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Topic: Pastoral Consciousness

Corporate Conspiracy Theories in Pastoral Consciousness
5/17/2013 5:38:33 PM

I have added to the website an article by Stanley Aronowitz entitled A New Corporate World of Privilege and Prerogative for several reasons I will detail here.
  • At a dinner party a couple weeks ago I made a comment about the huge power of corporations in people's lives today and a pastor friend of mine responded that I have a "conspiracy theory" about corporate power. I thought it a strange response. Calling something a conspiracy theory is a strong rebuke, a way to reject and avoid statements made on the basis of judgment and analysis. It is very, very easy to document the statement that corporations have great power over people's lives today without appeal to any secret, central group plotting to take over the world. But the dinner party was just ending as this statement was made and casual conversation does not always allow for in depth support for one's views. The Aronowitz article provides clear analysis for the legitimacy of the idea of a "corporate elite."

  • Both pastors and churches need more honesty and clarity about the significance of the corporate elite in society. Conservatives, libertarians, and Tea Party true believers  blame everything on government. But the fact is that the most powerful force in people's lives on a daily basis is the modern corporation. If people have problems it is ridiculous to blame government if the problems are really caused by what corporations are doing. Clarity about this is crucial for any public theology which wants to be based on a truthful view of the real world. Just think about food, housing, jobs, energy, health care, environment and communications media. These are not small matters. They are matters of life and death, every day, all the time.

  • I think it helpful to speak about "pastoral consciousness," not just what pastors may know, their ideas about doctrine or the bible, but that of which they are on a daily basis consciously aware, the core elements of awareness they bring to specific situations as they speak to others, teach or prepare sermons. Because religion in this culture has been relegated to private not public life, pastors tend to use sermon examples from family life or personal relations. They screen out public issues because these may cause conflict or political disagreement. But imagine what the bible would be if all references to the Roman Empire were removed. Imagine trying to understand Martin Luther if all references to the Roman Catholic Church were removed, the most powerful public institution in the 16th century. Trying to remove all reference to modern corporate power means that the gospel message can have no concrete meaning in reality, which is one reason, perhaps, people have stopped expecting the church to have much to say about real life today. The Aronowitz article may help pastors bring the corporate elite to their conscious awareness.

  • There are still some persons in the church who identify with the corporate elite, or the business class, and these persons often have significant power in the church, not least because of their financial contributions. I once was at a meeting of about fifty pastors and leaders of social service and justice ministries. A synodical official who was also vice-president of a large company had been asked to speak. When he got up to speak he said that he was a representative of the "corporate world." I remember this because I thought it a bit strange; the man was at a church gathering and he was a person of faith. But rather than bring his faith to the corporate world he was speaking from the values and assumptions of the "corporate world," this was his own primary consciousness. So the idea that there is a "corporate world" is not a matter of any conspiracy theory, it is a clear understanding of those who inhabit that world. There is a corporate world over against other "worlds" in the world. And that corporate world is where the power and money is located today. And that world wants to maintain its power and wealth and seeks to diminish any person or group or way thinking which challenges it.

  • Aronowitz is writing an update on a book I read in college in the early 1960s, C. Wright Mills The Power Elite. I am now preparing to go back to St. Olaf College for the 50th anniversary of my graduation so I am thinking about my time there. St. Olaf is not known as a center of radical thinking, but today to even mention C. Wright Mills in some circles is to place yourself on the very far left of political philosophy. To me this is an indication of the degree to which corporate thinking has come to nearly completely dominate the public sphere (to use a term made popular by the German social philosopher Jurgen Habermas especially in his book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere). Both of the political parties in this country are now dominated by corporate thinking. The ecumenical church is one of the only remaining institutions in society which in its primary traditions and doctrinal assumptions has not entirely given itself over to the corporate mentality.

  • The Aronowitz article is one of five other articles in a series called The Power Elite Revisited presented at the New Left Project website. I recommend readers take a look at the other articles as well. Then go and buy a book by Richard A. Horsley called Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All, a comprehensive presentation of economic realities in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, including the assemblies organized by the Apostle Paul. You can then compare what Horsley says with the thinking of C. Wright Mills. The bible is clearly a source of transcendence from our own culture and time. If we can come to better understand biblical economics and the idea of "covenant economics" we in the church today may be able to speak to our times with greater clarity and honesty.

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Social Policy in Pastoral Consciousness: Who Should Serve the 'Poor'?
2/16/2012 4:16:45 PM

Right now there is a blistering public debate occurring about contraception in health care plans. But there is a bigger issue in the background about fundamental social policy in the United States. It has to do with policy choices about what institutional vehicles the federal government should use to deliver social welfare services to those who need them in society.

Over the past several decades the conservative argument has been that government should get out of the social welfare business altogether. Churches and non-profit groups should be the ones to deliver services. People should not be taxed to provide such services (taking money from one group and giving it to another as the right wing talk show hosts repeat over and over again). Such services should rely on the free will giving of people who can afford to do so. The so-called Tea Party folks and other libertarians want to cut taxes to end social welfare spending.

And religious right pastors want to create empires of social welfare and educational services. Even now, if you go to a worship service of a so-called evangelical church you will find that most of the service is composed of appeals for money to fund various ministries. It is not "worship" in the old sense, it is an effort to pump people up so they are willing to give their money. Evangelical religion is a religion of money, even among those who would not claim theirs is a prosperity gospel. The religious right has become nearly totally a commercialized form of religion, to the degree that it can no longer be identified as carrying forward the theology and practice of Protestant Christianity with its roots in the Reformation. It is so identified with commercial enterprise in both its basic beliefs and organizational forms that it has adopted the political perspectives of corporate business and now constitutes the primary "base" of the Republican Party. It is the church that should serve the poor, not the government.

The problem is, of course, that this is actually not true. What is true is that the institutions of the religious right and the Catholic church also want the resources of the federal government for their own activities. They want "school choice", for example, but what this means is they want government money for their explicity religious schools. They want government money for their services, such as Catholic Charities, but they don't want to accept federal responsibility for how these services are delivered and to whom. They want the government to provide for religious hospitals but they don't want the government to tell them that they are responsible to serve all the residents in an area in an equal and adequate manner.

The Catholic Bishops are now joining the religious right in promoting a kind of social welfare system which is irrational, which cannot effectively function on an adequate scale in a complex society without funding on the scale required. It is profoundly ridiculous to support anti-tax zealots but also to promote government support for schools such as the many Catholic and religious right universities. This is politically dishonest and only undercuts the possibility of civil debate over these matters.

But the bishops and religious right pastors are only promoting what today's corporations are also saying and doing. They say they want a free market but what they really want is for the government to bail them out from their mistakes, they want the government to fund so-called privatized services such as private prisons, they want the government to fully fund the military-industrial complex. They want the government to clean up their environmental messes. They want the government to provide the health for the employees who get sick working in their factories. They want to transfer all these costs to the taxpayers. And then they turn around and attack government for spending so much money. And then they use television to convince voters that they should vote in such a way that benefits the corporation.

Consciousness is a word referring to how we actively think about things on a regular basis. Political thinking today is so completely confused that what is inside our heads no longer corresponds to the world as it is. For the historic church of Christ the poor are important. We should try to be much more careful in how we think about these matters than is evident today among the Catholic Bishops and the religious right. The lives of real people depend on it.
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Mass Psychosis as a Pastoral Concern
9/24/2010 2:19:37 PM

Last week I had dinner with a friend who had taught sociology for many years at a major state university. I told him I had just finished reading a book by David Remnick called "The Bridge" on "The Life and Rise of Barack Obama." I said that all those Tea Party folks ought to read the book to see where Obama came from, how he has throughout his life been a conciliator, one who wants to listen to those with different views from himself. But I said that I didn't believe Obama could be the "bridge" between the opposing views in today's political and cultural wars, he wasn't going to be an historical "bridge" to a non-partisan future that he wants to be. His belief that there is no red America and blue America blinded him to the strength of right-wing, racist conservatism in the country. He may end up being the last liberal president, the last president who believed that if people just sat down and talked rationally with one another everything would be all right.

My friend agreed and said the country was in the grip of a "mass psychosis". I have been thinking about that phrase. Psychosis can be defined as "a loss of contact with reality, usually including false ideas about what is taking place or who one is (delusions) and seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations)." A psychotic person cannot make good decisions based on what is actually out there in reality, his or her internal conscious life is so severely distorted that his or her actions can result in damage to himself or herself, perhaps destruction.

Any pastor who discovered that a member of the congregation was on the edge of psychosis would try to do whatever is necessary to help the person avoid descent into that terrible state. But what of psychosis on a societal level? Government can be understood to some degree as the "brain" of society, the means by which a society sees reality and decides to act in relation to that reality. Politics in a democracy is the means used to establish who will run the government. But what happens when a political movement comes along which is actually itself psychotic, that is, out of contact with reality to such a degree that it sees things that are not there, so paranoid that it makes up enemies who don't exist, so fearful that it acts in ways that lead only to severe damage and destruction?

Pastors hesitate to become involved in politics, they are like Barack Obama, trying to see all sides, keep everyone united in the family. But if a member of the family becomes psychotic we should not start running the family on the basis of this person's opinions. In the same way, if a political movement becomes psychotic we should not remain quiet or claim that everyone has the right to their own opinion. I think pastors, especially pastors in the mainline denominations, need to begin to really very seriously think about this and realize that we have a practical pastoral ministry today concerning politics. That is especially so since a major element of political irrationality has been introduced by right-wing religion calling itself "Christian." Protestant pastors today have a real responsibility to stand up and address these issues head on. Great damage to the public life of this nation, and the world, is being done by a false form of Christianity, the so-called religious right, which is really an Americanized, commercialized, so-called anti-modernist form of religion which no longer represents the authentic Reformation heritage.

This religious-right is now hiding inside what is called the "Tea Party" movement as if this is something new. There has now been a coming together of this religious right with libertarianism and neoconservatism, all three of which have hysterical views of the world outside of reality. And this has all become what we should call "extreme" in the sense of about ready to take the country over the edge of a cliff. If you don't believe this take a look at an article I just placed on this website by Max Blumenthal. I have read his book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. Blumenthal provides an outstanding analysis based to some degree on the views of the psychiatrist Erich Fromm in his book Escape from Freedom, a study of authoritarian psychology. The latest Blumenthal article is a quick summary of Tea Party activities, where Glenn Beck gets his ideas, and demonstrates why we are able to call the Tea Party movement "psychotic," disconnected from reality. It is promoting what we can legitimately call a "mass psychosis."

At this website I am trying to think about these matters. I use the term "public consciousness" for example. The media play a huge role today in creating and manipulating the public consciousness, and one major network, for purposes of private profit, is promoting pychosis in the public consciousness. A large element in all this is the continuing energy of the backlash against the 1960s and the gains of the civil rights movement. Civil rights workers were called socialists and Communists by white people in the South, just as major Republican leaders (especially those with Southern roots) today are willing to call Obama a socialist and a Communist and associating anything government does with the word socialism. If you strip away the explicitly racist language Republican leaders today sound just like George Wallace and the John Birch Society.

These are now matters of life and death, matters of real pastoral concern. The language being used in politics today by the so-called Tea Party movement is a rhetoric of death. Pastors know something about death, it is time for all of us to find practical ways in daily ministry to explicity address the reality of mass psychosis.

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A Moving Event
7/19/2010 4:54:22 PM

It is fascinating to me that philosophers on the left have taken an interest in the Apostle Paul, that most important figure for Lutheran theology. Both Giorgio Agamben and Alain Badiou have written books on Paul. Badiou's book is entitled Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, indicating his interest in the fact that Paul preached a universal message to all, not a gospel for a few in a pluralistic world. Badiou is the philosopher of "the event" and his prime example is the event of the resurrection, how such an event creates the parameters for life to be lived from that point on. We will be talking about all this on the website here.

But for right now, I am thinking of "the event" since my wife and I have just made a big move, from Gig Harbor, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. Such a move creates new parameters within which we will be living, creates a wholly new context for us as we are influenced by the new place we will be living, which is right downtown in Portland, in fact, across the street from Portland State University, a major urban higher education institution. Portland is an extremely dynamic city, lots is happening all the time, it is city which draws planners and achitects to study its urban transportation, housing and environmental systems. For example, a free streetcar is provided by the city all around the urban core. On my own street I can jump on the trolly and go several blocks down to famous Powell's Books, or ride down to the waterfront park where major musical events are presented almost every weekend.

It has been very difficult to leave our friends and associates in the Seattle-Tacoma area, but we expect now to be able to reacquaint ourselves with old friends in the Portland metropolitan community and experience the gifts of new friends in the area. We previously lived in Portland for seventeen years so it is a little like going back home.

Now we will be living in the wake of this moving event in our own lives.

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Economics in Pastoral Consciousness
3/14/2010 9:32:40 PM

Few pastors make a conscious study of economics. The field seems to be esoteric and complicated. Yet we all make assumptions about how the economic world works, we tend to internalize the views of those we know who may work in business, or we adopt the views of whatever political party with which we identify, though these are rather mixed themselves and don't get at the realities of all that is referred to by the name economics. Maybe we just share the dominate beliefs of the age and the central importance of money. But I think it has become especially important for pastors to think about and come to conscious awareness of economic claims about how the world works. One can start by just carefully observing and thinking about one's own community.

Years ago I read a book by Norman H. Clark called Mill Town: A Social History of Everett, Washington, from Its Earliest Beginnings on the Shores of Puget Sound to the Tragic and Infamous Event Known as the Everett Massacre. I never lived in Everett but have relatives there, it is located just north of Seattle not very far from where I live. Clark tells about the owner of a bank in this working class town who stayed in the background but who played a crucial role in any of the big decisions about how the town developed. This banker had a deal with the publisher of the main paper in town to not put his name in the newspaper, he didn't want any publicity, and in return the newspaper received advertizing payments. So this important figure was relatively unknown though he pulled major strings. The newspaper didn't do its job of informing the people.

The economic elite like to stay in the background, they don't want people to know how much they control what happens in the lives of the people in a democracy, they want us to believe that economics is all about the magic of a free market, not about specific decisions made by real human beings functioning in actually-existing institutions. So I thought it might be good to place on this website an article on the economic elite in the United States. Another excellent article provides a brief history of corporate monopolization as the key reason why jobs were not created at all in the first decade of this century and why they are not being created now.

Of the various economic theories which can be studied, I encourage the school of thought called "institutional economics" which was begun by my favorite economist, Thorstein Veblen. An Internet search on these names will bring forth a lot of material.

Otherwise, watch your local paper, see who is doing what in your community, and start making economic philosophy part of your pastoral consciousness, including normative questions about justice and equality.

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The Strategic Consciousness of the Protestant Pastor
3/1/2010 11:17:19 AM

A phrase has been coming to my mind over the past months that I want to talk about. It's a big concept so I haven't known how to begin expressing it and try to make it clear. So I thought I would just mention it here as a way to begin. It is a concept I am calling "strategic consciousness."

We are all "conscious" of ourselves and the world as we go about our work each day. We may not be conscious of ourselves as very free, that is, we feel ourselves pushed and shoved by our duties and the patterns of our lives. Yet we are making decisions all the time about how to spend our time, what is most important right now, what is worthy of our energy and attention, what is it we are trying to get done step by step, with whom are we working to accomplish something. These are all "strategic" decisions and they are based on our most central beliefs and the way we are reading the signs of the times in the world about us and especially within the context of our own local communities and ministries.

Now, I am most interested in the strategic consciousness of the "Protestant pastor." That does not mean I am not interested in other pastors or views or beliefs, but I am especially concerned with what it is that a Protestant pastor needs today to carry out life and ministry in particular places. By Protestant I mean the pastors in what I call the ecumenical church, faith traditions which trace their heritage to the Reformation, not those pastors working in what has come to be known as the religious right which has become a commercialized, Americanized false form of Christianity in this country.

That last sentance indicates the consciousness I think most important for a "mainline" Protestant pastor today, to take an explicit and clear position against the religious right, the prosperity gospel, the big television ministries. In many and various ways I am trying to give reasons at this website for why this strategic persepective is important in the context of public life today.

A strategic consciousness also includes the way we see the world about us. A pastor grounded in Reformation theology is going to see the world through different eyes than a fundamentalist pastor and will therefore speak about it differently in sermons and writings. The Reformation was a moment when the faith leaders were strongly critical of the dominant religious expression of that time five hundred years ago. Protestantism in this country was for a long time the dominant expression of religious faith, but has now been eclipsed by the religious right. So now we Protestant pastors find ourselves again in the position of taking a critical perspective on what has become a dominating and nearly debilitating form of religious expression in this country. Protestants today need to become critical, not only of false religious expressions but of the political and economic structures of our time. As I go about my own days thinking about what to put on this website, what to suggest to pastors what is worthy of their time and attention, I am trying to provide resources for that criticism and why it is important from our faith perspective.

For example, I have just placed on this website an article by Joe Bageant which is highly critical of the commodification of life and culture in the current U.S. He is an interesting writer. He expresses himself in highly personal terms yet is looking at very big realities. How we "see" the world is key to forming a strategic consciousness. And we "see" through the concepts and language of our minds. It is not just a matter of what feels right or wrong, or a matter of beliefs separated from reality, but it is a matter of literally being able to "see" what is happening in the world. Theology itself is a way of seeing, and we can be helped by seeing the world through the eyes of those who are different from us. Bageant has moved to Mexico so he is now seeing things in this country from outside and from the perspective of how it feels to live in this country as a regular and "normal" person, the kinds of folks who are members of our congregations. Pastors are persons willing to "transcend" their current circumstances and see into the realities around them in ways beyond what is present in current cultural consciousness. Bageant might be helpful in this, so I have placed his article on this website. It may help pastors determine what to put in sermons or discussions as they go about their ministries, as they make strategic decisions on what events to plan, what educational activities to promote.

I will be talking about strategic consciousness more as time goes on.

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