The Gun is Our God

April 20, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Posted in colonization,, guns, US History,, war and violence | 3 Comments
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The following is a review that appears in the current issue of Kerux, the newsletter of Pax Christi Metro New York, the New York chapter of the international Catholic peace association.

 

Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. City Lights Books, 2018. 208 pp. $16.95.

To say that we have been hearing a lot lately about guns in the US, and about the Second Amendment to the Constitution, is to vastly understate the case. And the activism of the Parkland shooting survivors might even cause us to feel hopeful about US gun policy. Indeed, former SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stephens has recently called for the repeal of the Second Amendment!!

In Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz provides timely–and stunning–context for this conversation. Drawing on her expertise in the history of indigenous peoples and American history overall, Dunbar-Ortiz shows that the current gun crisis is actually about the identity of our country from its very roots. Changing it thus requires a good deal more than the repeal of the Second Amendment.

To begin with, Dunbar-Ortiz traces our “gun culture” back well beyond the writing of the US Constitution, to the “covenant ideology” of the earliest Puritan settlers. These settlers believed that since God had bequeathed the land to them, the massacring (with guns) of the indigenous people on that land was justified. Catholics might be tempted to a certain self-righteousness here since the author links these actions to the settlers’ Calvinist exceptionalist theology.  As the book proceeds, however, it becomes clear that a huge percentage of all white Americans eventually buy into this gun-powered exceptionalism. Dunbar-Ortiz also explains that the American Revolution was fought, in large part, because the British government had forbidden the settlers to cross the Appalachians to seize even more indigenous land, with the much-hated “Stamp Tax” used, in fact, to fund the British protection of those lands from settler appropriation.

The militias cited in the Second Amendment actually existed long before the Revolution, with male settlers forced to form a civilian militia to destroy indigenous villages and people during “King Philip’s War” in New England, 1675-78. In the South, these mandatory militias took the form of slave patrols to control enslaved Africans and kill those who resisted.  In each case, white male citizens were not merely entitled to own guns but were required to do so by law to protect and extend the profit-driven ownership of land and “chattel.” After the Civil War, slave patrol members—who had served in the Confederate Army in many cases–morphed into heroic cowboys like Daniel Boone and Jesse James. Romanticized in American fiction and later on television, these “cowboys“ had, in real life continued the historic American brutality against “the Indians” and slaves.

Absorbing as all this may be for those committed to peace-making, the final chapters of Loaded, in which Dunbar-Ortiz moves historic US gun culture into the present, prove to be even more galvanizing. For although the militias that murdered indigenous people and kept African-Americans enslaved were always supported, to some extent, by the military, the centrality of the military to that gun culture becomes ever more apparent throughout the twentieth century. From the US invasion and occupation of the Philippines, to Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, to JFK’s invocation of the (new) “frontier,” to US troops describing Vietnam as “Indian Territory,” metaphors of Indian defeat and extermination have underpinned American militarism. Is it any surprise, then, that even as we face this national crisis of gun violence, seven out of world’s ten largest gun-manufacturers are US corporations, and that since the war in Vietnam the US has disseminated over a billion guns world-wide?

Repealing the Second Amendment is of course, a good idea, as is passing the gun-control laws demanded by our young people. But since, in America, as Dunbar-Ortiz argues compellingly, “the Gun is God,” we need a whole lot more than that to change things. We need conversion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pope Francis after Five Years: His Greatest Contribution

April 17, 2018 at 11:56 am | Posted in Catholicism, Climate Change, Vatican | 4 Comments
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Last night I was honored to participate in a panel in Manhattan sponsored by Dignity New York and the Women’s Ordination Conference called “Francis after Five: A Feminist Response.” I enjoyed very much the conversation with Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director  of BishopAccountability.org, Jamie Manson, NCR columnist and book review editor, Teresa Cariño, pastoral associate for young adults at St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan, and our moderator, the journalist and author, Eileen Markey. Unfortunately, the program was not videoed, but here, at least, is my presentation:

 

Let’s get right down to business. I am here to argue that the single most important thing Pope Francis did in his first five years in office was to publish his second encyclical, Laudato Si”: On Care for Our Common Home in June of 2015.

Why do I say this? Because the environmental catastrophe that we are experiencing is one of the two biggest threats facing humanity today––the other being nuclear war.

In making this claim, I am not thinking only of the extreme forest fires in California this past year, or the massive storms that devastated major parts of Houston and Puerto Rico, or the increasing droughts and famines around the world, though these are terrifying enough. I am also recalling that last fall scientists at MIT, Stanford, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in independent studies, warned that if we continue to release carbon into the environment at the current rate, by the year 2100, there will be a “biological annihilation”—a sixth mass extinction––which may well wipe out not only a huge number of other animal and plant species but the human species as well.

Part of what is so important about Laudato Si’ is precisely what Pope Francis says there. He states unambiguously that climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity in our day and calls out the consumerist, profit-driven globalized technocracy as its primary cause. He also accepts the scientific consensus that changes in the climate are largely caused by human activity and calls for replacing fossil fuels without delay.

But it’s not just what Pope Francis says about climate change that makes Laudato Si’ the pivotal action of his papacy; it’s what the document achieved, and on many levels. Consider, for example, that one day after the encyclical’s contents had been leaked to the media, the Dalai Lama stated that : “Since climate change and the global economy now affect us all, we have to develop a sense of the oneness of humanity “ And then the head of the Anglican Communion issued a “green declaration” (also signed by the Methodist Conference); and the Lausanne Movementof global evangelical Christians said it was anticipating the encyclical and was grateful for it. The encyclical was also welcomed by the World Council of Churches and by secular world leaders Ban Ki-moon, Kofi Annan, and the head of the World Bank.

The resources that Pope Francis drew on were also path-breaking. Of course, he quotes at some length his papal predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But also, underpinning his stress on the poor and people in the Global South as those most harmed by climate change, he quotes African, Asian and Latin American bishops conferences as his predecessors never did, and refers multiple times to the wisdom of indigenous people. All of this clearly embodies the integral ecology that is at the heart of the Pope’s argument in Laudato Si’. (Unfortunately, he does not quote many women at all).

But we are not here to talk about the contents of Laudato Si’; we are here to offer a feminist assessment of Pope Francis’s first five years in office. And a lot of feminist, LGBT and transgender Catholics were quite critical of the pope’s environmental encyclical.

Let me begin this part of my talk by saying that I have been a Catholic feminist since the early 1970s, when my women’s community, the Grail, offered path-breaking programs in feminist theology and spirituality at our organic farm and conference center outside Cincinnati. I also attended the first Women’s Ordination Conference in Detroit in 1975 and served as president of the Women’s Ordination Conference Board 2000-2002. I am also author or co-author of seven books, most of them about women and the church, and of hundreds of articles and reviews. I basically oppose the church’s position on women’s ordination, and reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

As I have said before, however, even if the pope had thoughts about these questions that deviate from traditional teaching—which I doubt he has––­­­­he would have been ill-advised to express them in Laudato Si’ This is so because to have done so would have started a civil war and distracted from the issue that concerns him most: the environmental catastrophe. Consider the blow-back from right-wing commentators like Ross Douthat over the suggestion about divorced and remarried Catholics being readmitted to communion in Amoris Laetitia, a much less contentious issue than reproductive or LGBTQ rights.

Yet I want also to point out that one thing Francis says in Laudato Si’ makes a really significant change in Catholic teaching on sexuality and gender, when he states very clearly that the destruction of the environment and the oppression of the poor are sins as grievous as abortion. Here, for the first time, a pope is undercutting what historical sociologist Gene Burns calls the post-Vatican II Catholic ideological hierarchy, in which sexual teaching is primary and obligatory for all, doctrine is secondary and obligatory for Catholics only, and social justice issues like climate change and war are tertiary and optional. The media paid considerably more attention when Francis reiterated this change in his recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete and Exultate, but he had, in fact, already asserted it in Laudato Si’.

I also want to suggest that feminist and LGBTQ Catholics here in the Global North need to be careful in our critique of Laudato Si’ precisely because of what Pope Francis in that document calls the environmental debt owed to the communities of the Global South who are suffering the most because of our massive over-consumption. The daily per capita emission of green-house gases by the average US resident is seventy times that of the average Kenyan.  Along these lines, a number of feminists were critical of the encyclical because they believed it did not put enough emphasis on population control as a way of remedying the climate crisis. But scientists tell us that if the poorest three billion people on earth were to disappear, greenhouse gas emissions would not go down at all because it’s the people in the Global North who are causing the problem. I fully support women’s reproductive rights, but the church’s opposition to those rights is not causing the climate crisis. We are.  And let’s be clear here: women and their children in the Global South are those who are suffering the most from the effects of climate change.

So I conclude as I began, by reminding us that the catastrophe afflicting our common home is one of the two greatest problems of our time, and that Francis’s greatest contribution as pope is to have challenged the whole world, women and men, cis and transgender, gay as well as straight, to the radical conversion needed to save God’s creation.

 

 

 

 

Why Include Women?

April 10, 2018 at 11:43 am | Posted in Commonweal magazine, feminism, The Hierarchy, Uncategorized, women | 2 Comments
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I don’t spend a lot of time talking about women’s issues per se these days. I began teaching and writing about women, especially in the church, in the early 1970s, but since 2002, I’ve gotten more concerned about the impending environmental catastrophe—though the two are by no means disconnected.

But just now I am seriously pissed off about the exclusion of women from two recent presentations in the media, and if you will forgive me, I’m just going to rave about them a bit. Then I’ll get back to work reviewing a book about climate and capitalism.

Let me begin with a one-hour documentary on Pope Francis that I watched last week, the first in an MSNBC series called HEADLINERS. The series highlights “public figures at the forefront of our national dialogue and at the center of today’s news.” I am going to share in a later post my reflections on what it means that a secular US network chose the pope as the first such “headliner.” For now, I would note that the Headliners episode on Francis was not bad, though I did not learn agreat deal from it that was new.

What I did note with some outrage is that of the ten or so commentators included in the program, only one of them was a woman. Each of the other nine was a man, and in almost all cases, a white man. Maybe one was a Latino, or Asian, but no Black men of any kind. Maybe the producers thought they were covered because the sole woman commentator was also Argentinian? A two-fer? And why on earth would anyone want to hear what more than one woman has to say about the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest organization on earth, the vast majority of whose members are female?

The second cause of my pissed-off-ness is an article in the April 4 issue of Commonweal, “Showboating is a Sin,” on the culture of Catholic basketball teams in light of the recent NCAA championships won by both men’s and women’s teams from Catholic schools. It is perhaps worth mentioning that Commonweal was once one of the leading liberal American Catholic publications. I recall my excitement at reading Commonweal waiting for the bus on the way to my file clerk job the summer between high school and college down in Philadelphia.

In the half-century that has passed since then, however, Commonweal has not exactly kept up, at least on gender issues. The article in the April 4th issue is, unfortunately, a good example. In part of what was not my first letter to the editors on the subject of the exclusion of women from Commonweal pages, I acknowledge resonating with Moses’s description of the communal culture of Catholic basketball, but add:

“Unfortunately, another part of Moses’s article is also all too familiar: its gender bias. After a nod in the first paragraph toward women’s as well as men’s teams winning the Division I championships, Moses makes not one reference to women’s basketball throughout the rest of the article. And of course, the photo at the top is of male players… In addition to the ‘Scripture-based principles of Catholic social teaching’ fundamental to Catholic college basketball: ‘community, the common good, and solidarity’ that Moses invokes in his article, it would seem we have to acknowledge another one: male hegemony.”

(We’ll see if they publish the letter.)

The thing that drives me nuts about the gender discrimination in each of these instances is that it isn’t really very hard to avoid. When I was the director of communications at an African-American seminary in the 1980s, I never approved anything for publication until I checked to make sure there weren’t too many white faces in It. (“White faces rise to the top” was the axiom that kept me attentive.) What would it take for the guys (I use the term advisedly) at MSNBC and Commonweal to do the same kind of thing?

 

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