Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thoughts about youth, money, power, mental illness, and religion

Yes - pray for your enemies. This is a description of the wicked from Psalm 36 - very curious this oracle... My attention was drawn to the word 'divided'.  We are 'divided' against ourselves. So the horror at the mall, the site of the middle class consumer, in Nairobi comes from those who are divided against themselves even as I can be divided against myself.

This is a tough one, isn't it. I find a great tension between faith and futility. This "oracle on the wicked in my heart" speaking of the wicked that "divides itself in its own eyes to find hate for its iniquity" makes me think that the poet considered that I also am capable of great sin. (Augustine agreed). So the poem closes with a prayer: "do not let a proud stride come to me nor the hand of the wicked make me waver".

But this is far from enough. The middle section of the poem speaks of all humanity "they will be saturated from the fatness of your house and the torrents of your enthrallment they will drink".

Have we missed something?

I recall from The Two Solitudes, by Hugh MacLennan, Athenase, beginning his own writing of a book on religion, writes this:
The basis of all religious belief is the child's fear of the dark. When the child grows into a man, this fear appears to lie dormant, but it is still in him. He invents a system of beliefs to render it less terrible to him. Among primitive tribes we call these beliefs superstitions, but among civilized nations they are masked by the honoured name of religion. God, therefore is mankind's most original invention, greater even than the wheel...
Athenase, French Canadian, member of Parliament, is at ease in his hometown, Saint-Marc des Erables, where he is (in 1917) "the only limit under God and the law to the priest's authority".  This is a fine book and I have just begun to explore it. The authority of the Church keeps the people in line. The priest had told the seven-year-old Paul, Athenase's son by his second marriage, "all about hell and how the fire was real except that it replenished the flesh the instant it burned off so the burning went on forever". The youth are branded with this fear and so kept under the control of the parish which in turn will benefit from the proposed factory for the town around the production of electricity from the powerful falls. The priest might well know the disadvantages of the factory, but the "bishop would certainly see advantages ... percentages of all pay envelopes could be channeled to the Church".

We certainly don't want to go back to such a structure, now thoroughly discredited by scandal. What simpler days! - not a chance. The same powers that exercised rule then continue to exercise it today, but are they adequate to the need?
Youth as terrorist or youth as suppressed by fear. What kind of choice is this? - surely both futility.

Now what about the market and the dream of riches? Will this do as motivation and explanation for reality? Who cares for those who don't make it within the market? I am more aware of mental health issues in North America than I was when I was a child. Part of the reason has been diminished funding for mental illness in Canada and the US and the increased visibility of the mentally ill. A statistic from 2002 is that 20% of Canadians suffer some form of mental illness during their lives and that the cost to society will be in the order of $50 billion over the next 30 years. Mental illness therefore affects all of us and is a part of our homeless problem and is also contributing to the problems that land people in the prison system. What gives a person manageable control over fear, terror, and what gives us the ability and motivation to care for the weak of our society and not to fear fear where there is no fear (Psalm 53)? Have we the sense to use even money sensibly? (See this well summarized study from the Canadian government: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/miic-mmac/pdf/men_ill_e.pdf.)

On the subject of the American dream and the market, see the recent post from OUP: http://blog.oup.com/2013/09/private-equity-hedge-funds-regulation/.
Millions of people are angry, and many millions more are simply frustrated. At the beginning of 2012, it was estimated that over 20% of US residential mortgages are under water and almost 15% of Americans use food stamp benefits. Statistics in Britain and other European countries were equally bleak.
So where is our religion? Is it in the radicalization of youth to destroy in the name of ? Is it in the archaic structures of power and money in the Church? Is it in an accumulation and protection of riches? Is it in our social responsibility? All these thoughts in their complexity came to me when I read Psalm 36.

Yhwh how precious your loving-kindness O God
And the children of humanity
in the shadow of your wings take refuge

So this was/is my prayer for Africa.