It seems like I've stepped out of the time machine into another century. Slate links to a bunch of actual Facebook postings dated Martin Luther King Jr's birthday that proclaim “Happy Nigger Day.” The state school board of Arizona has pulled the plug on all Chicano Studies coursework. Tucson schools, despite a student population that is around 60% Hispanic, are forced to convert their Chicano History courses to “American” History classes. Books like Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuna and many others are removed from classrooms. Arizona State School Superintendent Tom Horne rationalizes the ban on ethnic studies courses stating that “they promote divisiveness, they separate kids of color and they teach kids that they are oppressed.” Newt Gingrich states, “We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."
Mitt Romney, the least odious of the possible candidates won't release his income tax records but states that most of his income is generated by dividends that are taxed at only 15%. He added that he has also earned a very small sum from speaking engagements. $347,000 in honorariums, which alone catapults him into the top 1% of American earners, is just chump change to Mr. Romney. (Obama, who's been a real let down in many ways, at least has consistently favored revamping the tax structure so that dividends are taxed comparably to wages.) So, while it looks like the most moderate Republican in the running will be chosen, the presumptive nominee is staggeringly out of touch with our nation's economic inequities. While his position on social issues is slightly more progressive than the competition's, Romney's probable two steps backwards, instead of his opponents' colossal flying leap into the dark ages, is still frighteningly retrogressive.
The Republican primary has become a “Who's a better Christian?” competition. November 2012 heralds the 10th time I've voted in a presidential election and I don't ever remember so much discourse and decisiveness pertinent to religion. When asked point blank about his position on America's financial inequality Romney responds “When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus 1 percent you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”
There is actually a precedent for the happy marriage of capitalism to Christianity that was established well before I was born. The American Liberty League was formed as corporate America's effort to deflect its culpability for the Great Depression and to discredit Franklin D. Roosevelt and combat the threat of socialism. The organization's motives were too transparent to merit any credibility until a light bulb went off and the businessmen started lining the pockets of Christian clergymen like Reverend James W. Fifield, the pastor of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. Fifield, once beholden to the Liberty League, began to preach that “the blessings of capitalism come from God” and imply that the New Deal social programs were anti-Christian.
How awful these times can seem, as xenophobia is rampant and the greedy and the power gropers have co-opted faith to rationalize inequity. My dark cloud lightens though after a talk at the downtown library by writer Luis Rodriquez and Jesuit Father Gregory Boyle. Rodriquez, has won a Sandberg Prize and numerous other writing awards. He is also, coincidentally, the author of the memoir Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A, one of the books that is now banned in Arizona schools. Greg Boyle is an old school liberation theologist and is known for helping gang members extricate themselves from La Vida Loca. Boyle is the founder of the successful Homeboy Industries, whose motto is “Jobs, Not Jail” which is the umbrella agency for a bakery, snack food manufacterer, restaurant and silkscreen shop.
Father Boyle performs his good works under the aegis of the Catholic Church and Rodriguez has adapted a more free form faith, incorporating ancient Mayan traditions and admitting to atheistic instincts. Despite his apparently lapsed Catholocism, Rodriquez is in agreement with Father Boyle that it is unrealistic to expect a life that's free of struggle. Rodriquez speaks of his hard existance as a gang member and enduring an addiction to heroin and he adds that while all of that is behind him, he is still not free of burden. Instead of struggling to best a rival gang in a turf war, Rodgriquez and Boyle encourage gang bangers to take on more daunting challenges, like being a good parent or kicking drugs. The difference is making certain that our inevitable suffering is for the sake of something beautiful and substantial. The devisive Blue State/Red State, Christian nation, class warfare jabber quiets in my head. All of the labels we assign to ourselves, or that others apply, diminish and hobble us. Father Boyle beams when Rodriquez translates the ancient Mayan concept “In Lak'Ech.” “You are the other me. I am the other you.”