This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Friday, September 2, 2011


            In 1984 I visited Denmark.  While there some friends took me on a tour of the country.  Part of the tour was a visit to the western shore of Jutland.  Jutland is the largest piece of Denmark, and the only part connected to the European continent.  The rest of the country is islands.
            Along this coast there remain large concrete bunkers from World War II.  It seems that the Germans, who had conquered Denmark early in the war, thought the Allies might invade Germany by landing on the beaches of Jutland, and driving southward. 
            These bunkers are solidly built.  NATO has even used them for target practice.
            The thing that was most shameful to my Danish hosts was that these fortresses were not built by the Germans.  They were built by Danish laborers whom the Germans had hired to do the work.  Why did Danes agree to build defenses on behalf of their conquerors?  They needed the jobs. 
            So basically it was more important that the people have jobs, even if those jobs were the construction of their own prison, than that they endure unemployment.
            This whole idea that it doesn’t matter what one is doing as long as it is paying work, is sad and dangerous.  But it is absolutely pervasive.  This is especially true in a time of economic crisis and high unemployment.  We will gladly, eagerly, enthusiastically take and do jobs that involve the active killing of the Earth and the slaughter of innocent people, as long as the pay is adequate.  In this we are like the Danes and probably other conquered peoples: industriously constructing our own torture chamber for the benefit of our torturers.
            In our case we are willingly crippling the ability to sustain civilization of the only planet we know of that can host life at all.  We may live in denial about this.  We may tell ourselves that “these Nazis are really nice people who mean us no harm, so why not help them out by pouring all this cement over all this rebar?  Plus the pay is good.”  But in the end it is the intention of the conquerors to suck all the life and goodness out of you so they can be more comfortable and secure, until their inevitable end.
            Succeeding generations of Danes do not have a high regard for these diligent workers.  Yes, they had to make hard choices: build their own prison or suffer unemployment; refuse to work and bear the awful wrath of the Germans.  Was not the immediate pressing issue that their families be fed?   
            The same question emerges in the Bible.  On several occasions the Israelites in the wilderness express the preference for going back to slavery in Egypt, where at least they had jobs making bricks for Pharaoh, rather than stay in the uncertainty and danger of freedom.   
            Today we are being told that the only way to create jobs for unemployed Americans is by gutting our environmental and labor regulations, selling out to abusive “Free Trade” agreements, and investing in still more infrastructure for the burning of fossil fuels (like this appalling and catastrophic Keystone pipeline).  We are told that the solution is to give still more money to the wealthy few who already own most of America’s resources and who haven’t used much of it to create new jobs here of practically any kind.
            What is the cost of whatever jobs might be created under such circumstances?  What is the cost of giving your labor to build your own prison?  What is ever the cost of selling your soul to make bricks for Pharoah?
            The cost is first of all freedom.  That’s what you give up in such an exchange.  The power that can pay you to construct your own dungeon may next have you hammer together your own casket, and dig your own grave. 
            And the second and most significant cost is a future.  For not only is it Pharaoh’s oppressive world, but you know in your heart that you are the one who built it.  You know that you prostituted yourself and betrayed your own people for the sake of a paycheck.  The children you sought so to feed will hate you for it.
            Somehow we have to stop taking Pharaoh’s jobs, and organize good work to do together.  Somehow we have to support one another, and not leave each other to fend for ourselves alone against these powers.  Somehow we have to find the courage to get by with less, and even perhaps die, rather than build our own prison, or exhaust and foul the only planet we have to live on.     


JP said...

Whew, hard to know where to start responding to that post.

Let me start by saying that Paul Rack is one of the people on the planet that I hold in the highest regard. He can decide whether or not that is a good thing after reading the rest of my comments :-)

With regard to the danes, those bunkers would be built either by emptying the danes, forcing the danes, or importing workers. Given those choices, being paid seems to be the best. I can't pretend to debate theology with Paul, but being paid by Caesar to do something that would be done anyway seems little different than paying taxes to Caesar.

There is a claim that we are gutting our environmental and labor regulations without any details. By almost any measure, our environment is better now than in the past 50 years or so.

There is a continuem where on one end you are willing to gain a job regardless of its impact on the environment, and on the other end you refuse to create a job unless you can prove it has absolutely no impact.

I would hope we could agree that neither of these are reasonable solutions. Just as a hypothetical example, I would hope we would agree that employing 100 people at the expense of one snail-darter would be reasonable.

As for free trade, the law of comparative advantage has been well documented over the years. It is unfortunate that people work in conditions that are poorer than we would like. But failing to trade with them only makes their lot worse.

The Keystone pipeline is very safe in comparison to other energy sources. There have bean leaks, but they have been minor. If you object to use of the oil sands, though I don't know why. But that is unrelated to the pipeline. Those energy sources are going somewhere.

Finally, you appeal to the oppression of Pharaoh. I would argue that the problems we suffer today are directly related to the oppression of Pharaoh. But in today's context, that is an overreaching government.

I find a cognitive dissonance between clergy railing against government oppression while at the same time lamenting the failure of the government to enforce their (the clergy's) view of how the world should work.

I am basically in favor of enforcing the ten commandments and the commandments of Jesus to love one another as oneself. We are better off living with the collective best judgement of the people rather than the will of those who consider themselves enlightened, be they Pharaoh, an elected leader, or anyone else who thinks they know what is better for us than we do for ourselves.

Paul Rack said...

• Thanks, JP, for reading and responding to my blog, and for your kind words. I hope you still hold me in high regard after you read my response!
• My source in that illustration is the testimony of my Danish friends; I did no historical analysis of this.
• The argument that “someone else will do it if I don’t” doesn’t alleviate the responsibility or the blame for what we do.
• The environment here is better now than 50 years ago, because of a regulatory regime that mitigated a lot of the worst offenses, when enforced. I am commenting on the attempt by some in Congress to cripple “job killing” (sic.) regulations and demolish the EPA. That’s what I was referring to. These people are trying to use the present crisis to obliterate 70 years of progress on labor, health, the environment, etc.
• Is employing 100 people at the expense of one snail-darter reasonable? Well, 100 people employed doing what? And certainly not if it’s the last snail darter.
• In the present system there is no such thing as no negative impact; that’s not the question. I am aware that the system is such that each of us participates in a truckload of injustice every day before breakfast.
• I am not against trade. I am against these “Free Trade” agreements that don’t work in the way we’re promised. They only make rich people richer. NAFTA was what, 15 years ago? Where’s the benefit?
• My objection to the exploitation of the oil sands has to do with the intent to burn the oil, with the negative effects on climate. Those energy sources aren’t going anywhere without the pipeline. The pipeline is a catastrophe waiting to happen on several fronts. The biggest catastrophe is if it works and the oil gets burned.
• In Bible times there was no separation between business and government, and no democracy. Today, democracy is supposed to mean that the people have a say in the decisions affecting their lives. This only happens in government, which is elected by the people. The government is supposed to be/represent the people. It is supposed to act in the people’s interests when other forces, like commercial enterprises, become destructive. If government worked this way I would applaud its “overreaching.” Unfortunately, government today is bought and paid for by corporate interests. Which makes it less and less distinct from the situation in ancient times. If government overreaches at all these days it is in perpetrating wars and other policies to placate moneyed interests. In today’s context “Pharaoh” is the Godless, misanthropic, planet-killing, nihilistic death-cult economic system we live under.
• We remain a democratic polity at least on paper, which means that as a citizen I get to advocate for policies that I feel are wise and beneficial. In expressing my opinion I am doing what any responsible, participating citizen is encouraged to do. I like some things the government does, and I don't like and try to change other things. I don't see the hypocrisy you imply. Neither do I see how because I', clergy I don't get the rights of any other citizen.
• Enforce the Ten Commandments? Let’s apply “you shall not steal” to human labor and the Earth’s resources.