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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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Past Shows


Faith and Quakes, or
Don't Blame God for Haiti

January 25, 2010

3P-056 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the 56th episode of Third Paradigm. Our title this week is Faith and Quakes, or Don't Blame God for Haiti. First, we'll tackle faith with something called the theodicy triangle. It's the question that's stumped philosophers from Plato to Barbara Ehrenreich. And Haiti is on all our minds and in our hearts. Although the earthquake may have been natural or God-made, the devastation it caused was purely empire-made, along with the poverty that's crushed Haitians for decades. We'll review some of this history, and tie it into the theology discussion.

But first, I'd like to talk about faith and what I mean by it. This topic of spirituality was at the request of Mike Scirocco, our website virtuoso. Mike and I have lived within walking distance of each other and worked together on the website for half a year, but we've still never met or even talked on the phone. The closest we've come in the three-dimensional world is by proxy: my bread-delivery guy has left a fresh-baked loaf or two on his doorstep. But despite this lack of casual contact, or maybe because of it, we've had many in-depth conversations over email. A good number of these have been about spirituality.

The discussion started with Mike wondering how I could report on things that make him want to scream, but stay calm and rational. He and I are agreed that our society is like a bus barreling full-speed through crowded intersections. How do I keep on looking out the window without getting upset or thoroughly depressed? I've told him I don't think it's possible to look reality squarely in the eye without faith. But when I say faith, I don't mean in an abstract notion of God. I mean faith in other people - the belief that I'm not more precious than anyone else. That's the faith that could really set us free. And that's exactly the faith that religion as we know it is designed to destroy.

Judeo-Christian scriptures present a world that's hierarchical and dualist. According to it, we're divided into good and evil. Well, let me amend that. plato (22K) Except for Jesus, Mary, and a handful of Old Testament patriarchs, we're divided into evil-lite, also known as sinful, and really, really evil. But where did this evil come from? Did God make it? And why would God make it? This question, called the Theodicy Triangle, was famously posed by Plato in the 4th century BCE. A Unitarian Universalist sermon (pdf) I found online calls it the superbowl of theological discourse, with the meaning of life standing in for the pigskin. Here's how the dilemma goes. At one point of the triangle is the statement, "God is all-powerful." At the second is the statement, "God is all-good." The third point is "Evil exists." All three points can't possibly be true. If God is good, why would God create evil? If God is all-powerful, why would God allow evil? And if someone was created evil, can we really hold them responsible if they can't help it? I just saw the musical Wicked, which phrases it, "Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?"

Let's pause in our theodicy for a poem. Our website precedes this poem with a photo of a 12th century fresco of the archangel Gabriel holding what looks like a dead otter. According to the website where I found the photo, the fresco was stolen from occupied Cyprus by Turkish antiquities smugglers. Perhaps these Cyprians would agree that evil exists, when people will steal their angels right off their walls, not to mention those with the hypocrisy to buy them. But angel-trafficking aside, let's listen to a poem called Celestial Music by Louise Glück.

Celestial Music

I have a friend who still believes in heaven.
Not a stupid person, yet with all she knows,
she literally talks to God.
She thinks someone listens in heaven.
On earth she's unusually competent.
Brave too, able to face unpleasantness.

We found a caterpillar dying in the dirt,
greedy ants crawling over it.
I'm always moved by disaster, always eager to oppose vitality
But timid also, quick to shut my eyes.
Whereas my friend was able to watch, to let events play out
According to nature. For my sake she intervened
Brushing a few ants off the torn thing, and set it down
Across the road.

My friend says I shut my eyes to God,
that nothing else explains
My aversion to reality. She says I'm like the child who
Buries her head in the pillow
So as not to see, the child who tells herself
That light causes sadness-
My friend is like the mother. Patient, urging me
To wake up an adult like herself, a courageous person-

In my dreams, my friend reproaches me. We're walking
On the same road, except it's winter now;
She's telling me that when you love the world you hear celestial music:
Look up, she says. When I look up, nothing.
Only clouds, snow, a white business in the trees
Like brides leaping to a great height-
Then I'm afraid for her; I see her
Caught in a net deliberately cast over the earth-

In reality, we sit by the side of the road, watching the sun set;
From time to time, the silence pierced by a birdcall.
It's this moment we're trying to explain, the fact
That we're at ease with death, with solitude.
My friend draws a circle in the dirt;
inside, the caterpillar doesn't move.
She's always trying to make something whole,
something beautiful, an image
Capable of life apart from her.
We're very quiet. It's peaceful sitting here, not speaking,
The composition
Fixed, the road turning suddenly dark, the air
Going cool, here and there the rocks shining and glittering-
It's this stillness we both love.
The love of form is a love of endings.

~ Louise Glück ~
From The Best American Poetry 1991

We're talking about theodicy and the million-dollar question of how evil can co-exist with an all-good, all-powerful God. A UK website called Philosophy Online tackles the problem of evil. It divides it into moral evil, or willful acts of people, and natural evil, such as famines, floods, and earthquakes. Then it explains three historical approaches. In the second century CE, St. Irenaeus solved the problem by saying that humans were an unfinished business. Evil was a learning opportunity, necessary for soul-making. The great amount of evil and suffering in the world gave testimony to just how much we had to learn. He always was a cheerful guy.

iranaeusaugustinewhitehead (55K)

St. Augustine gave a different if equally dour answer – if humans had been created only good, God would've created robots, not men. The choice to do evil is necessary to free will. We need free will if we're going to choose to love God. Augustine's love-hurts solution doesn't explain tsunamis and earthquakes, unless they're expression of God's free will while he's learning to control his temper tantrums.

According to Alfred Whitehead, this isn't far off the mark. His theory, called process theodicy, says that God is still developing. The world itself is God lurching towards maturity. When we suffer, God suffers with us, but is impotent to help. Once creation was launched, God could only watch in horror and wait for us to grow creation up out of its painful adolescence.

Each of these answers solves the dilemma by taking one point of the triangle out. Irenaeus and Augustine hint that God isn't the goody two-shoes he's cracked up to be, having created evil on purpose. Whitehead says that God isn't bigger than evil, being unable to control it once it was out of the box. But my theory questions the third point: whether evil exists. Let's look first at free will. If I'm the combination of my nature and nurture, genetics plus environment, where does free will come in? If I was born to be bad, it's God or nature's fault. If circumstances have done me wrong, it's God or society's fault. Either blind luck or God have put me in a position where I'm set up to choose evil. Bad God!

Free will to choose evil is the notion that we've created our self – the essential part of our self that exists separately from our make-up and our environment. Will-to-evil puts us in the position of being our own God. If thought through logically, our capability to choose evil is the most arrogant idea we could ever have. Who am I? Not as God made me, but as I made myself. So there, God. Inherent in the idea is the belief that in someone else's circumstances, I'd make better choices than they did. If I was born as the homeless crack addict, I'd never be like them. But why not? What quality of "me" would have made things turn out differently? If I've made better choices, maybe it's because I had better choices to make.

The belief in my own innocence and perfection, along with everyone else's, is true humility. I'm who nature and nurture made me, no better, no worse. I didn't create myself genetically and I didn't create the circumstances I was born into. Anyone born into my exact situation would've done everything I've done, good or bad. If I were born into anyone else's role, I'd make all the same choices they did. Both pride and guilt are equally arrogant because they assume that I am God, I invented myself.

In a scientific world, everyone's a chemical reaction between their biology and their sociology, an accidental collision in the global beaker. We're all a spin on the roulette wheel, a dart thrown at a whirling globe determining whether we'll be born in Boston or Bangladesh. This is why atheists are often more compassionate, recognizing their shared vulnerability to fate. But theists have an odd saying: "There but for the grace of God go I." It implies that God has chosen me to be more fortunate. Why? Obviously because I deserve it. It's left-handed compassion that expresses sympathy and superiority in the same gesture.

If meaning exists, also known as God, I've been chosen for my role in life, but not as a reward or punishment. On what basis, then? Of all the people who've ever lived, I have the best chance of bringing something good out of it. If I were in anyone else's shoes, I'd muck it up. They have the strength and fortitude for their job, and I'm uniquely predisposed for mine. Free will can only be used for the good, as it is, moment after moment after moment. Let's break for Freewill by Rush. When we return, we'll review some research about the earthquake in Haiti.

That was Rush with Freewill from their Permanent Waves CD. As they say, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. As citizens of the US, it's time to heed this advice about fence-sitting. Of all the things that the US has done, it may be Haiti's fall that knocks us off our perch. Every country around the world has taken up the cry of "Gauze, not guns," to condemn the US military invasion of Haiti, ala Katrina. Bush, Clinton, and 10,000 combat troops have been deployed, carrying semi-automatic weapons with tripods to stabilize their aim. Do we think these helpless victims have been turned into cannibalistic reevers? The US Coast Guard Rear Admiral has reassured Americans that they are working with the Defense Department to minimize the risk of Haitians who want to flee their country.

The Pentagon has taken control of all air-traffic, kicking out the competent Haitians like so much trash. We first turned back planes of humanitarian assistance from CARICOM, which is the Caribbean emergency aid community. Brazil, France, and Italy have lodged formal complaints, after a French plane carrying a field hospital was turned back. The French ambassador said, Port-au-Prince "is no longer an airport for the international community. It is an annex of Washington." The US Red Cross finally landed in the Dominican Republic. Twelve tons of aid and an inflatable hospital from Medicins Sans Frontieres were turned back three times in the week. 200 flights per day are coming and going, but most of this is military in, foreign nationals out.

When the planes do land, the supplies stay at the airport. Amy Goodman reports walking through stockpiles of food, water, and medical supplies. Finally she saw a pallet of water leaving and asked where it was going. To the US embassy, came the answer, which is our fifth-largest in the world. Embassy staffers were evacuated first as high-priorities to the base at Guantanamo, but we never bothered to send aid back from there. We have sent an aircraft carrier, a marine transport ship, and four C-140 airlifts, with some US destroyers still in the mail. By the fourth day, we'd evacuated 800 US nationals and the aircraft carrier had shown up, deployed without any emergency provisions. But it does have sidewinder missiles and 19 helicopters.

In the meantime, Cuba has sent 400 doctors and has more on the way. Iceland had rescue teams in the air almost immediately from 4000 miles away. From 8000 miles, China had rescuers with sniffer dogs deployed within 48 hours. Obama, with bases next door in Guantanamo and Puerto Rico, felt he could have 2000 Marines there in a few days. Argentinians, Icelanders, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans are on the ground saving lives. Hugo Chavez has pledged as much gasoline as needed for fuel and transport. Senegal has offered land to any Haitians willing to relocate. Even the Palestinians have sent aid, from the heart of compassion for fellow sufferers. But the US, when it does distribute aid, throws it from the back of an armored truck while driving away. What are they so afraid of? Dr. Evan Lyons of Partners in Health states, "We've been circulating throughout the city until 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning every night, evacuating patients, moving materials. There's no UN guards. There's no US military presence. There's no Haitian police presence. And there's also no violence. There is no insecurity." s

If any good has ridden in on the coattails of this disaster, it's a wider global knowledge of the history of the last 200 years. In 1804, Haiti defeated Napoleon's army to win their independence as the first free slave state. Then they fought alongside Simon Bolivar to help liberate Latin America from Spain. They also helped the US gain independence by defeating the British in a decisive war in Savannah, Georgia. Yet the US refused to recognize Haiti, fearing an epidemic of slave revolts. For the next 60 years, France and the US put Haiti under a crushing embargo. Finally France forced them to pay 150 million francs as reparations for their lost slaves. By comparison, France sold Louisiana for only 80 million.

In 1915 Woodrow Wilson sent troops to invade Haiti, killing 2000 in one skirmish alone. For 19 years, the US ran their customs, tax collection, military, and courts. Finally, in 1947, the loans to US and French banks to pay restitution for freeing themselves were paid off, at $21 billion in today's dollars. Then in 1957 for almost 30 years, the US backed the brutal dictators "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, "Baby Doc." Besides killing 60,000 dissidents in gruesome ways, they put 80% of international aid in their own pockets and raised Haiti's debt to $1.3 billion.

Haiti is the poster child for the destructiveness of US trade agreements and agricultural subsidies. 30 years ago, Haiti was self-sufficient in rice and the leading sugar exporter. Today they import both for Haitians who can afford it and the rest eat mud cookies – a mixture of oil and clay baked in the sun. Once these were a supplement for pregnant women, believed to give them needed minerals.

Now they fill up stomachs as a substitute for food. Why? Because the IMF forced Haiti to open its borders to free trade, then dumped subsidized rice and sugar into Haiti, undercutting local producers. Much of this came in the form of "foreign aid." Now Haiti is the third-largest importer of US rice. This has forced people off their land and into the makeshift slums of Port-au-Prince, which went from 300,000 to 2.5 million in three decades. As one website said, "Earthquakes don't kill. Buildings do." God can't be blamed for the urban migration of a hungry and desperate labor force, ready-made for the sweatshops.

Louis Proyect's blog, The Unrepentant Marxist, gives further details about this relationship in a guest post by music professor John Halle called Mark Danner's Choice. Both Halle and Danner teach at Bard College, but Danner's NY Times article reflects the prevailing George Soros ideology, while John is the last leftie standing. He quotes Mike Davis' Planet of Slums, and contrasts Danner to Chris Hedges, "whose rigorous, informed and brilliant recent works... are now relegated to the wilds of the Internet." Hedges is punished by the mainstream media for connecting the dots – showing that poverty, terrorism, and catastrophes are not random acts of a willful God, but rather, predictable outcomes of a relentless and systematic program of human opportunism.

After the 2004 tsunami, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote her article called "God Owes Us an Apology." But God is love and I guess love means never having to say you're sorry. Wait – that never made sense even in the 70's. When I interviewed Barbara a few weeks ago, she said that her next book was going to be about theology and mystics like Teilhard de Chardin. As a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, and given her own research into the impossible quandaries of workers in the US, Barbara is uniquely qualified to connect the dots. I'm looking forward to Barbara making sense of it all in a book-length format.

Events seem to be coming to a head in the world, catapulted towards a global crisis point. Maybe 2012 will be the turning for better or worse. But one thing is certain – it's getting harder and harder to stay on the fence and be oblivious. The fence is shaking, and the biggest shocks are still heading our way.

For Third Paradigm, this has been Tereza Coraggio. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for sound production and to Mike Scirocco for web production. Our closing song is by U2 and Green Day with The Saints Are Coming about New Orleans.

[U2 – The Saints Are Coming]

Thank you for listening.