the computer punchcards being processed as the machine thinks. The machine asks the man why he’s on the streets so late at night. He replies simply that he just wanted to take a walk.

Already there are places in some American cities, where you can’t walk. Mike found this out a few years ago when he visited friends in California. You had to drive everywhere, even down to the local stores. Which means that the cold future of The Pedestrian really ain’t that far away.

Jewish Labour Movement Attempting to Ban Criticism of Israel in Labour Party as Anti-Semitic

August 30, 2017

Tony Greenstein, a veteran Jewish socialist, anti-racist and anti-Zionist, has put up a very important piece on his blog reporting that the Jewish Labour Movement is attempting to insert an amendment into the membership clause of the Labour party’s constitution, which would make criticism of Israel illegal. Greenstein is a proud, secular Jew, and opposes Zionism precisely because it is racist, and venomously genocidal in its treatment of the Palestinians and Arab Jews. He has paid the price for his commitment to anti-racism and human dignity. Like other anti-Zionists and critics of Israel, Jewish and gentile, he has been smeared as an anti-Semite. Many Jews, who are critical of Israel, believe that they actually receive worse vilification for their stance than their gentile comrades. In Greenstein’s case, he’s been suspended from the Labour party, like hundreds of others, received hate mail and been physically assaulted.

The hate messages he has received are hardly distinguishable from the vile screeds of gentile Nazis and anti-Semites. A few weeks ago he posted one such message he got from an outraged Jewish Zionist, which called him a ‘traitorous Jew’ and mocked him for his entirely accurate statement that the majority of European Jews wanted to stay in the land of their birth, the countries that were their homelands, as equal citizens, rather than emigrate to Israel. He was told he should try living in a shtetl – the segregated Jewish village in eastern Europe with the gentiles ruling over him. The writer concluded his message with the statement that he didn’t really like saying this to another Jew, but he wished the angel of death had taken him and his family during the Holocaust.

It’s deeply unpleasant, racist stuff. Greenstein put it up on his blog as an example of Zionist anti-Semitism, to make the point that instead of Jewish critics of Israel being anti-Semitic, it was the Zionists. It’s a good point. The Zionist’s message is racist and anti-Semitic. It abused Greenstein because he was Jewish. As for being a ‘traitorous Jew’ – that’s the language the Nazi and Fascist anti-Semites employ when they claim that Jews and people of Jewish heritage are really foreigners, outside the nation, and secretly plotting its downfall. Like the stupid and murderous ‘stab in the back theories’ that circulated in Germany after the First World War, which claimed that Germany had been defeated because of Jewish treachery. These were monstrous lies. Jewish Germans had been extremely patriotic in their response to the war, serving their country with pride and honour. The captain of Hitler’s unit during the War, who had put the future Nazi leader up for an Iron Cross, was Jewish. And the Jewish ex-servicemen’s league was a real problem for the Third Reich, as these old soldiers couldn’t easily be accused of treachery.

This is the same type of language we heard from the Nazis marching at Charlottesville, chanting ‘the Jews will not replace us.’ One component of contemporary Nazi and White supremacist ideology in the states is the sick notion that the Jews under the Zionist Occupation Government are engaged in a vast conspiracy to destroy the White race through racial intermixing and the promotion of Black civil rights.

As for physical assault, Mr. Greenstein in his blog has also described how he was assaulted on the street by an irate Israeli. But because Greenstein fought back, he – not his attacker – was charged with assault, although this was later dropped. It’s a clear, manifest injustice.

Now he reports the Jewish Labour Movement are attempting to define racism, anti-Semitism or islamophobia as whatever is perceived as such by a member of the affected groups. He points out that it’s based on a skewed reading of Shami Chakrabarti’s citation of the McPherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

If implemented, this would outlaw criticism of Israel on the grounds that a Jewish Zionist could simply say that it was anti-Semitic.

I’ve no doubt that this will happen. Mike said that after the sorely misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism libeled him as an anti-Semite, he had Zionists turning up on his Facebook page complaining that his comments about Ken Livingstone were anti-Semitic, because they felt they were. And that was sufficient.

I’ve also seen debates between Zionists and anti-Zionists in which the latter included Jewish and Israel anti-racism activists – where the Zionist has accused his opponents of anti-Semitism, simply because they did not share his belief that Israel has a divinely given right to the Occupied Territories.

This is a deeply hypocritical, and very dangerous game. When New Labour under Blair and Brown wanted to introduce tougher legislation against hate speech, the Tories went berserk and accused them of introducing the same assumption into its definition. That something constituted a racist offence, if the victim thought it was, including racial abuse.

This adds a dangerous element of subjectivity into the argument. Of course, in the case of the JLM, it’s intended to rule out of bounds any criticism of Israel or Zionism, because as soon as anyone raises the subject they’ll scream ‘anti-Semitism’. Even though this may consist of nothing more than the truth: that Israel is an apartheid state, that it is engaged on a decades-long campaign to cleanse its territory of Arabs, and that Arabs in the Occupied Territories can be killed, attacked, have their drinking water fouled, and their homes and other property seized with impunity. They may also be jailed for no other reason than publishing a poem urging their brothers and sisters to resist, as occurred to Dareen Tatour.

Ezra Levant, one of the brains behind the Far Right Canadian media group, Rebel Media, once argued in one of his videos against legislation outlawing hate speech. Levant’s Jewish, and he argued that Jews had long learned from experience that the weapons you give the state to protect you, can also be turned on you. So if you give the state the power to censor or ban certain types of speech, they can use those same powers to silence you. He argued that this was the case with Nazi Germany.

Levant’s part of the Islamophobic ‘counter-jihad’ movement, and what he was really worried about was western countries – Europe, Canada and America – passing legislation to ban speech or writing inciting the hatred of Muslims. But he does have a point regarding the treatment of Jews.

One of the elements in anti-Semitism has been the belief that Jews believe themselves to be superior to and despise and sneer at gentiles. Since the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment, western Jews have taken great care to show that they don’t have this attitude. Indeed, in 1920s Germany I believe one traditional prayer was dropped from the synagogue service, in case it gave gentiles this idea. Jewish theologians and writers have also made the point that God gave the Torah to Israel and made them a people for His own possession, not because they were superior or stronger than the neighbouring peoples, but because they were weaker. Israel was to be a servant nation, acting as moral exemplars, and therefore ‘a light to lighten the gentiles’. Mr. Greenstein has also put up another piece on his blog about a Canadian rabbi, whose book on Jewish resistance to Zionism makes precisely this point against Zionism.

But if you introduce the idea of subjectivity into the definition of hate speech, it means that Jews are also vulnerable to unfair accusations of racism. A chance comment or remark, which may only just be a case of bad phrasing, may become a case for prosecution, simply because the person hearing it thinks they are being insulted, whether they are or not.

The insistence of the subjective perception of anti-Semitism also shows how close the Zionist lobby is coming to outright Fascism. Irrationalism was one of the formative components of Fascist psychology and ideology. Rational belief didn’t matter. They were just rationalisations used to justify a pre-existing belief or act. What mattered was how something felt, and this meant primarily one’s passionate commitment to the ethnic group and its character according to nationalist and racist theories. The JLM and the Zionists can’t argue against facts, and so their attempting to use the subjective perception of whether something is anti-Semitic to justify their attempts to close down discussion of Israeli racism and human rights abuse instead.

As for the Jewish Labour Movement, Greenstein makes the point that this is a sister organization to the Israeli Labour party, which is racist to the core. Recently, one of their MKs expressed his disgust that 61 other members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, were Arabs, and made it very clear that he despised Arabs and wanted them expelled from Israel.

He also discusses the example of the far right Israeli leader, Gopstein, a member of a racist nationalist group, Lehava, who made a speech encouraging Israelis to burn down churches and mosques. Despite calls from the Vatican that he should be arrested, Gopstein’s still free.

And Jewish Arabs have also been subject to discrimination and monstrous human rights abuse. Greenstein and Counterpunch have published several articles describing how the Zionist pioneers, as European colonialists, believed they were inferior, and wanted to destroy their Arab character. This even included forcibly taking the babies born to Yemeni Jews away from their mothers and giving them to rich, childless European Israelis or American Jews.

This is not only a crime against humanity in itself. It is also included in the UN definition of genocide, which includes the forcible removal of one part of an ethnic group to another. This also occurred during the Third Reich, where the Nazis sought Aryan bloodlines amongst the conquered Poles. Polish babies with blonde hair and blue eyes were declared to be of German stock, and were taken from their parents to be brought up as Germans.

The JLM are apologists for a viciously racist, genocidal state and political order that is ruthlessly intolerant of its critics, vilifying anti-racist gentiles as anti-Semites, and making the same, or even anti-Semitic insults at decent, self-respecting Jews. If Labour is serious about tackling racism and inequality, this amendment should be thrown out. At the very least, by introducing the element of subjectivity, as the Ezra Levant has pointed out, they have given a potential weapon to the real anti-Semites. And they won’t hesitate to turn it on them.

Chip Shops and Pubs Offering Meals to the Homeless at Christmas

December 24, 2016

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece commenting on the decision by two brothers in Brum, Hamid and Asef Faqiri, who own the Classic Fish Bar, to open on Christmas Day between 13.00 and 16.00 to give free turkey dinners to the elderly and the homeless. They state that they want to help those in need and make the community happy. One of the brothers, Asef, remarked that he had seen a lot of homeless people, and always wanted to help.

While Mike welcomed the twos generosity, he also pointed out the obvious danger. That by doing something to help the poor, this would be used by the Tories to justify the government doing nothing. They’d try to argue that this is David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ at work, where private charity picks up the slack from government.

Mike makes the argument instead that we pay our taxes on the understanding that the government does everything in its power to make sure that citizens aren’t homeless and starving.

He concludes:

We don’t make that argument often enough and, in the Season of Goodwill, it might be more appropriate than ever to point out that very little goodwill is coming from Westminster.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/22/free-christmas-fish-and-chips-for-the-homeless-gives-tories-a-chance-to-justify-their-apathy/

I think there are a number of places doing this up and down the country. I heard that some of the Asian restaurants and take-aways in Cheltenham will also be doing the same, as will the Market Inn pub in Glastonbury, according to today’s Western Daily Press.

I completely share Mike’s views on this issue. What these places and the people who run them are doing is very commendable, but it runs into the trap of appearing to validate the Tories’ cuts and dismantlement of the welfare state. Maggie Thatcher began her attack on it back in the 1980s with the deliberate goal of reducing the tax burden and forcing people back on to private charity to support them. She believed it would strengthen religion, and particularly the churches, if people had to come to them for aid, rather than the state. Hence the eagerness of the Salvation Army to acquire government contracts for dealing with poverty, as well as the desire of so many of the corporate management types now running very many charities likewise to do so, while at the same time demanding that the government enact even more stringent policies against the poor, the unemployed and the homeless. For the grim details, go to Johnny Void’s blog and look up his entries on these issues.

It’s a nasty, cynical attitude to bringing people back to religion, and it many Christians believe it runs contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Gospels. In the last of the series of Advent talks held at our local church on Thursday, the minister made precisely this point. Not that this would have had any effect on Maggie. When she gave a talk to the ruling body of the Church of Scotland back in the 1980s, expounding her view that people who didn’t work, shouldn’t get something for nothing, the guid ministers and layfolk greeted what she said with frowns and silence. It was obvious that they were very unimpressed. But it didn’t stop Maggie cutting welfare provision left and right.

So I heartily endorse Mike’s point. It needs to be repeated over and again, until someone in Westminster either gets the point, or is unable to drown it out and stop others from hearing it. If you want to see the drawbacks of this attitude, look at America. Americans are extremely generous in charitable giving. But there is a massive problem with extreme poverty in America, and one that is growing thanks to Reagan and corporatist Democrats like Obama and Killary. Private charity cannot adequately tackle poverty, no matter what Thatcher, Cameron, May and Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green want us to believe. And this message needs to be hammered home, until the public very obviously turns away from the Tories and their lies.

Dr Cornel West on Standing with the Native Americans, Teaching Public Philosophy and Castro

December 2, 2016

This is a clip from Democracy Now, in which the anchor, Amy Goodson, talks to the very distinguished radical Black professor, Dr. Cornel West. Dr. West is a radical Christian theologian and philosopher, standing up for the poor and minorities. In his personal appearance and speaking style, he reminds me of the great, progressive evangelical preachers of the 19th century, who campaigned against slavery and the exploitation of the poor in both America and Britain. His clothing style strikes me as rather 19th century, and when he talks, he describes people as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. He’s campaigned for Bernie Sanders, and also for Dr. Jill Stein of the Green party.

In this segment, he talks about going to Standing Rock to show his solidarity with the water protectors and the Native peoples. He states that this is the greatest coming-together of the 200 First American nations since the 19th century. He doesn’t intend to anything, except follow orders and support them. Amy Goodson asks him what he thinks about Barack Obama, as Obama visited Standing Rock in 2014. This was unusual for a president, and he has talked about supporting Native Americans. He sent in the US corps of engineers, and has tried to broker arrangements between the three parties involved. Dr West agrees, but says that Obama has managed to impress people by talking ‘pretty words’ while actually doing very little about the situation.

Dr. West also talks about how he is about to take up a new post at Harvard, teaching engagement in public philosophy. He looks forward to this appointment teaching young minds about taking up the great issues that confront America and the world. He also says that it’s going to be post where he shares and learns from others from different political perspectives, such as Conservatives and Centrists.

Finally, Goodson asks him about his views on Fidel Castro. West makes it clear that he admires the Cuban dictator, and the support he gave to the struggles of Africans and the Cuban people against imperialism. He also condemns Castro as a dictator. He criticises him for the way he hung to power and oppressed his people. He himself has gone to Cuba, and was taken to the palace to be upbraided by the Cuban authorities. He was a radical, democratic Socialist, who believed in the circulation of elites. That means not letting anyone person stay in power for too long, and throwing them out after a little while to get a fresh leader in. He made that point about Castro, and so was accused of being counterrevolutionary. But he also makes the point that the Cubans were oppressed under Battista. He therefore salutes Castro for his anti-imperialism, and the Cuban medical and educational systems. He says that Castro was a great revolutionary, ‘and I’m a revolutionary Christian. I love it.’

Many Black Americans have expressed and given their support to the Native Americans at Standing Rock, and identify with their struggle. And I don’t think it takes a genius to see why. It seems to be that both peoples have a shared history as the dispossessed, exploited victims of White supremacism, a supremacism that is coming back under Trump, and which many Whites are also very firmly against. It’s excellent that Dr West is giving the Native peoples his support, and it’d be interesting to hear his experiences of standing with the Water Protectors.

Roger Williams’ Arguments against Religious Persecution

November 22, 2016

This weekend I put up a piece about the arguments for religious toleration advanced by William Penn, the great Quaker apologist and founder of Pennsylvania. Penn believed passionately in religious toleration, and was himself, along with one of his fellow Quakers, imprisoned and tried for his religious beliefs. His trial, and the way it violated the natural liberties of the English people, were the subject of one of the three pamphlets he wrote attacking religious persecution.

One of the other great champions of religious freedom in the 17th century was Roger Williams. Williams was an English Puritan, who fled persecution in England to make his home in the new colony of Massachusetts in 1630, where he intended to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity. However, his own refusal to become part of the church establishment resulted in his conflict with the authorities there, and he was expelled three years later. He went on to become one of the founders of another colony, Rhode Island. He returned to Blighty in 1643, seeking to acquire a royal charter for the new settlement. Back in England, he became heavily involved in the debate over religious toleration, writing his classic work on it, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution. Parliament responded by having it burnt by the public hangman in August the following year. Williams left England, but returned to the country of his birth in 1652, leaving once more two years later. During this later sojourn in England, he wrote a sequel to his book, The Bloody Tenent Yet More Bloody. David Wootton in his comments on Williams and his works states

Williams has long been regarded as one of the first exponents of what were to become central principles of the American constitution: the sovereignty of the people and the separation of church and state.

David Wootton, ed., Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writings in Stuart England (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986) 215.

Wootton’s book contains extracts from The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, including the following passage, where Williams lays out the main themes of his argument.

Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Discussed, in a Conference betweene Truth and Peace

Syllabus:

First: That the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of protestants and papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Secondly: Pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Thirdly: Satisfactory answers are given to scriptures and objections produced by Mr Calvin, Beza, Mr Cotton, and the ministers of the New England churches and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Fourthly: The doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.

Fifthly: All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual, or Christian, state and worship.

Sixthly: It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son, the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God’s spirit, the word of God.

Seventhly: The state of the land of Israel, the kings and people thereof, in peace and war, is proved figurative and ceremonial, and no pattern nor precedent for any6 kingdom or civil state in the world to follow.

Eighthly: God requires not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced on any civil state; which enforced uniformity, sooner or later, is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.

Ninthly: In holding an enforced uniformity of religion in a civil state, we must necessarily disclaim our desires and hopes of the Jews’ conversion to Christ.

Tenthly: An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.

Eleventhly: The permission of other consciences and worships than a state professes only can, according to God, procure a firm and lasting peace; good assurance being taken, according to the wisdom of the civil state, for uniformity of civil obedience from all sorts.

Twelfthly: Lastly, true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile.

I realise some Jews and Muslims may object to the tone of his comments about them, that they are somehow a threat to the Christian community and Christians should endeavour to convert them. Nevertheless, the points Williams is trying to make are good ones: provided that everyone in a community obeys the same laws, it doesn’t matter what their religious opinions are. In the case of the Jews, the underlying point can be stated more generally: no non-Christian will want to convert to that religion, if it offers them and their people nothing but persecution and hate.

It also needs to be pointed out, that Williams was writing at a time when the Turkish Empire did represent a militant threat against the states of Christian Europe, which Williams would have been acutely aware of. It can’t be argued against his demands for religious freedom and pluralism, that he was living in a more peaceful time.

I’ve put this up because this is one of the founding documents of the great American tradition of religious freedom and tolerance, from one of the Puritan divines who also was one of the great pioneers of American democracy. This is now threatened by Trump and his proposed registry for Muslims. As I pointed out yesterday, this violates the argument for freedom of conscience argued on Christian theological and scriptural grounds by William Penn, just as it violates Williams own arguments on the same grounds for religious toleration.

Trump’s claim to be protecting Americans through this registry not only violates due process, as George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr Sulu, made clear, it also violates the essential theological principles on which America as a tolerant, democratic, Christian nation was founded. If the religious Right are supporting his motion for this registry, then they are showing a complete ignorance and contempt for one of the cornerstones of American and British Christianity and liberal democracy.

William Penn on Religious Toleration

November 18, 2016

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was a Quaker and an ardent campaigner for freedom of conscience. He wrote at least three pamphlets arguing for it, The People’s Ancient and Just Liberties Asserted of 1670; The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience (1670) and A Perswasive to Moderation to Dissenting Christians (1685). They’re collected, along with his other writings, in The Peace of Europe, The Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, edited by Edwin B. Bronner (London: J.M. Dent 1993). Penn argues for freedom of conscience on scriptural, theological, and historical grounds, as well as citing cases of contemporary religious toleration amongst the states in his day, where religious diversity had not caused civil dissension and war. This included the various Muslim empires, which he noticed also were characterised by different sects, all of which apparently lived in peace. He particularly felt that religious persecution was not something Christians should do. Not only was it positively forbidden by scripture, in his opinion, it was unnecessary. Christianity did not need the use of force to prove its truth. Furthermore, the use of force was actually self-defeating, as it caused people to despise, rather than respect Christianity.

Here’s a couple of passages that struck me as particularly acute, though all of the arguments in The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience are worth reading, as one of the arguments for toleration is the peaceful coexisting of Christians and Muslims in Spain under Charles V. This didn’t last long, as they were expelled in the 15th century under Ferdinand and Isabella. Nevertheless, it is important and acutely relevant to today that Penn had no doubts that Christians and Muslims could live together peacefully without religious coercion.

11. It ever was the prudence of the wise magistrate to oblige their people; but what comes shorter of it than persecution? What’s dearer to them than the liberty of their conscience? What cannot they better spare than it? Their peace consists in the enjoyment of it: and he that by compliance has lost it, carries his penalty with him, and is his own prison. Surely such practices must render the government uneasy, and beget a great disrespect to the governors, in the hearts of the people.

12. But which concludes our prudential part shall be this, that after all their pains and good will to stretch men to their measure, they never will be able to accomplish their end: And if he be an unwise man that provides means where he designs no end, how near is he kin to him that proposes an end inobtainable. Experience has told us, 1. How invective it has made the imposed on. 2. What distractions have ensued such attempts. 3. What reproach has followed to the Christian religion, when the professors of it have a used a coercive power upon conscience. And lastly, that force never yet made either a good Christian, or a good subject. (p, 171.)

3. Unity, (not the least, but greatest end of government is lost) for by seeking an unity of opinion (by the ways intended) the unity requisite to uphold us, as a civil society, will be quite destroyed. And such as relinquish that, to get the other (besides that they are unwise) will infallibly lose both in the end. (p. 172).

In short, what religious, what wise, what prudent, what good natured person would be a persecutor; certainly it’s an office only fit for those who being void of all reason, to evidence the verity of their religion, fancy it to be true, from that strong propensity and greedy inclination they find in themselves to persecute the contrary; a weakness of so ill a consequence to all civil societies, that the admission of it ever was, and ever will prove their utter ruin, as well as their great infelicity who pursue it.

And though we could not more effectually express our revenge than by leaving such persons to the scope of their own humours; yet being taught to love and pray for our persecutors, we heartily wish their better information, that (if it be possible) they may act more suitably to the good pleasure of the eternal just God, and beneficially to these nations. (p. 185).

Penn was aware of the counterargument that by arguing for freedom of conscience, he was also arguing for religious Dissenters to be able to attack and murder everyone else, and deals with it in the following passage:

Object. 3. But at this rate ye may pretend to cut our throats, and do all manner of savage acts.

Ans. Though the objection be frequent, yet it is as foully ridiculous. We are pleading only for such a liberty of conscience, as preserve the nation in peace, trade, and commerce; and would not exempt any man, or party of men, from not keeping those excellent laws, that tend to sober, just and industrious living. It is a Jesuitical moral, to kill a man before he is born: first, to suspect him of an evil design, and then kill him to prevent it. (p. 175).

Trump’s embrace of Fascists and anti-Semites, and his automatic suspicion of all Muslims, as somehow a threat to America, is here explicitly condemned by one of the very first founders of America, and a leading figure in the centuries-long campaign for freedom of conscience in Britain. Penn was one of the founders of the great American tradition of religious liberty, a tradition which Trump is determined to attack and uproot. He must not be allowed to do so.

TYT Politics on the Historic Unitarian Church Determined to Defend Trump’s Victims

November 17, 2016

This is really heartening. In this video, The Young Turks’ Eric Byler interviews the Rev. Dr. Robert Hardies, the minister of All Souls Unitarian church in Washington DC, on his determination to offer his church as sanctuary to all the groups, who are going to be attacked by Trump now he’s in office – the gays, Latinos, Muslims, Blacks and others. There’s footage of the reverend gentleman preaching, in which he talks about how God, before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, were told to set up cities of refuge, to which persecuted individuals could flee. He describes how in the Middle Ages the church also offered sanctuary for those fleeing secular justice, and so his decision to make his church protect those now threatened with persecution from Trump is part of this tradition. He also talks about his historic church’s own individual tradition of sounding its bell during times of national crisis and celebration, including the ending of the American Civil War.

The Turks, in their blurb for this video, state:

“This congregation will provide sanctuary to all who are vulnerable and oppressed by the incoming administration.”

Rev. Dr. Robert M. Hardies, addressed his congregation at the historic All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington DC on the Sunday following the election of Donald J. Trump to be the United States’ 45th president. TYT reporter Eric Byler ( http://Twitter.com/EricByler ) sat down with Rev. Hardies, who is one of the nation’s most respected gay ministers as well as a leader in the national fight for racial justice, to ask whether his advice to his church would be the same he would offer to the nation. Hardies spoke both of reconciliation and resolve to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.

Our response to a comment saying churches should stay out of politics:

“The reality is we are going to be governed either by (a) corporatists plus religious people blinded by partisanship and “white racial identity” or (b) corporatists and people of conscience and compassion whether their inspiration be secular or nonsecular. One of these two coalitions will govern us better. It won’t harm anything to learn about, and have dialogue with religious communities, and, perhaps even learn how to tell the difference.” — @EricByler

Our response to comments from viewers marvelling at the existence of progessive people of faith:

“There have always been progressive and regressive churches. As the abolitionist movement began to take root, circa 1830, many of the churches split over slavery. This is why we have Southern Methodist vs. Methodist, Southern Baptist vs. Baptist, for instance Other churches, like the one seen in this report, were formed for the PURPOSE of fighting slavery and other forms of oppression. The reason why we are SO MUCH MORE familiar with regressive churches in today’s America is that plutocratic interests have worked very hard to annex the churches as amplifiers of their political agendas. They did so in the 1830’s (slave owners) and they did so in the 1970’s and 1980’s (white nationalist corporatists), both times with great success. The progressive churches have continued to exist, but they have not been put in the lime light of corporate media, with the intermittent exception of progressive Black churches, especially during the Civil Rights movement. But they do exist. Two of the best known progressive evangelicals are Rev. Dr. William Barber (whom you probably know) and Rev. Jim Wallis ( http://Twitter.com/jimwallis ) Here is info on Wallis: https://sojo.net/biography/jim-wallis

Their comment about the greater attention given to the regressive churches due to their annexation by the plutocracy is exactly right. A few years ago, a pair of sociologists published a book The Truth About Evangelical Christians, which presented the real picture of the nature of American theologically conservative Christians. They found that, in contrast to the picture presented by the Televangelists like Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson and his appalling 700 Hundred Club and the rest of the religious Right, about half, or over half of American Evangelicals were actually left-wing. In fact, many were even further left than American Roman Catholics.

This is part of submerged, left-wing America, the America of the unseen, ignored masses of liberals and progressives, coming together to challenge the quasi-Fascist beast now squatting in the White House. It’s part of the movement that saw Americans in cities across the US get on to the streets to march together against Trump’s election, and the political and corporate corruption that put him there. Amen to all this.

Video of Mass Meeting of Orthodox Jews against Israel in New York 2013

October 9, 2016

I’ve also mentioned several times in my blog posts about Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the anti-Semitism smears, that some Orthodox Jews strongly reject Zionism and the state of Israel from religious reasons. As Sam Seder explained in a clip from the Majority Report I put up about a week ago, and a young Jewish woman, who was brutalised for heckling Binyamin Netanyahu when he addressed Congress, traditional Jewish theology considers it a sin to try to establish a Jewish state in Palestine before the coming of the Messiah.

I found this clip on YouTube of a mass meeting of 10,000 plus Orthodox Jews in New York in 2013 to condemn the state of Israel, and in particular a law by the Knesset that would force Yeshiva students – that it is, students at the Jewish religious schools and seminaries – to join the army. The speakers not only make it plain that they see the state of Israel as a blasphemy, they also bitterly resent what they see as the Israeli military’s attempt to make their young men complicit in the military’s crimes. One speaker denounces the Israel government for trying to turn Jews, a traditionally peaceful people, into a militaristic and aggressive nation – ‘the hands of Esau’.

The clip is also interesting as they quote a former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Sonnenfeld, who refused Zionist aid for his people during a terrible famine in the 1920s. Despite the fact that his people were dying of starvation, Rabbi Sonnenfeld refused the money, as he felt it was an attempt by the Zionists to buy influence in his community. As pious, Orthodox Jews, they also pray for God to return to His people quickly, and come to dwell with them in the Holy City of Zion, as prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament.

The speeches are in Yiddish, but there is a English voiceover and subtitles.

Pitt’s Speech Demanding the Suspension of Habeas Corpus During the French Revolution

March 2, 2016

Also going through the book, Your MP, by the pseudonymous ‘Gracchus’, I found Pitt’s speech of the 16th May 1794, asking parliament to pass a bill suspending Habeas Corpus in order to allow the government to round up subversives during the French Revolutionary War.

Now I’ve written a number of pieces on this blog about the origins of democracy in certain strands of theology that stressed the need for representative assemblies and which permitted Christians to overthrow a tyrant. One of the criticisms of this type of history, however, is that it misrepresents how difficult and arduous the process by which democracy emerged in the West actually was. Instead of a being a smooth development in which democracy finally flowered from long, historic constitutional roots, at each stage of the process valuable constitutional freedoms had to be fought for, and were only painfully won. And historians have pointed out that for much of its history, Britain was an authoritarian state, which was all too ready to dispense with its citizens’ ancient freedoms when it suited the governing classes. The classic example of this was the 18th century, when fear of the Revolution across le Manche spreading over here moved the British government to suspend Habeas Corpus and pass range of legislation severely limiting free speech and banning a variety of ‘seditious combinations’, including the nascent trade unions.

Here’s Pitt’s speech:

The monstrous modern doctrine of the Rights of Man … threatens to overturn the government, law, property, security, religion, order and everything valuable in this country, as it has already overturned and destroyed everything in France, and endangered every nation in Europe …

That great moving principle of Jacobinism, the love of plunder, devastation and robbery, which now bears the usurped name of liberty … the arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich, and crush all; the dark designs of a few, making use of the name of the people to govern all; a plan founded in the arrogance of wretches, the outcasts of society …

With some qualifications because of its florid 18th century, this has a peculiar contemporary ring about it. The attack on the ‘Rights of Man’ for example. If you replace that with the European convention on Human Rights, which is based on the French Revolutionary tradition of les droits du l’homme, (excuse my French), then the sense is more or less the same. As is the rant about the ‘arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich.’ With a few alterations, you could put this in the pages of the Daily Mail today and no-one would notice. Really. A few years ago the Mail took it into its tiny collective skull to publish a rant against the French education system. It particularly attacked the elite state schools, which educated the French technocratic and governmental elite. They were nasty, horrendous, undemocratic, and excluded the French hoi polloi. Which is probably true, I dare say. It then started to compare them negatively with the British public schools, which were supposed to be better, and the mark of a freer society. Some of us would argue that it actually shows the alternative.

In fact before the introduction of democracy over here in the form of the acts finally extending the franchise to women and the rest of the working class, the doctrine of universal human rights really wasn’t widely adopted over here. The ruling classes thought it was too abstract, and too French. Instead, they linked political rights to property qualifications and the ability to pay certain levels of tax and rates. And you can see that today. It’s carefully hidden, but there is definitely an attitude that if you’re rich, you should have more rights than the rest of us. Willie Whitelaw in the 1980s said that business owners ought to have two votes, as they were responsible not just for themselves, but for their employees. One of the High Tories about twenty years ago wrote a book arguing that we should ditch all the horrendous reforms of the 1960s, and get back to a more stable age before gender equality, the legalisation of homosexuality, when there was better respect for property. He wanted the property qualification restored for jury service, so that people with a responsible attitude to the protection of property would fill the court rooms, passing guilty sentences on those caught infringing the country’s property rights.

So it really doesn’t come as a surprise, given the long history of suspicion by the ruling classes against any doctrine of equality and universal rights, that Theresa May now wants to extend the powers of the surveillance state. Or even that in the last parliament the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers passed legislation providing for secret courts and massively extending the length of time a suspect could be held for trial during their investigation.

Britain considers itself one of, if not the great founding nation of political liberty. Pitt’s speech, and the ominous rise of the surveillance state under Major, Bliar and Cameron, makes you wonder how true this really is.

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