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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blaming The Prophets

In Matthew 6:24, Jesus tells us that we cannot serve God and mammon. OWS is telling us that we cannot serve mankind and neoliberalism. Finally, most climate scientists are warning us that we cannot survive and serve wanton prosperity. Each has a message of their own but their messages have a common theme. That theme is the love of money will lead to our demise. For either God will judge us, societies will implode and wars will rule, or we will make the earth as unlivable as the other planets in our solar system already are if we continue to bow down to the bottom line.

The above are the prophets of our time. We could call them prophets against profits. And when they start to speak, their message might initially appeal to us; but that appeal is short lived. It isn't long until what they are saying begins to rub us the wrong way. It isn't long until we, the haves, realize that these prophets are asking us to change. They are asking us to stop putting money, and the lifestyles that wealth brings, first. They require that balance to the force of our personal desires we must bring. And once we hear the call to repent, we return, sometimes reluctantly, to the same old same old, while daring God in heaven or the gods of science to strike us with lightening.

We then respond by either co-opting their gospels or shooting the messenger. Many prefer to do the former because it is self-flattering to do so. By accommodating their gospels to our lifestyle, we give ourselves self-assurance that it isn't our selfishness that is causing problems. So some worship Jesus on Sundays and ignore him on Mondays. Some Democrats will protest with OWS or read reports on the climate but still support the kinds of policies that Clinton did or Obama does now.

However, others prefer to shoot the messengers. In most cases, they do so with words. But regardless, the goal is to silence these pesky prophets and our own consciences. We reason that if we can find significant fault with them, we are not responsible to do what they say and thus there is no need to change. And in the end, whether we discredit the source or hijack their message, the goal is to relieve oneself from our responsibilities.

So we blame the prophets. We do so by waiting until they display an all too human fault. Tea Partiers, for example, become aghast that OWS protesters commit misdemeanors when taking their protests to the street or occupying a public park without a permit. Other Conservatives say they will listen when these occupiers get a job, a haircut and take on some real responsibility. Others will throw out the message with the minimal violence that has occurred in a few occupations. Certainly the violence must be rejected, but the validity of the message is not negated by the faults of the messengers.

Meanwhile, climate scientists have already been dismissed by a majority of the population. This occurred during the email scandal that was reported in the news. What was unfortunate here, however, is that people didn't follow up on the issue after the scandal broke out. If they had, they would have found that the basic message of the climate scientists was still valid.

The final, and perhaps most deadly, way of shooting the messenger is done by asking a simple, albeit, rhetorical question: "will they succeed?" For if OWS does not succeed, then why listen? Of course, success here is measured by the number of people who join the movement. This question, however, is also disingenuous. That is because, with this criteria for success, if we don't listen, they cannot succeed. Asmaa Mahfouz, an Egyptian protester, complained about such logic by saying, "if you say there is no hope, then there will be no hope."

Perhaps the key to understanding how we are blaming our prophets is to examine our working definition of success. Again, success is measured by numbers. At least, that is how a pragmatist would define success here. And, according to that definition, then Jesus and Climate Scientists have already failed while it is just a matter of time until OWS fails. Jesus has certainly failed because, despite the fact that many claim to be his followers, few actually try to follow. The vast majority who say they believe are Jesus' conditional followers. They follow on the condition that what Jesus said does not interfere with their pursuit of prosperity.

But how do others, besides pragmatists, define the success of our prophets? How would a moralist, one who struggles with moral standards, define their success? Wouldn't a moralist measure success by the truth in the message? Wouldn't a moralist interpret the rejection of a good message as a failure on the part of the audience? And thus the real guilty culprits are those who are called but choose not to follow.

When Jesus uses the parable of the sheep and the goats, in Matthew 25, to teach about the necessity of help all of the least of these, who is judged as a failure, was it the goats or Jesus? Who will be judged as a failure if OWS fails because of lack of support and Wall Street continues it economic abuse of the nation? Will it be just OWS or the 99%? And who will be judged as a failure if we refuse to heed the advice of the climate scientists? Will it be the scientists or our children and grandchildren?

If we look at the Bible for guidance, we will find that it wasn't Lot who failed when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. And when the flood came, it wasn't Noah who failed. So why would a moralist blame Jesus, OWS, or climate scientists if people don't accept the message? And if we find ourselves blaming them, what does it say about us?

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