Hosted by
Tereza Coraggio

Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.

We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.

We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.

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Tereza has been interviewed on...

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Past Shows


Muslim is the New Jew: Christianity & Torture

May 17, 2009

3P-027 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the 27th episode of Third Paradigm. Our title this week is Muslim is the New Jew: Christianity and Torture. We'll examine some survey data from the Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life, and then we'll see an Al-Jazeera video from Bagram Air Force Base. Is it an accurate reading or a misinterpretation that the Bible is considered compatible with torture for the majority of Christians? Does it say something about us or indicate a contradiction built into the very foundations on which this house is built? We'll also look at the moral code for Judeo-Christianity – the Ten Commandments. I've heard it said that after three millennia, the Ten Commandments still can't be improved on. I beg to differ, and so I'll take my own shot at it.

But first we'll read a poem: Hope by Lisel Muller.


It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
it shakes sleep from its eyes
and drops from mushroom gills,
it explodes in the starry heads
of dandelions turned sages,
it sticks to the wings of green angels
that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
it lives in each earthworm segment
surviving cruelty,
it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog,
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born.

It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak

~ Lisel Mueller ~
From Alive Together

And now, I'd like to continue the conversation I'm having in my mind with the alternative media. On David Barsamian's Alternative Radio this week, Frances Moore Lappe gave a fascinating speech about the Work of Hope. She's a beautiful speaker with a nice, understated style. She's also the founder of one of my favorite organizations, FoodFirst! in Oakland. The detail that struck me was an incidental fun fact – that the game of Monopoly was developed by a Quaker woman as an illustration of the destructiveness of capitalism. As players go around and round, whoever has an early combination of dumb luck and ruthless ambition will continue to compound that advantage at the expense of the other players. There's no invisible hand of the market that evens things out, giving a boost to the underdog or tempering the rapacious appetite of high-rollers. The game doesn't end until it reaches its natural conclusion – one person left with 100% of the money and the assets. Illustrating this principle, Parker Brothers usurped the game and marketed it without a sense of irony. Generations have now grown up emulating the tycoons and moving up the corporate and government ladders with pride. At this point, 1% of the US population is said to own 90% of the wealth. How long are we going to wait to change the rules of the game? 95% 99? 100% Game over?

In a previous episode called The Sovereignty Game, I suggested that we use the same paradigm to model different sets of economic rules. The game can only be won collectively. In Monopoly, everyone starts out the same but it ends when you've reached the maximum discrepancy – one person with everything, everyone else with nothing. In Sovereignty, different players would represent people with wildly divergent starting points in life. The game is won by getting these groups to tend towards the middle with each successive round. Which role you play depends on a roll of the die.

Last week we talked about the tax havens – a major way in which the dice are loaded. I quoted estimates that the US loses from $210 billion to a trillion in tax revenues over the course of a decade, but developing countries lose from $850 billion to a trillion a year. In the sovereignty game, this would be a rule where you could take money off the table and out of the game, and give it to a phantom player where it could only gain and never diminish. It just so happens that the shadow player's address is the player's pocket. But they, the phantom corporation, carry any liabilities while the player pockets any gains.

Now, thanks to the shadow puppet Obama, we're looking at a free trade agreement with one of the leading tax evasion and drug money havens, Panama. This monopoly game rule will enable the players who represent Caterpillar to bid on Canal expansion projects, Citibank to invest that drug money in mutual funds, and Big Pharma and Big Ag to shake down sick Panamanians while they force GMO's down their throats and grab their land. This would not be a formula that wins the sovereignty game. And the advocates admit that the benefit to the US will be negligible. To demonstrate how easy it is to set up a Panamanian shell corporation, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch had one of their interns, a college sophomore, call a Panamanian bank. Let's see how it went:

[tradewatch – Setting Up a Shell Corporation in Panama: Easy as 1-2-3]

To really get the full impact of this video, you have to see it. It starts with pictures of this cute 20-yr-old doing the goofy things college sophomores do. She may even still have braces. Then you hear her on the speaker phone with a Panamanian customer service rep who may or may not have a job after this. To see the video go to the Public Citizen website where it's on the front page. There's also a link to send an automated email to your members of Congress, who think that no one cares about trade deals. Unfortunately, they're too often right, so let's change that. To lead into our next section on religion and torture, we'll break for Bruce Cockburn with Justice.

[Bruce Cockburn – Justice]

That was Bruce Cockburn with Justice, talking about doing to others that which we would never want done to us. So let's see what Christians think about justice and torture in the latest results from the Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life. They're sort of the Harper's Index on religion, presenting statistics in a "just the facts, M'am" way. Facts fascinate me because they speak for themselves but make the juxtapositions clear. This month, they asked various denominations of Christians and non-Christians if they thought that torturing a terrorist suspect was justified. The choices were a) often, b) sometimes, c) rarely, and d) never. They found that 62% of white Evangelical Protestants believe that torture is often or sometimes justified. White non-Hispanic Catholics came in second, still over half with 51%. White mainline Protestants came in at 46%. And torture's lowest approval rating – 40% - was among those unaffiliated with any religion. This is still 2 out of 5 people in the US who believe that torture is often or sometimes justified. This isn't even dodging around what is or isn't torture, but coming right out and using the word. Among the average population, only 1 in 4 people thought torture was never justified. A Washington Post columnist on faith, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, speculated on whether the reason for this is theological – that severe pain and suffering are considered central to the Christian faith, as graphically illustrated in the 40-minute flogging episode in Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. Thistlethwaite disagrees with this interpretation of Christianity, but can't otherwise explain how so many Christians could condone torture.

But to figure out if this is the reason, the Pew Forum needs to follow up with another question. "Is it ever justified for someone from another country to torture American soldiers?" Would the same percentage of each denomination say often, sometimes, rarely, and never? If not, the Christian martyrdom-syndrome can't explain it. It's not an obsession with pain and suffering if it doesn't apply to us. What would you guess? I'd say that less than 1% would say torture of American soldiers was often or sometimes justified and 90% would say never. What's the difference between our soldiers and their terrorists? If you kill civilians using high tech weapons at little or no risk to yourself, you're a peacekeeper. If you attack armed invaders using rocks or homemade weapons at extreme risk to yourself, you're a terrorist. In the US legal code, they say that terrorism can't be defined without first describing the actor, which is how a double standard works. Our soldiers are engaged in the same activities as their terrorists, except we have drones so we can get back to our kid's softball game inbetween. So why do Americans, especially evangelicals and Catholics think it's okay for us to torture them, but if they were to torture us, it would prove they were depraved heathens?

Curiously, justifying torture goes up the more often one attends religious services. 42% of those who attend seldom or never say that torture is often or sometimes justified. Of those who attend a few services a year, the Christmas and Easter crowd, 51% say it is. And of those who attend weekly, 54% believe there's a time for torture. As Ecclesiastes 3:8 says, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for peace and a time for war, a time to make casseroles for the potluck and a time to go to the dungeons and torture. The Pew study came out at the same time as the al-Jazeera footage of army chaplains at Bagram telling soldiers to hunt souls down for Jesus and get the hound of heaven after them. Let's see the clip:

[News – US troops urged to share faith in Afghanistan - May 04 2009]

That was the chaplain at Bagram as played on al-Jazeera. Bagram, of course, isn't just an Air Force base. It's where Taxi to the Dark Side took place, the story of Dilawar, a 22-yr-old taxi driver that the interrogators had even believed to be innocent but tortured to death anyway for their own amusement. It seemed that every time they struck him he cried Allah, and so as a running joke, they did it over and over 100 times in 24 hours. Habibullah was another detainee who died while being tethered to the ceiling by handcuffs and beaten. The evangelical chaplains might as well be wearing the robes of the Crusaders or Conquistadors or Inquisitors. It's time to take a hard look at why the Bible lends itself to the cause of torture. What makes it a tool that fits nicely into the hands of the oppressor, but hasn't created a community that's against the most heinous and immoral act that's humanly possible?

In Imperial County, California, 14-yr-old Explorer Scouts deal out justice to hostage-taking terrorists, disgruntled Iraqi vets. marijuana growers, or border-crossing immigrants. Pete Bianco, who rebroadcasts Third Paradigm at WHCL Hamilton College, sent me this article from the NY Times. Clad in khaki and armed with compressed air pellet guns, co-ed scouts simulate border patrols and taking out active shooters. They also shoot real guns on a closed range. "I like shooting them," a 16-yr-old girl said, "I like the sound they make. It gets me excited." It gets a few police leaders excited too, since there have been numerous cases of sexual abuse reported over the years. But now, leaders are required to take an on-line training course on sexual misconduct. For kids to qualify for the program, they need to be 14 and have a C average, although these have wiggle room. Thousands of scouts train for competitions in which they're judged by the lightning speed in which they can inflict violence based on snap decisions.

For my youngest daughter, I found the Brownie pledge to be too youth-for-Hitler for my taste, and couldn't sign her up although I loved the leader and the group. My oldest daughter was in marching band, but the color guard dancing with faux rifles made me sick to my stomach. "Oh look, they're twirling and tossing lethal weapons tied with pretty scarves! Isn't that precious!" I don't understand why I seem to be the only parent with this gut reaction, while everyone else bakes non-fair-trade cupcakes to send them to Disneyland.

And so, since we seem to have misplaced our moral compass, I'd like to propose a new version of the Ten Commandments:

  1. Thou shalt not main, terrorize or torture. Never ever. Not ever.
  2. Thou shalt not kill unless it's the only way to prevent greater harm.
  3. Thou shalt not make, ship, or fund weapons of indiscriminate destruction.
  4. Thou shalt not invade, occupy, enslave, or steal resources.
  5. Don't do unto others what you wouldn't want done to you.
  6. Tell the truth, especially when it comes to history.
  7. Respect those who came before, and protect the earth for those yet to come.
  8. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
  9. Play fair.
  10. Leave the world a little kinder than you found it.

In closing, we'll hear a rap song from a marathon-running Tibetan Buddhist lama, Sakyong Mipham. His contemplation for today is that True Relaxation suggests a deep underlying confidence in our enlightened nature. It also, perhaps, reflects a deep underlying confidence in the enlightenment-readiness of others. This has been enlightenment-ready Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for production, editing, and music suggestions. Thanks also to Joan Lintz-Thompson for designing a gorgeous logo for Third Paradigm, which we hope to show off on our new website soon. Then we can also show the video with Sakyong's beautiful smile. Isn't that a prerequisite for being a Buddhist monk? This is Mipham with What About Me?

[Mipham – What About Me]

Thanks for listening.