Archive for the ‘capitalism’ Category

Mystery, Marketing, and the Mess at General Theological Seminary

October 19, 2014 The link is to a blog by Frederick William Schmidt about the conflict at General Theological Seminary in New York City.  In recent weeks, from what I can make out on the Quaker sidelines, several faculty members registered complaints with the Board of Trustees about the dean. Matters got to a point where eight faculty members wrote to the trustees saying that they would stop teaching until matters were resolved. The trustees took this as a letter of resignation from the eight faculty members, accepted it as such, and relieved the eight of their positions on the faculty. The eight faculty members said it was never meant as a resignation. Questions about the right to organize, the right to strike, freedom of speech, and academic freedom are swirling around.

On Friday, October 17, the trustees reaffirmed that the dean was the dean they wanted and the eight faculty members could apply for provisional reinstatement on an individual basis—which I’m told is a classic union-busting technique. I’m posting about this on Among Friends because there are things in Schmidt’s blog and in the comments on his blog that got me thinking about Quaker life and New York Yearly Meeting. For example, Schmidt says that seminaries were created by the Council of Trent to be “seedbeds.”

“Over time, seminaries have become something very different.  They are no longer seedbeds, they are dispensaries, sources of information, places where commodities are sold, factories. . . . And, now, as numbers and money begin to become acute issues for seminaries, boards and seminary leaders without any deep sympathy for that seedbed model are beginning to ask themselves, ‘How can we distribute this information and collect tuition for it in a more efficient fashion?'”

In the last paragraph of his post, Schmidt talks about mystery— “Therein lies the message to the seminaries left standing: Consider your purpose.  If you are simply dispensing information, your days are numbered.  The product can be codified, recorded, and dispensed.  A seedbed is a different matter.  It is baptism into a mystery – an experience of God – a relationship with God and those who have been touched by the Divine.  Mystery is not something that is simply learned, it is absorbed and the few that choose to offer that gift have a future.  For those that don’t offer that mystery, there isn’t one.”

Those last two sentences opened to me why effective Quaker religious education is so difficult. How do you teach a mystery? How do you teach the mystery that is Quaker meeting for worship? Schmidt’s words help explain to me why we leave so much to the notorious Quaker ‘process of osmosis.’ Maybe it’s not such a bad thing. But is there a way to engage people in that osmotic process more effectively in our monthly meetings? 

I got more explanations—these about yearly meeting life—as I read the comments on Schmidt’s blog. In one by Roy Herndon Smith, I found this— “As Bernard Brandon Scott observes, in any age, the dominant institution in society becomes the model for churches and church-related institutions. In sixteenth-century Europe, the feudal court was the model for the church. In twenty-first century America, the corporation is the model.”

And there we are: the ‘priorities’ models of marketing that New York and Philadelphia yearly meetings (are there others?) adopted this summer. To adapt Schmidt’s quote, I heard my yearly meeting asking of itself: ‘How can we . . . collect [money] in a more efficient fashion?’”

Early Friends witnessed against the feudal court–model of the church and “the dominant institution” of society. Friends today are falling nicely into step with the wisdom to be found in the life of the successful capitalist corporation. In another comment, I learned about Juergen Habermas from someone going by his Twitter handle of frharry. Frharry has a somewhat heavy style that needs a little ear-of-the-heart translating. Bear with it—

“Juergen Habermas spoke of the colonization of the lifeworld by its business quadrant as early as the 1980s. With the political quadrant neutralized, business construction of the lifeworld based in business values of profit and the commodification of all aspects of that world (including its human “resources”) no longer had any checks. As a result, all social institutions and cultural values become colonized, taking on business values and goals. Education becomes knowledge fluency, higher education becomes job training, students become consumers. It is an impoverishment of the lifeworld that ironically sells itself to the public as the best of possible worlds, a la Pangloss. Most of the time we are so voluntarily distracted that we don’t notice.”

I lift up for your attention the concept of becoming colonized, taking on business values and goals.

The mention of Pangloss with its reference to Voltaire’s Candide was especially meaningful to me. As part of the summer’s Priorities business, New York Yearly Meeting Friends are being urged to contribute to the Make Our Garden Grow web page:

I keep wanting to post the Leonard Bernstein–Stephen Sondheim song there.


The United States – a Failed State?

October 28, 2012

What It Means that Both Candidates Were Silent

[The following text, written last night, was distributed by me today as a one-page flyer at a demonstration in New York City’s Times Square called by, which describes itself (see as “a global movement to solve the climate crisis.”  It takes its name from 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which scientists claim is a threshold level that must not be exceeded if global warming and ocean acidification are to be contained.  The atmosphere currently stands at 392 parts per million.  The demonstration, which I fully supported, consisted of the unrolling and display of a parachute that displayed the message: END CLIMATE SILENCE.  It was timed to take place just before Hurricane Sandy struck New York City.  This flyer of mine was not approved, endorsed, nor anticipated by or any of its members, and expresses only my personal opinion.]

The Constitution of the United States was established “to… insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Humanity’s economic activity is now known to cause climate changes that are turning disastrous to domestic tranquility and the general welfare, but neither our sitting President nor his Republican challenger, during this current campaign, has uttered a word about their need to provide for the common defense against the death of forest and wetland, the acidification of the sea, the desertification of arable and pasture, and the greatest mass extinction of species since the Chicxulub Meteor ended the dinosaurs. As the world grows hotter, the sea rises and the weather gets wilder, the fossil fuel industries, ever eager to make fast bucks from fracking or pipelines or blasting away mountain tops, do their best to buy both candidates’ silence on the problem. And the candidates, aware that what will get them elected are credible promises of economic growth, not a prudently austere plan of greening the world economy, tell the voters what they think their corporate bankrollers will tolerate and voters will want to hear. But the common good is ill served by this, as everyone must realize when at last the Gulf States are uninhabitable in summer and the Ross Ice Shelf topples into the sea. What will the schoolchildren of the twenty-third century be told about our generation? That we tolerated a state that failed us? That we were sent prophets that told us the truth, but we preferred to put our trust in lies?

But the answer is not to attack the government, the candidates, or the propagandists for industry. The answer is not to treat anyone as an adversary, not to hate or hurt or humiliate anyone whose actions we see as aggravating the problem. They may be fools and bunglers, even complicit toadies for open evildoers, but so have we been, as each of us knows in our own heart. They are souls as dear to God as we are, and as we would wish our own repentance, forgiveness, enlightenment and salvation, so must we wish for theirs. To look to attack as a way to make anything better is to perpetuate a system and a world-view that have brought the human race to this present impasse. It means to harden our heart – which always makes us morally stupider. The spiritual condition that allowed us to start cooking the planet with our greenhouse gases in the first place was hardness of heart. “Private vices, public benefits,” wrote one of capitalism’s first apologists, as the triangular slave-trade and the genocide of Native American peoples were moving into high gear, and three centuries later we still cheer self-serving behavior in the marketplace as the engine that drives our well-being, as if predatory selfishness could bear any other fruit than more predatory selfishness, or an economy dominated by war industries could bring about world peace. No, if life is better now than it was then, it can only be because neighborly compassion has also grown and extended, that mutual tenderness which Aristotle, long ago, called “political love.” Rescue from today’s troubles will not come from attacking anyone, but only as a by-product of unremitting and sustained effort to extend love to everyone. At a minimum, this means resisting all temptations to harm others, or to tell them untruths, no matter how desirable the goal seems. Good ends don’t make means good. Only a pure conscience makes for right action.

The greatest teacher of this universal love was Jesus of Nazareth, whom both Christians and Muslims hail as the promised Messiah, and many of other faith traditions also recognize as a true spokesman for God. My own experience has taught me that He lives now, and that through membership in Him I and others have direct access to the Creator of the universe and Source of all good, in Whom alone we enjoy unlimited being, consciousness and bliss, though this eternal life is largely veiled from us now. Jesus Christ is my ever-present Guide, who shows me the path to walk in and warns me against errors. Only my faithful living in Jesus Christ, and He in me, allows me to do the works of Love and Truth that I’m now able to carry out. If you approve of what I think and what I’m trying to do, please pray for me that I not stumble. If you disapprove, please pray for my gentle correction. If you hear Truth in these words, seek me out and talk to me.


November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving, 2011

Dear brothers and sisters,

There are many ways to divide up a population into a 1% and a 99%: the 1% who are the tallest and the 99% who are shorter; or the 1% kindest, the 1% bravest, and so on. In a case where any 1% is seen to injure its corresponding 99% persistently, the best medicine to restore health is for both sides to resolve to do no more harm. The next steps are to express and request forgiveness, and then look for the source of the evil, not in designated ‘bad’ individuals, but in the larger system of relationships and the false assumptions that it rests on, which allow some fallible people to do widespread damage. For example, is it a false assumption that evil should be countered with evil? (This justifies war, but is contrary to the express teachings of Jesus and His apostles, as well as those of the Buddha.) Is it false that the common good is adequately served through the competition of separate individual interests? Is it to our interest to accumulate wealth, or to give wealth away and learn to be content with less? Which is worse, to suffer pain or to have a bad conscience? It’s time for us to examine many such fundamental questions together. But in order to stay grounded in the truth, we must remember that we’re all part of a 100%, each of whom is dear to God, who wishes the salvation of all and created us to love one another.

Today it’s claimed that the 1% (and a fortiori the 0.1%) of the people of the United States with the most wealth and power are taking unfair shares of the common burdens and benefits, sometimes using predatory means. If you’re among that 1%, you may wonder, “How can they think of us as cheats or oppressors? We’re almost all philanthropic citizens, faithful believers and good moms and dads, trying to do the right thing.” That’s always been a problem: look up close, see nice folks; look from a distance, see devils. But if any of us, rich or poor, look candidly at ourselves, we will see something devilish: Hypocrisy. Indifference to injustice. A will to keep truth hidden. Addictive acting from fear. The use of threats or lies to control others. In a word, selfishness. All this must go if we want a healthy society, economy, and relationship with the rest of creation. It must go from the hearts of the 99%, and it must go from the hearts of the 1%. And we have no more time to put this housecleaning off, for our old ways are at the point of meltdown.

“By their fruits you shall know them,” said Jesus, and many are now taking a hard look at the fruits of the nation’s richest.  Even when we don’t actively will an evil by-product of our activity (for example, the sweatshop conditions under which our clothing may have been made), we are accountable for where we let our shadow fall, and it becomes part of our harvest in due time.  It’s time for the 100% of us, and not just our richest, to look at this shadow together.  It’s darker than most of us think.

It’s fortunate that the streets of this country are now filled with the people of the Occupy movement, telling us that things in this country are not O.K. and can’t be made O.K. with band-aids and P.R. campaigns. The Occupiers cannot be silenced. They may not have all the answers yet – and they will not have the answers unless they think in terms of the common good, not of the 99%, but of the 100% of the world’s people – but they are testifying that the defenders of the status quo don’t have the answers, either. It would be a great step forward now if the besieged defenders of the status quo and its besieging challengers could now open their hearts to one another in gestures of kindness and humility. Bring an open heart to the nearest Occupy site and talk with the demonstrators. You’ll come away wiser and happier, and so will they.

A well-wisher of your souls,

John Edminster
New York City

Jesus Christ Offers an Alternative to Both Corporate Greed and Rage Against It

October 14, 2011

Before dawn this morning, I began distributing this tract in New York’s Zuccotti Park, across Broadway from Wall Street, where hundreds of “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrators were gathered, their numbers swelled by sympathizers responding to the mayor’s threat, later rescinded, to have the demonstrators evicted from the park by police starting at 7 a.m.  [The next morning, feeling the Lord’s rebuke for tempting my readers to think of themselves as superior to others, I added the phrase “which include all of us to some extent” after “dupes,” and a few other minor edits.]

A lie cannot stand forever.  Neither can an economic system built on one.  Capitalism is based on the idea that the common good is adequately served by the competition of separate, selfishly motivated entities in the marketplace.  To believe this is to say “let us do evil, that good may come of it.”  The gospel of Jesus Christ has always testified against such sophistry.  But experience itself bears witness to its falsehood, as the overheating earth now groans from wounds, possibly mortal, inflicted by its industrial despoilers and their overconsuming dupes (which include all of us to some extent).  Meanwhile, the “competition in the marketplace” that sounds so sportsmanlike in the textbooks readily shows its heartlessness, in spite of good ends served by it, to any with eyes to see. Wolves do not “compete” with lambs. But neither is any good served by the lambs’ studying to become wolflike.

The truth is that we were made to live simply, serving one another as brothers and sisters, owning no conflicting interests, but ever saying in our hearts to the Wise and Loving One who made us, “Thy will be done.”  If we seem far from such innocence now, it’s because we’ve fallen from our natural condition; but there is a living and present Savior who will restore us to it for the asking.  And as we change, so may the system we live under change; but without our willingness to change, neither will the system.  Ask for the Savior’s help and healing – for yourself and for those you’re now tempted to think of as your class enemies.  Feeling imprisoned by the system?  Those who vainly expect it to make them happy by keeping them rich may be more deeply imprisoned by it than you are.  Pray for their awakening and you’ll be praying for your own.  The One who hears prayer owns the key to all prisons.