Daily Riches: Religion and Established Privilege (Thomas Merton)

“Of course, it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the ‘opium of the people.’ And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system–when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandists, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate. It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life. And this brings about the alienation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race. His ethic ceases to be the law of God and of love, and becomes the law that might-makes-right: established privilege justifies everything. God is the status quo.” Thomas Merton

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is –
his good, pleasing and perfect will. “
Romans 12:1, 2

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Does your religious experience “deaden the spirit” rather than invigorating it? Does it squelch individuality and produce conformity? Does it discourage imagination and curiosity?
  • Does it tend to prop up some unjust “social [or] economic system? Does it support the “status quo” as a way that is out of step with the Bible’s insistence upon justice?
  • Has your faith in God become “in fact faith in your own nation, class or race?”
  • Has your religious ethic somehow become something other than the “law . . . of love?”
  • Are you comfortable with your answers to these questions? If not, what can change?

Abba, help me to speak to the status quo instead of being shaped by it. Strengthen me to question established, unjust privilege and work to undo it. Work in me your earth-changing “law of love.”

For More: Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek after God and he seeks after you. I hope you’ll follow and share my blog. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)

“I practice daily what I believe; everything else is religious talk.”

Daily Riches: A Theology of Love and of Resistance (Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King, Jr.)

“A theology of love cannot afford to be sentimental. It cannot afford to preach edifying generalities about charity, while identifying ‘peace’ with mere established power and legalized violence against the oppressed. A theology of love cannot be allowed merely to serve the interests of the rich and powerful, justifying their wars, their violence, and their bombs, while exhorting the poor and underprivileged to practice patience, meekness, long-suffering and to solve their problems, if at all, nonviolently. The theology of love must seek to deal drastically with evil and injustice in the world, and not merely to compromise with them. …Theology does not exist merely to appease the already too untroubled conscience of the powerful and the established. A theology of love may also conceivably turn out to be a theology of revolution. In any case, it is a theology of resistance, a refusal of the evil that reduces a brother to homicidal desperation.” Thomas Merton

“In the terrible midnight of war men have knocked on the door of the church to ask for the bread of peace, but the church has often disappointed them. What more pathetically reveals the irrelevancy of the church in present-day world affairs than its witness regarding war? In a world gone mad with arms buildups, chauvinistic passions, and imperialistic exploitation, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. … A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war. … And those who have gone to the church to seek the bread of economic justice have been left in the frustrating midnight of economic deprivation. In many instances the church has so aligned itself with the privileged classes and so defended the status quo that it has been unwilling to answer the knock at midnight.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“A person who seeks to honor the one who sent him
speaks truth, not lies.”
Jesus in John 7:18

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Is your theology of love a “theology of resistance?”
  • Is your church “aligned with the privileged classes and the status quo?”
  • Where in our day, might the church be guilty of appeasing “the already too untroubled?”
  • Do you think these are valuable questions for Christians? . . . for pastors? If not, why not?

Abba, keep us from conforming to this world, or allowing others to do so in peace.

For More: Faith and Violence by Thomas Merton

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek after God and he seeks after you. I hope you’ll follow my blog, and share it. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)

“I practice daily what I believe; everything else is religious talk.”

Daily Riches: The Problem with National Exceptionalism (Charles Marsh)

“I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Adolf Hitler

“The weight of German exceptionalism and the spiritual veneration of military valor were not easy inheritances to disown. In nineteenth-century Protestant Prussia, no less a philosopher-patriot than Hegel resolved that his beloved Machtstaat (the ‘power state’ that was the German imperium) had been chosen by God to rule the nations by example, fiat, or force. It was God’s nature to manifest his will in superior and powerful nations, which demonstrated their providential purpose by imposing their will on their neighbors, as the ancient Hebrews had done. By the end of the nineteenth century, the idea of Germany as such a ‘world-historical nation’ had become as hallowed as the historicity of the biblical narratives. . . . Seeberg believed he was fulfilling his spiritual vocation by helping the German people discern the powerful hand of God in the new forces gathering to propel Germany to greatness. Among the professoriate there were precious few willing dissenters from this conviction. German Protestant theology from Schleiermacher to Harnack and Seeberg presumed the providential blessings of the warrior God. . . . In Protestant faculties and congregations, churchmen of fixed and iron-hard purpose who called themselves the Deutsche Christen, the ‘German Christians,’ were pedaling their loyalty to the fatherland. They claimed that God had chosen a new Israel, the German Volk; that the Christian doctrine of revelation had brought about the disinheritance of the Jews and that Jesus Christ had abrogated Israel’s ancient covenant. They wanted a strong church of muscular virtues–a manly church, eine mannliche Kirche–unified by German ideals. They even convinced themselves that Jesus was not a Jew. They boasted of their mission in the most inspiring terms imaginable: as the completion of Martin Luther’s work.” Charles Marsh

“What are nations without justice but large bands of thieves?” Pope John XXIII


“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,
and give to God what belongs to God.”
Jesus in Mark 12:17

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • National “exceptionalism”, God’s “new Israel”, “muscular values”–even “the providential blessings of the warrior God”–we’re hearing these kinds of themes again. What is your response?
  • Do you believe it’s “God’s nature to manifest his will in superior and powerful nations which [demonstrate] their providential purpose by imposing their will on their neighbors?” What’s the danger is such a view?
  • Hitler claimed to serve God, and most of the church supported him. What can we learn from this sad story?

Abba, help us discern your hand in power and in weakness. Ground us in reality, truth and courage.

For More: Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh 

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I hope you’ll follow my blog and share it with others.  I really appreciate your interest! – Bill

Daily Riches: What Will Be History’s Verdict On You? (Dan Clendenin)

“The church has a checkered history in its relationship to the state. Some have followed Amaziah [see Amos 7] and traded religious legitimation for security, power and privilege – the German Christian movement that supported Nazi ideology, the Dutch Reformed church that supported apartheid in South Africa, and Russian Orthodox priests who collaborated with the Soviet KGB. But there are also many inspirational examples. The Archbishop and martyr of San Salvador, Óscar Romero (d. 1980), wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter that he could have sent to any number of our military or political leaders: ‘You say that you are Christian. If you are really Christian, please stop sending military aid to the military here, because they use it only to kill my people.’ Romero is only one of many brave saints who chose Amos over Amaziah. Consider the Confessing Church in Germany that opposed Hitler, nationalism, and anti-Semitism; the black pentecostal pastor Frank Chikane who in 1985 gathered more than 150 clergy from 20 denominations to draft the Kairos Document that protested South African apartheid; father Gleb Yakunin who insisted that the Russian Orthodox Church publicly repent of its ties to the Soviet regime; the culturally marginal and politically powerless Quakers who helped to abolish the British slave trade in the 19th century; and Morgan Tsvangirai who sought ‘divine intervention’ to end Robert Mugabe’s three decades of thugocracy in Zimbabwe. There’s the Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan (b. 1921), who did time in prison for his civil disobedience against American policies on racism, nuclear proliferation, and Vietnam…. When asked by Nora Gallagher how many times he had been jailed for subverting caesar because of Jesus, Berrigan responded, ‘Not enough.'” Dan Clendenin

“Righteousness and justice
are the foundation of your throne.”
Psalm 89:14

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • In the moment, it can be hard to know who is “on the right side of history.” God often uses outsiders–unexpected and despised voices–and we often embrace the biases and accept the rationalizations of our culture. Are you striving to know who speaks for God today? . . . and who is being sinfully silent?
  • The Biblical pattern is for God to be against Empire since the absolute power of empires predictably leads to profound corruption. Do we need prophetic voices to speak against Empire today? If so, against what “Empire” and for what reasons?
  • Who is speaking out for God today? From where would you expect to find such voices–conservatives/liberals? . . . insiders/outsiders? . . . admired/despised? . . . . . . . marginalized/prominent?

Abba, give us your eyes to see our world, and your loving heart to care for it.

For More: “Journey With Jesus” by Dan Clendenin

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I hope you’ll follow my blog, and share it I appreciate your interest!  –  Bill

Daily Riches: Justice, Not Just Love (William Sloane Coffin, Abraham Heschel, and Augustine)

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” Augustine

“It is also true that many pastors . . . find it easier to talk to their congregations of charity rather than of justice. Charity, after all, threatens not at all the status quo that may be profitable to a goodly number of their parishioners. Justice, on the other hand, leads directly to political controversy. So there is a real temptation to think that an issue is less spiritual for being more political, to believe that religion is above politics, that the sanctuary is too sacred a place for the grit and grime of political battle. But if you believe religion is above politics, you are, in actually, for the status quo–a very political position. And were God the god of the status quo, then the church would have no prophetic role . . . The cause of justice . . . is to challenge the status quo, to try to make what’s legal more moral, to speak truth to power, and to take personal or concerted action against evil, whether in personal or systemic form. . . .  Clearly the love that lies on the far side of justice demands a communal sense of responsibility for and a sense of complicity in the very evils we abhor. ” William Sloan Coffin

“The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the Prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Abraham Heschel

Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Psalm 82:3-4 NIV

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Is focusing on love a way for you to avoid doing justice?
  • Are you perhaps inadvertently siding with the status-quo?
  • Are you characterized by the kind of love spoken of above?

Abba, help me to take responsibility for my complicity, even in evils I abhor.

For More: The Heart Is A Little To The Left by William Sloane Coffin

Daily Riches: How Things Get Better (Helmut Gollwitzer and Dean Stroud)

“Surely we today are familiar with the disgust we feel where evil is not simply evil but rather dresses itself up in a repulsive manner as morality, where base instincts, where hate and revenge, parade about as great and good things.” Helmut Gollwitzer (Nazi Germany, 1938)

“There are enough indications alerting us to the fact that the current fronts do not fall simply into categories of guilt and innocence, black and white. We have been trapped in the same great guilt and our faces also turn red with shame and we are afflicted by a common disgrace. It is inside us all; this truth that upright men and women can turn into horrible beasts is an indication of what lies hidden within each of us to a greater or lesser degree. All of us have done our part in this: one by being a coward, another by comfortably stepping out of everyone’s way, by passing by, by being silent, by closing our eyes, by laziness of heart that only notices another’s need when it is openly apparent, by the damnable caution that lets itself be prevented from every good deed, by every disapproving glance and every threatening consequence, by the stupid hope that everything will get better on its own without our having to become courageously involved ourselves. In all these ways we are exposed as the guilty people we are, as men and women who have just enough love left over for God and our neighbor to give away when there is no effort or annoyance involved.” Gollwitzer

“In everything do to others
as you would have them do to you;
for this is the law and the prophets.”
Jesus in Matthew 7:12

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Can upright men and women turn into “horrible beasts?” Can you hear this as an unwanted but necessary warning to you? …to your nation, tribe, political party, religion?
  • As a Christian, is there a time not to “render authority to those who rule over you”–to dissent, to practice peaceful civil disobedience? If so, can you think of some examples of such a time? If not, how will you keep from being complicit in great wrongdoing?
  • Are you hoping “everything will get better on its own” without anyone needing to act courageously?

Abba, may I never offer you or my neighbors leftovers when the need is love.

For More: Preaching in the Third Reich by Dean Stroud (ed.)

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and God seeks you.  I goal is to regularly give you something of unique value in 400 words or less. I hope you’ll follow and share my blog.  Thanks for your interest! Please leave a question or comment. – Bill

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