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Saturday: Mustard Seeds

A few days ago, a couple hundred economists signed their names to a letter of support of Occupy Wall Street.  Here’s a video the group Econ4 has produced that explains why they did it:

There are a couple of interesting things to note in this video.  First, it appears like there has been a sort of censorship going on in various academic economics departments around the world in an attempt to suppress  more Keynesian voices.  Paul Krugman has frequently made reference to a related controversy, the Fresh Water vs Salt Water economists. The Fresh Water economists have gained the upper hand in policy matters and appointments in the past several decades.  Then there are the endowed chairs in the various economics departments funded by the friends of the Koch brothers.

Secondly, the economists aren’t suggesting that we dump capitalism.  What they are concerned with is income disparity, the widening gulf between the extremely rich and everyone else, and the basic human rights of working people, of everyone really.  That may manifest itself in a new and improved form of capitalism or some set of rules that level the playing field. Who know, I am not an economist but I’m willing to learn.  They have a new video up on econ4.org.  Check it out.

And by leveling the playing field, I don’t think anyone is talking about communism.  But we must re-establish that work has value and it should be rewarded accordingly.  At the moment, we reward the accumulation of wealth, which may or may not be the result of work of some kind, and we penalize people who work to make an living.

For those of you who aren’t independently wealthy and are still kissing the whip, thinking that your extraordinary virtues are what lead to your continued prosperity, pay close attention: The only reason you walk around smugly with a superior little smirk on your face is because you can pay the masters of the universe who own your mortgage and health insurance policy.  If that job ever goes away, through no fault of your own, you will know what it is like to live somewhere between poor and destitute.  Unless you are making your income exclusively from your investments, you are vulnerable.  Your virtues will not protect you.  If you are old enough to be living on social security and actually believe that you are safe from the people who want to terminate benefits for your adult children, think again.  The people who would reneg on their promises to your children who have worked decades for those benefits they will not see, are not going to spare you.  They will not stop until they get everything they want.  Fraud that is not followed by accountability and punishment is fraud that is just waiting for an opportunity to repeat itself.

More video:

John Dominic Crossan wrote The Historical Jesus (highly recommended).  He gives lectures throughout North America to reintroduce Jesus to people who think they know him.  (For example, Crossan doesn’t think Jesus set out to start a new religion.  Go ahead and laugh but I think he’s right.)  In this video, which is really just audio, Crossan goes over the meaning of the parables and what their purpose was. By the way, I am not religious at all and I think Crossan isn’t making a strictly religious argument.  But even those of us who are not religious can learn something from his study of the “matrix” of 1st century Palestine where Jesus was born.

Crossan starts off with an explanation of apocalypse and eschatology and if you listen carefully, he tells his audience why people who are waiting for the second coming to annihilate the wicked are wasting their time.  In first century Judea, there were plenty of groups that latched on to a “messiah” who prophesied the annihilation of the wicked, expecting that God would rescue them when the going got tough.  But the Romans always massacred them anyway. The authorities made a point of murdering any leader of an apocalyptic group. This is why John the Baptist was captured and beheaded. In this day and age, the political factions simply try to co-opt them.  But that’s not really what this lecture is about.  This lecture is about parables and it’s about an hour long.  The good part is buried in the middle.

25 Responses

  1. I,m still stuffed. 🙂

  2. There should be words as damning as “socialists” and “commies” to throw back at the attackers, but greedists and selfish, lying, corrupting pigs just don’t work as well on the “It’s MY money” crowd!

    I like these religious and economic lessons you’re posting, btw, RD.

    • But here’s the thing, I am not religious. There is a very good reason why I’m posting these videos. Once you start peeling back the layers of legend, mythology and dogma that surrounds Jesus and find out who he really was, you start to see that you have a lot more in common with his world than you think. Did you know the early Christians didn’t even refer to themselves as Christians? They referred to their philosophy as The Way. And that’s what it was, a philosophy of social and economic justice in the context of imperial 1st century Judea.
      I have to agree with Crossan on what he has found about the real Jesus. Slapping a religious label on him makes him somewhat smaller than he actually was. I will never understand why people take a really good story and embellish it to the point where it is almost unrecognizable. And then, the Christians were co-opted by the empire that sought to destroy it and now it does not resemble its origins at all.
      But oddly enough, the occupy movement seems like a worthy successor, one of many throughout the centuries. The nature of the movement would seem to be in direct opposition to either political faction and if the movers and shakers are studying their history, and there are signs that they are, they could become even more successful.
      This is not some supernatural mystery cult based on some zombie cannibal. And it is already seeping into the mainstream American culture. The bank transfer day had a lot of fans outside of progressives. I found that amazing. So, they’re doing the right things so far.

      • the occupy walmart was a misstep. If they want an elitist movement then it was the right more. But regular folks just want to do some Christmas shopping, they enjoy it. Trying to keep them from hitting the black friday sales was a knuckle headed move. Some one should get a big down twinkle for that idea. Way to turn off the populace.
        On the other hand I agree about the move your money thing. It was great. More ideas like that will really get people to rally.
        I wish people would occupy congress and film them going home for Christmas…… “oh look there is Congresswoman Pelosi. Hi Congresswoman, there are _____ number of new homeless people in your district this Christmas because they got evicted from their homes. Do you think that this is the time for you are to be leaving the job? I mean, lots of Americans have to work on Christmas, why not congress?” etc…

        • Oddly enough, we thought that Walmart, target and other merchants were waaaay out of line making their employees come into work at 10pm on thanksgiving and 12 midnight on black Friday. It’s cruel. I don’t care how desperate you are for better retail numbers, the crazy shoppers can wait until 9:00am the next morning.

          • yeah, but that is not the point. If that is the issue find another way to address it. If turning off the average american to your cause is your purpose be a Grinch at Christmas. If capturing the support of the majority of Americans make the protests about things they agree with and understand. Banks screwing them out of their own money for no good reason except greed they understand.
            Let workers address their own issues, don’t be patronizing. Did anyone even ask them them if they wanted their work place occupied? My guess is no. So I am thinking it’s bullshit that this was about them. Again tone deaf elitist nonsense.

            ps……also, if you are serious about real change and not just about being a member of your version of the kool kidz, it would probably be a good idea to get over your idea that somehow you know more about Christianity than the people who are Christians. Start by understanding that it is not “some supernatural mystery cult based on some zombie cannibal.” If that is all you know from the outside, you will never really know what you are talking about unless you spend some time on the inside. If you can’t do that at least stop exposing yourself.

  3. A mustard seed….Will you come to Occupy Tucson’s FB page and “like” us…it would be helpful to show that we’re growing (we are!!) and we can use all of the help we can get as our brave Occupiers are being arrested every night….. Thank You!!

    • Aww, Marsha, do I have to?? I generally avoid FB. Yes, we have a link but it’s just so not my medium and I really don’t want to be forced to use it. People start expecting regular exchanges on it and I so don’t like Facebook.
      But I encourage others to do it if that’s their thing.

      • Thanks for your encouragement….I understand!

        • Ok, I feel guilty now. I’ll like you on FB. It’s the least I can do. You guys did a great job the other day.

        • I’d been to your occupy site before. You guys are bold. Refusing the citations takes a lot of courage. Keep it up. Id love to come and visit someday.

  4. The John Dominic Crossan video is excellent and thought-provoking. It provokes an image for me of the end (sacrifice) of the Occupiers to their city mayors, (Pontius Pilates), via the police, if millions of us supporters don’t non-violently come forth en masse.

    Wall Street, abetted by Congress and Obama, have violently and knowingly ravaged Americans’ livelihoods through systemic structural injustice with impunity. Untroubled they are, with never a thought of repercussions. I say, the hell with that! (As you see, I have boiling-below-the-surface anger, but no ready parable.)

    • I think you’ve got it. Did you catch the part in the middle that I was talking about? Is that like déjà vu all over again or what?

      • John Dominic says that “eschaton” means the end of persecution and injustice on Earth. God will not end these conditions without our participation and we can not end them without God. This connection between God and man, Crossan says, is the heart of Christianity. Christianity is a participatory kingdom. Nothing will happen without collaboration between God and man. Parables are a participatory pedagogery for a participatory eschatology. We are called by God to make God’s kingdom here below. I do understand, and believe, this clarification of Crossan’s.

  5. Jesus didn’t mean to start a new religion. He meant to make drastic changes to the one he already belonged to. He said that he came to change everything. The whole point of his life was the resurrection and that was according to HIM.

    • Oddly enough, this is not true. This is what his followers devised later. It is also what you believe. And if that’s your thing…
      But that’s not what his story was originally about. Crossan goes through the new testament methodically, much like a scientist does. He looks for confirmation in other historical documents and archaeology. The first cannonical gospel to be written Mark and it was based on a much earlier text called “Q”. Matthew and Luke are based on Mark and “Q” but we’re tailored for particular audiences. John came last and is completely different than the other three. As time goes on, you can see how the crucifixion/tomb story changes. Each gospel writer added to it.
      Then there is the gospel of Thomas which doesn’t appear in the New Testament but modern scholars says belongs in it. It is a list of the sayings of Jesus. Some of those sayings appear in the other gospels. Crossan’s methodology is very convincing. His conclusion is that Jesus did not set out to be a Jewish messiah. He didn’t set out to change his own religion. He was baptized by John but found that his philosophy differed from John’s. He was not looking for a purging to be followed by a kingdom of god.
      What Jesus did was focused on reforming society. Crossan says he was an illiterate Jewish Mediterranean peasant who practiced a form of cynicism, which is a philosophy based on equality and simplicity. He was crucified because he committed a crime against the state. IOW, he was a dissident. He probably had an unpermitted march from the gates to the temple where he committed an act of civil disobedience.
      The rest is just legend. I suspect his following was bigger than the bible lets on but it had to be big enough that his death left a lasting impression. I don’t know why they had to turn it into a religion. He was a remarkable human being in his own right. What he did was remarkable. He didn’t need all of the trappings of supernatural miracles and resurrection. If he was all about resurrection, that wouldn’t have made him special enough to turn into a messiah. There were plenty of resurrection stories back then. And it wasn’t just healing people and feeding him, although the Amy he went about it was special. The secret of his success is in his parables.

      • Check out this post by Carl Gregg

        Apparently, I’m not the only person who made the connection between the Jesus movement and occupy events. It crossed my mind in September after the first march I went to but the thought has filled itself out in my head since then.

      • I have not read Crossan’s The Historical Jesus, but I just finished his 2007 book God And Empire, in which he said many of the same things.

        I agree with Crossan–and RD–that the Jesus movement was a social justice movement. I disagree with RD [unless I misread RD, and I’m not certain about Crossan’s position on the subject] that it was only a social justice movement. I believe it also involves an afterlife, because psychologically, I must believe it.

        Why? Because this world is not enough. Even if we do find the wisdom and compassion to establish Jesus’s social vision here on Earth, and the means to fix the environmental problems we cause, the Earth can’t last forever. Sooner or later, the Sun will expand into a red giant star, although that isn’t expected for at least 2 billion years, and render the Earth uninhabitable. Of course, that gives us plenty of time to find–or build–other places to live. Even so, the Universe itself will end one day. Hence, if there be no afterlife, then all human behavior, good, evil, neutral, or mixed, is equally pointless–because nothing will last.

        Also, not to mince words, I cheerfully admit to being a sufficiently selfish SOB that the survival of the species, or of some cause, is not enough for me. I want my individual personality to survive, or to be revived at some future time of the Deity’s choice. 🙂

        And I want a happier life than I’ve had in this amoral, pitiless natural universe that, IMO, neither the Deity nor any lesser intelligence made. One of the reasons I accept the orthodox scientific view of the origins and operations of the natural universe is that I don’t think highly enough of this place to be able to believe that a good and wise and loving Deity made it.


        I have no problem with the idea that Jesus never intended to found a new religion. His later disciple, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism (I’m a Methodist), lived and died a member of the Church of England, and considered himself Anglican to his dying day. Wesley merely wanted to reform the Church of England, which was neglecting both the material and spiritual needs of the humble people of the British Empire.

        Hence, it would not surprise me to learn that Jesus only wanted to reform Judaism.

    • BTW, I am not the first one to think this way, although the thought did cross my mind after the first march in September.
      Here’s another post by Carl Gregg who cites other people who came to the same conclusion that I did:

  6. THANK YOU VERY MUCH for posting this!

    I love visiting your site – keep up the great work!

    Common Cents

    • Thanks, Steve. Good luck on the recall. Btw, I’m kinda not into Obama. Haven’t been since 2008 when he bought the nomination with banker money and had the DNC change the rules for him. It’s nothing racial. It’s just that if a candidate has to “win” a nomination by skullduggery, not by actual election, we shouldn’t expect a lot from him as a president. In fact, we should expect for him to ignore the voters because that’s how he got elected in the first place. So, your unofficial poll doesn’t work for me. You don’t have a “player to be named later” button.
      As for Republican masters of the universe sitting on money and jobs until Obama is out of the way, I have no doubt that this is true. This current incarnation of the Republican party is virulently and pathologically vicious. It has only one goal and that is to take power. So, if that’s the case, Obama should sacrifice himself for the good of the country and promise not to run again. Since he got into office through unscrupulous behavior, I don’t have any expectation that he will actually do this but if he is really a target of Republican nastiness, then getting him not to run next year accomplishes two things, 1.) it removes the Republicans’ excuse for acting like giant blood sucking assholes and 2.) it makes them run against a new candidate who doesn’t have the recession baggage record.
      I keep telling people that a lot could happen in a year. Four months ago, occupy wall street wasn’t even on the radar. Now it is. The euro is about to collapse and who knows what it will take with it. And the super committee has failed. We should all be on the lookout for opportunities to change the narrative.

  7. Not entirely OT, see how TIME magazine treats US vs the world – these are some covers

  8. Thank you, RD, for this. Yes, the Crossan video is an eye-opener, indeed. One of my fave historical references is R.H. Tawney’s “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.” It pinpoints how and when the church and business ‘shook hands.’ One need only track the growing, relative size of art patrons in comparison to the primarily Christian figures depicted in early through late Renaissance artworks, as commissioned to adorn churches. This has been going on for a very long time. A more apt parallel these days? Prominent product placement in movies, TV. 😉 And a hat tip to former Abuzzard, Magginkat, for sharing this! / Bleuz00m

  9. I can’t imagine anyone seriously trying to make the argument that Jesus came to start a new religion. He continued to practice Judaism until the last night of his life. (The last supper was a seder.)

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