Friday, December 05, 2014

Guest Post - Tim Wise

Tim Wise can't be topped for good sense today, so I make way for him:

Original here, but reproduced below for your convenience.  A Christian will be reminded that Jesus didn't get nailed on wood for being nice:


This past week, Chris Rock noted in an interview that although racism remained a real and persistent problem, he was glad to see that America is now producing the nicest white people in its history.

Perhaps. But if so, this only suggests the pitiable limits of niceness and its utter irrelevance for the production of something approaching justice, or for that matter even insight. And if so, it may merely signify how far we had to come out of the pit of whatever one takes the opposite of nice to be: mean, nasty, cruel, selfish, and so on. In short, it’s pretty thin gruel in the pantheon of praise, however sincerely Rock may have meant it.

One can be perfectly nice, after all, and still fail to see that which is right before you, staring at you from the computer screen as you watch Eric Garner killed on the streets of Staten Island with an illegal chokehold. The officer who applied that pressure to Garner’s neck might himself be “nice” in the sense that he is kind to old people, babies and animals. Likewise, the grand jury that decided yesterday not to indict him for any crime might well have been filled with nice people, who send get-well cards to sick friends and relatives, participate in Secret Santa at work and volunteer at the local food bank. And what of it? Their niceness did not, clearly, provide them with the gift of comprehension, as they managed to watch an officer kill a man who posed no threat to him whatsoever—no reaching for his gun, even in some paranoid fever dream, no charging him like a bull, or as Darren Wilson put it to justify his killing of Mike Brown, like “a demon.” Their niceness came laced with nothing so helpful as empathy as they watched a man choked to death, gasping for air, all because he had been selling loose cigarettes on the street and dared to tell the officers to leave him alone when they decided to harass him for that most serious of crimes.

Their niceness, however real it may be in some abstract sense, means nothing. It will neither bring Eric Garner back nor prevent the deaths of more just like him. So too, I suspect there may be at least a few nice white folks on that grand jury outside of Akron that refused to indict the officer who killed John Crawford a few months ago in the Walmart there. Among their number may well have been at least a few white folks, for instance, who have nursed a wounded bird back to health or taken soup to a shut-in. But from this possibility, we are supposed to conclude what, exactly? Perhaps only this: that nice people can watch cold blooded murder on video—a video that completely contradicts what the officer said about the incident, and also gives the lie to the claims of the possibly nice white man who first alerted police to Crawford’s presence in the store—and still see nothing at all in the way of a crime. Clearly whatever part of the brain controls niceness is not remotely connected to one’s optic nerve, so let us at least make note of this for future reference.


So too, the cop who killed 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland and then lied about it—a lie we can all be quite sure of because that killing too is on tape—might well have once adopted a rescue pet, or donated $500 to a women’s shelter, or coached little league and treated his players well, even when they struck out with the bases loaded, thereby costing the team the big game. And those who will seek to rationalize that killing (and oh yes, there are plenty who do), might be nicer than say, a sadist like Bull Connor, or Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam—the killers of Emmett Till, for whom the word nice would have been scarcely appropriate—and yet, again, one wonders about the value of such an accolade in times like this? That many whites are nicer today than those who regularly strung black men up from trees is an incredibly low peg upon which to hang one’s hat. And let us not forget, even those white men had wives who quite nicely, one suspects, made sweet tea and chicken salad for the lynchings perpetrated by their husbands. No, nice is less than meaningless.

In fact, I’m starting to wonder if nice might actually be the problem.

Nice is like a set of noise canceling headphones, which disallows those possessed of it from hearing the cries of others suffering under the weight of injustice. Nice is precious, nice is content, and nice does not want to hear of pain. Niceness cannot brook anguish because anguish disturbs the sleep of the just.

Nice is like one of those aromatherapy masks you can get at a day spa. It slips right over the eyes and lulls you into a state of relaxation with the pleasant aroma of lavender. Nice is a soothing massage, a warm cup of tea, or Enya.

Nice is the blue pill from the Matrix—the one Morpheus offers to Neo, which Neo does not take but most white folks have—and which allows us to remain oblivious to the world and how that world is being experienced by those who have had no choice but to ingest the red pill, simply so as to understand what the hell is happening in their own lives.

Nice is the enemy of justice because to raise one’s voice against oppression is to be instantly pegged as not nice, as disruptive, as unruly, as dangerous. To block traffic, or interfere with the all-important Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Center is not nice. To interrupt the symphony orchestra in St. Louis, or the drunken revelry of nice white baseball fans at a Cardinals game is not nice. To signify sympathy for a murdered young man in Ferguson, with even a gesture as simple as raising one’s hands as you come out of the tunnel before the football game is not nice. It is, to some—who would rather just watch black men entertain them with a few nice interceptions—worthy of punishment, or professional discipline. How dare they, say the nice white people who paid good money to see black men play gladiator for the glory of the hometown team.

Nice people change nothing. They never have and they never will. Those who are nice are so invested in their niceness, in their sense of propriety and civility that they rarely raise their voices above a whisper, even in the face of sweltering oppression. Nice white people were the ones who didn’t own black folks during the period of enslavement but also didn’t raise their voices against the ones who did. Nice white people are the ones who didn’t spit on sit-in demonstrators but also had no problem spending money with businesses that had remained segregated all those years.

To be nice is to have an emotional stake in the prevention of one’s own pain. Nice people don’t like to look at the ugly. It’s upsetting, and most of all because it puts us on the hook and calls forth our humanity to actually put an end to that pain. Precisely because most people are good and decent and nice, they turn away from any evidence that the world, and their society is less decent than the sum total of its citizenry. It’s too much to take in. This is the irony of niceness: unlike persons with antisocial personalities or severe sociopathy who quite enjoy pain and suffering and often seek to cause it, those who are nice are so wrapped up in rainbows and lollipops as to make gazing upon the truth a bridge too far.


Nice people do not protest, angry people do; and right now, I’d trade every nice white person about whom Chris Rock was speaking for 100,000 angry ones. But not those who are angry at black folks or brown immigrants or taxes—we have more than enough of them. I mean 100,000 who are angry enough at a system of racial injustice to throw ourselves upon the gears of the machine, as Mario Savio once insisted. A hundred thousand angry enough to join with our brothers and sisters of color and say enough. A hundred thousand who are tired of silence, tired of collaboration, tired of nice, and ready for justice.

In short, and though I know it won’t strike you as, well, nice: fuck nice. And if you’re more disturbed about my language here than the death of black men at the hands of police, then know that you are the problem, and you’ve made it clear what side you’re on. It will not be forgotten.

Tim Wise is an antiracism educator and author of six books on race and racism. His website is www.timwise.org and he tweets @timjacobwise


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving

This season, I've had my fill of white people justifying the evident murder of a black kid in Ferguson, MO by a white cop, which outrages black people and anyone else with a clue -  not because it happened, but because it's routine, and so are the excuses presented for it.  When they're not making excuses in that way, they're focusing on the way some people have rioted - although I don't see them tongue-clicking and finger-wagging that way when fans riot for such weighty reasons as their team winning a superbowl.  Since that's regarded as good clean fun, I don't think the grave concern over people rioting in response to having it made clear to them that cops will never be held accountable for killing them without a cause is really anything but changing the subject.

Of course riots don't help, the same way that telling the spedhead in the IEP meeting to fuck off doesn't generally help either. I always discourage that style, teaching more effective advocacy. But those of us who have had some experiences in spedwo
rld should have no trouble understanding how we can be provoked to be that stupid.

You special ed parents see how it is when they rip off your kid, when they do outrageous and even criminal things to him and you know for certain that it will be difficult or impossible to hold anyone accountable. And the perps, doing this to your kid under color of authority, know that they have the support of their administrators to cover it up.

Now sit still a minute and grok how that feels.

Now consider what it's like for black people, who face this all the time and everywhere, not because it happens all the time, but it always may, and when it does, it's school district sly and the whole system will support it. How easy would you find it to play that right, knowing that it will never end, never be any different, that the majority around you will never get a clue, never have, and clearly don't want to?

As I reflected and wrote on these things the past few days, I understood that the way no one would listen to me when I suffered injustice as a little kid has given me the capacity to understand the elements of justice that we owe to black people.  I know on my own hide, intermittently, what black people endure all day, every day, and as a little kid I found even that slight and occasional injustice more than I could endure.  When I consider it, I don't know how black people have held it together in this place
for 400 years.

As I pondered these things, I saw that it's fitting for me to be thankful for these experiences.  They have enabled me to become somewhat human, not completely blinded and bewitched by my white privilege as most of my fellow white folks have proven in the past few weeks to be. 

And here's another thing.  By doing justice and speaking the truth in the past few days
about injustice to black people, I was made able to reprocess my own experience and become grateful for the instruction in justice and mercy that these traumatic things have given me.  Doing a little justice has helped me with some serious trauma in my life, teaching me gratitude in place of bitterness.

You never know what might happen when you do a little justice, but such healing is exactly what Isaiah 58 tells us to expect.  Try it a little yourself.  You'll be well compensated for putting up with the hatred of those who don't want to hear it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day

November 11, once Armistice Day in which people celebrated the end of World War 1 and remembered how horrible and useless war is, was renamed Veterans Day in the US - though not elsewhere - and has become one of the high holy days of the religion of militarism.

Theologically, it is your standard pagan religion of human sacrifice.  Offer the holy blood of our children to the god, Molech or Baal Melkart, or in this case the national security state, and you will be blessed and prosper.  This holy blood ensures that we are safe and free.

All of this involves a lot of sentimental flattery of veterans, while carefully avoiding the reality that romanticizing their work in this way guarantees that more will be destroyed to no purpose in America's stupid and senseless wars without end.  How is that of any actual use to any present or future veteran that these devotees profess to love and honor?  Truly the proverb is fulfilled exactly upon veterans in this way: "A flattering tongue works ruin."

I was reminded today of how utterly impervious to reason the devotees of this cult are, and this made me realize in a new way what is at work here - survivor guilt.

Survivor guilt gets a lot of attention in the Bible, and rightly so, because it is one of the most powerful ways in which we are blinded by the fear of death.  Some examples:

- When Jesus told the apostles that he needed to die and that they could not follow, they just couldn't handle it.  First, they simply would not accept that it would happen.  "Far be it from you, Lord, that this should happen to you."  This led several times directly to arguments among them over who was the greatest.  And then when that truth could no longer be ducked, "Lord I will follow you to prison and to death!"  Which led directly to Peter forsaking Jesus and denying him.
- Moses survived only while other babies in his position died.  It's not clear, but that may have influenced his rescue of his fellow Israelite by killing the Egyptian.  Certainly his survival while his fellow babies died was something he had to look at.
- Jesus, too, lived only because Joseph had to take him out of town without warning other families of what Herod was likely to do to their babies.
- Before this, David in his own words occasioned the death of the priest Ahimelech and his entire family by showing up and getting help.  Saul's servant Doeg the Edomite was there, and as David said, "I knew it that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul."  David was unable to warn Ahimelech of his danger, but he knew what would happen, just as Joseph knew what would happen to the babies in Bethlehem.

We see here in Peter's case that survivor guilt, if not properly faced as David did, makes us absolutely stupid.  Mom says, "Eat, because children in Africa are starving," and this guilt trip works because the survivor guilt it creates makes the kid unable to ask how eating in the States when he's not hungry will keep anyone in Africa from starving.  His brain just turns off.

And this is an important part of why Americans simply cannot think when it comes to veterans.  These soldiers are occasionally killed, and quite often traumatized, in completely useless wars so that politicians - especially Democrats - can  show what big testicles they have,  so that war contractors can launder public money into their coffers, and to stir up trouble by the outrages that the American bombers and invaders commit so that the resulting blowback can justify more of the same.

None of this does a thing to make any of us safe or free, of course.  Had the US stayed out of Vietnam instead of going there and trashing the country while murdering around three million civilians, would the Vietnamese have robbed any American of his freedom?  If they had left Iraq alone instead of going over there and killing over a million civilians and driving millions from their homes, would we be any worse off than we are today?

All that this actually does is to cause our empire to be hated around the world, while giving our rulers ever more excuses to rob us of our freedoms and to plunder us for the benefit of the 1% who finance their campaigns and give them soft fat jobs when they leave office.  What in any of this does the average American have to be thankful for?

Bur survivor guilt makes the average American completely unable to even look at the obvious, never mind think it through properly.  Can this end well? 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ebola lesson

The American people have gotten very excited about Ebola lately.

The objective threat is real, but for Americans not so dangerous at this point.  Ebola is not all that contagious, much less so than tuberculosis, which is also quite serious.  Ebola does not appear to be contagious until people actually begin to get sick.  We don't have to believe the authorities for this; if Ebola were contagious before symptoms, it would have been completely out of hand already.

Accordingly, Senegal and Nigeria both have had a few cases, but both nations seem to have completely stopped their outbreaks.  If Senegal and Nigeria can do it, the United States can probably manage.

But people have been inventing wild threats.  I see them saying that Hizbullah and ISIS is sending Ebola-infected people here to cause an epidemic.  Never mind that there is no Ebola in Lebanon, Syria or Iraq, and that a disease that is contagious only when you're sick is a poor choice of epidemic agents.  And other details, such as Hizbullah never having shown any interest in terrorist acts in the US.

In all of this, two things stand out.

One is that people simply don't trust the Centers for Disease Control and other government agencies to level with us.  This is the main reason for panic and for the failure of facts and reason to sober people up.  The reason for this is simple: our governments lie to us all the time about everything, and for all sorts of stupid reasons.  To get us into stupid wars.  To win the upcoming election.  To keep officials from being embarrassed.  When it comes to covering up and lying about it, the Obama regime has been worse than all before it.

Another is the cynical use of the epidemic to manipulate people's fears for short-term political gain.  In particular, the Republican Party sees nothing more important here than an opportunity to find fault with Obama, as though substantive complaints can't be found!  That's not taking things seriously. 

When people see that our rulers aren't taking serious things seriously, we don't feel safe.  We may differ on which party is worse on what issue.  But we all sense that we are ruled by evil clowns, even if we dispute  which ones are more clownish and evil.

All of this brings to mind the true proverb: "Excellent speech is not fitting for a fool; much less are lying lips to a prince."  And again: "Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness."

Our rulers in every sphere despise this counsel, not only in government but in our churches, in our educational institutions, in our medical system that runs on pharma company propaganda and bribes, in our food industry oriented to ruining our health to make more money, and so much more.

Ebola is not a big deal in the US, and almost certainly never will be.  But it shows how untrusted and illegitimate our governing institutions are, since the things by which they are preserved - loyalty, truth, and righteousness - are heartily despised. 

How does each of us feel about the importance of these qualities in our own lives?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

White and black

I've been away too long, involved in other things.  Some pleasant news: settled a case that looked like it was going to hearing, and with a full-court press: two different hearings, flyering the schools, the whole thing.  Nice when all that work can be avoided.

Of course there are two or three others shaping up to take its place, but we'll see.

As some of you know, we're getting it together to move out of here, although where is still unclear.  And we're making progress.  Gayle took a ride to her storage bin and hauled a third of it back here, and we processed a good bit of it.  Today, she put on a yard sale, and we got rid of serious crap, including a huge television we never actually watched.  We now have a patch of original carpet where it sat in its stand, and the color is dramatically different from everywhere else in the house.

The stand needed cleaning, and the water came out truly black.  This got me to thinking about blackness, which in this case is clearly associated with filth.

Filth is often dark, and the color of things often gets lighter when they're cleaned.  I'm convinced that this basic fact of the universe is in the foundations of racism, and the Bible addresses this.

There is a "blackness of darkness" (Jude 13).  But not all blackness is of darkness.  For instance the names of the sons of Israel are to be engraved on two onyx stones on the high priest's breastplate.  Onyx is black.

Then, too, purity from sin is white.  But so is leprosy.  This led in the wilderness to a little lesson on racism (Numbers 12).

Moses had married a Cushite woman, yes, a schwarze.  Aaron and older sister Miriam didn't like it and grumbled about it, so God summoned all three to the tent of meeting.  God appeared in the cloud and told them that Moses had exceptional favor with God, who spoke to him face to face, and that they needed to shut up about this.  The cloud lifted, and Miriam was a leper, white as snow.  Once they got that worked out, we may be sure that white didn't seem quite so right to Aaron and Miriam anymore.

Then, too, the sign that leprosy is healed when black hair grows in the lesion (Leviticus 13:37).

So then, black and white is not the whole story.  What kind of white, or what kind of black?  In particular, if you have a problem with somebody's tan - remember Miriam.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why do religion and hatred go together?

There is no shortage of religious haters in the world. I would be an unbeliever if the Bible didn't tell me to expect this. But run an eye through the prophets, and you'll notice who killed them. Run an eye over the gospels and you'll see who pursued Jesus to death. Notice who stoned the apostles and drove them out of town. You can't see things being just the way God tells you to expect and find that to be a reason not to believe in God. Be mad at God and argue with him about it, like Job or the writers of the Psalms, but you can't disbelieve somebody for telling you the truth and then it turns out that way.

Jew haters will answer that it's the Jews, but in that they're just showing how their hatred makes us stupid. The problem is religious people feeling competition from the truth, Jewish or not, as the past 1800 years have shown.  In fact, if you include the worship of Mammon as a religion - and how can we not? - I'd say that in the Bible all persecution is driven by religious "faith," without exception.  Go look.  Please find me any exceptions to the rule.

This is pretty sobering when I consider that I and others reading all this rather obvious stuff are the religious people in view. These warnings are directed to the reader.

Murderous religious people are generally pursuing redemption through who or what they hate, rather than humbling themselves in repentance, and generally by devoting themselves to some counterfeit salvation. We see this in others easily: Germans whirled away into their devotion to Hitler, or Communists in the 1930s in love with Stalin or, or later with Mao Zedong.

Only it doesn't do us much good to see this folly in other people.  Here the log-in-eye thing kicks in.  Christian Jew haters have blinded themselves by seeing this in Jews so as not to see it in themselves. American messianists, people who like Woodrow Wilson think that America is the savior of the world - he actually uttered this blasphemy in 1919! - worship their favorite empire in the same way, while being experts in seeing this problem in their favorite enemies. Rabbi Michael Lerner, in "Jewish Renewal," points out that American Jewish leaders quite consciously decided to form Jewish identity around the state of Israel, and that's the definition of idolatry, something besides the true God in which we find our identity. It doesn't look pretty when an idol fails you.

Zionism is idolatrous in its foundation anyway: Psalm 90 says that God is the dwelling place of the Jewish people from generation to generation, and Zionism says oh no, the needed dwelling place is a state of our own making. And God is not in the business of blessing an idol.

Actually, the best way to curse something or someone is to worship it, which is why Paul and his companions rushed into the crowd at Lystra and prevented them from offering sacrifice to them. Any reader of the Bible can see that the US and Israel are cursed because people worship them, thus making them into accursed things (Deuteronomy 7:25-26).  If that's not obvious in nations, see what happens to people you know when they're flattered in that way - husbands, for instance.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Religious futility

It's a mark of pagan religion, including most Christianity, to consider ethical conduct and religious devotion to be unrelated matters.  It's not easy for Christians to explicitly say that in the face of the Bible that they claim to believe, but that is obviously what they really believe - their Bibles be damned.  I deal with such, for instance, on school boards all the time.  Such religion is certainly worse than nothing.

I think it's unjust to call this simple hypocrisy, although it is hypocrisy of the utterly sincere kind we see in the Pharisees.  These hypocrites are not con-men.  They are zealously convinced of their religion.  It is what C. S. Lewis called the innocence of evil.  They believe, these Christians, what their gods teach them.  And all such religion in the world, the gods actually worshiped, simply do not see anything wrong with being zealous for God and given to any sort of depravity, because that religious devotion makes up for all that corruption. 

Well, yes, I have been doing little boys in the Sandusky manner, but celebrating Mass and hearing confessions is service to God that makes up for that.  Yes, the kids in our mission school are being beaten and raped, but we're proclaiming the gospel, so it's OK and indeed service to God to cover that up, because if we didn't - if we did the truth - the kingdom of God would be harmed because people wouldn't be believing our story about Jesus.  No marvel that these Christoids bring the same mentality everywhere they go in the world in whatever they do, whether serving on the school board or higher political office, or in businesses like Amway, or whatever. 

The faith that Jesus teaches has nothing in common with any of this.  It is all about the truth and nothing else.  In John 3, he said that the condemnation is this: that light comes into the world and men hate the light because their deeds are evil, something that he held to be the case when he was not yet on the scene personally. For Jesus it was not whether you professed to believe in him.  In John 8, some of them believed in him, and then he said a few things to these believers in him, identifying them as sons of the devil, and they picked up stones to kill him. 

When people came under condemnation for not believing him it was because, and only because, the truth before their face demanded that they believe in Jesus, and they could not, given what was before them, refuse to believe without denying the truth.  Unfortunately, that's not what happens much these days.  The reason people these days don't believe in Jesus is that the Jesus being presented to them is a lie.  They're not disbelieving because they're rejecting the truth.  They're disbelieving because they're rejecting religious garbage.  In spite of appearances, Jesus and his gospel are not actually even coming into it.

The only God that any Christian has any business presenting is the God who is worshiped by receiving and doing the truth, and who is denied by walking in the lie, however zealous for God we may be.  That doesn't happen much.  I can't speak of other times in which I haven't lived, but I find this a very tough time to live, and most religious assemblies worse than useless.  Paul wrote even in Corinth 1900 years ago that they were coming together not for the better but for the worse, and that sure hasn't stopped being true since he wrote it.