Last Friday, I went to see Capitalism: A Love Story. Michael Moore definitely delivered on his promise. At first blush, I found the movie to be very depressing. The rich get richer and the Fat Cats have their way and the ordinary folks are put upon again, again, and again..
I was stunned when Moore exposed the fact that many large corporations take out “dead peasant” life insurance policies on employees. Of course, the employees do not know about the policies and the companies cash in on them when the employee dies. The movie even showed broker advising the company that not enough employees were dying on time. The greed that caused the current economic downturn runs rampant and it runs deep.
We and our elected officials are living in la-la land. We think we elect people who then will go to Washington and protect our interests. Wrong! The elected officials think they have power and they promise to go to Washington to make a difference. Wrong. They are in the pockets of the lobbyists who provide the funds that help them get reelected. Obama intended to reform many things, health care included. Watch closely. The final bill will be a victory for the pharmaceutical companies and the insurance industry. So much for “Change you can believe in!”
Last night, I happened to catch Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid show on DirecTV. Willie and some of his musician friends have been donating their time and paying all their own expenses to put these concerts on over the years. Why? Because agribusiness is taking over the smaller, family farms. The scenario reads like the Holy land in Jesus’ time or Ireland during the British occupation. In Jesus day, the Romans and a few wealthy Jews and priests who collaborated with them were taking over the only known commodity—land. When impoverished small farmers could not make it, the large landowners floated tem loans. When they still could not make a go of it because of exorbitant tithes and taxes, the landowners took over their land. The Bible had proclaimed jubilee every seven years in order to militate against such scenarios but the greedy found ways around the biblical mandates. Hmmm! Do things ever change?
One other note. It is not just an issue of people losing farms as if that is not bad enough. It is an issue of food quality. Agribusiness practices often pollute the nearby environment not to mention what their practices do to the karma of penned up animals.
Now I certainly do not agree that all capitalists are greedy neer do wells; however, many of them are. John Mackey and his company, WholeFoods, practices “conscious capitalism,” which looks like capitalism with a heart.
For other capitalists, greed is their God and the market rules. Where does that leave us as disciples of Jesus the Christ today. It leaves us where it has left every generation of Christians. Unfortunately, since Constantine co-opted our Christianity, we have not been much of a voice for justice.
But we can be. Jesus by overcoming the forces of darkness and greed on the cross has ushered in a new world order. The kin-dom is here now and we do not recognize it most of the time. Richard Rohr says that Jesus comes to us disguised as our life. Mother Theresa says that Jesus comes to us in the distressing disguise of the poor.
When we approach Jesus and ask what we must do to be saved, he is going to give us the same answer he gave the rich young man. He will tell us to keep the commandments. In fact, he changes one slightly from covet your neighbor’s goods to do not defraud your neighbor. Our response will be pretty much the same. We have done all these things, we have gone to church on Sunday, and we really try to keep all the commands.
We are no more ready for Jesus’ next reply than was the rich young man. Here is comes. Look out. Get ready to duck or pretend you did not hear it.
“Give all that you have to the poor and come follow me.”
“What? Are you out of your mind (your mothers and brothers and sisters thought that during your ministry on earth)?”
“No, I am serious. You cannot serve two masters. Riches have no place in my kin-dom. There are to be no poor among you. There are to be no rich and poor in my kin-dom. All are equal in my eyes. There are no Jews or Greeks, Mexicans or Americans. There are no men and women. There are no gays and straights. In the beloved community, there are no boundaries and no distinctions. All are my brothers and sisters. And you are brothers and sisters to one another.”
“Look at my life. I dined and partied with tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers. I put up with 12 pretty dense apostles for almost three years and they still did not get it. They ran and hid. Some disciples! The women hung in there with me.”
“It all worked for good. After the resurrection, a new vibrant, Spirit-filled community formed. The communities were so varied and so vibrant. If they had resources and hear about another community that was in need, they would take up a collection and give from their resources to help their distant brothers and sisters. This worked for almost three centuries.”
“It can work again. But you have to believe in my vision for a new world order—an order based on justice for each and every person. Little by little you must examine your lives and start to root out the Mammon that keeps you from serving me and proclaiming my Gospel. I am gifting you with my Holy Spirit so that what is not possible for human beings will be possible for God.”
“You are no here for yourselves. You are here to serve one another in solidarity. I, your Lord and Master, washed the dirty, smelly feet of the Apostles and I now tell you what I told them, ‘Wash one another’s dirty, smelly feet.’”
I want to thank Michael Moore and Willie Nelson for making me re-examine these issues. As Merton reminds us, we cannot sit around and point fingers at the evil that lurks in the hearts of greedy capitalists. We must look at the evil—greed and consumerism—which lurks in our own hearts.
The movie ended on an upbeat note. One community in Miami came together and nonviolently resisted the eviction of a family from their home. The nonviolent Jesus will show us the way to put his dream for us into place.
If anyone reading this thinks that I am a socialist, my reply is that I am just trying to be a Christian.