Saturday, June 23, 2012

American Feudalism

American Feudalism
It was Dickens who began his marvelous novel “A Tale of Two Cities” with these magnetic lines: 

“IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.That will be a choice that the people will ultimately make.” 
In the same way that we know that the Gospel breaks barriers between peoples and is ultimately inclusive of all without regard to common human classification, so too we know that the Gospel breaks the barriers of economic classification. Yet in my own lifetime, you and I have watched as the disparity of rich and poor has grown wider.
I can remember a time when we as an American people were full of optimism for four children’s future and enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. Forty years ago, America was a very different place than it is today. I remember that, in those days most of us had good jobs and they paid well. My step father was able to support his family on his salary and my mom was able to stay home to take care of her children. In those days, we all had health care just as a matter of course. We all took vacations then; three weeks was the norm, although new hires began with the basic minimum of two weeks. There were well funded pension funds that supplemented a Social Security system. And in 1965 Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare Act that guaranteed Medical Insurance for those 65 years of age and older. Education was affordable and universally available. Claiborne Pell and a bipartisan coalition of legislators made grants and student loans available for a vast number of American young people. We graduated from our schools in those days with good jobs and unbounded optimism and hope for the future that our children would have it even better than we did. According to wealth distribution schedules there was about an 80/20 split between the rich and the rest of us. That 20% for the middle class provided unprecedented wealth for Americans. The largest employers then were the auto makers and US Steel. We were the envy of the world.
That was then. 
As the Psalmist says; “The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, and the land will yield its increase” Psalm 85:12
In many ways those were the best of times. Now much of what we had then is gone. Jobs by the hundreds of thousands have been shipped overseas. Unemployment is at historic highs and the health care law that many of us fought so hard for is unpopular and likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court. Millions will be left without health insurance. Education has become so expensive that not only do graduates face grim prospects for work, they also face a lifetime of debt to pay off student loans. Where once we could almost always seek refuge in the public safety sector for decent jobs as police, fire and EMT’s or in education as teachers, now we face massive layoffs at a time when public safety is so urgently needed in a post 9/11 world. Where once Labor Unions achieved impressive economic advances for the American working people, now they are vilified and are being dismantled and cut down to siz. 
In former times, the rich paid the vast majority of taxes. 40 years ago the effective tax rate on the rich was over 35% and the middle class and poor paid around 20-26% effective tax rate. This too is now reversed where the rich pay less than 15% effective tax rate or no tax at all as in the case of many of the largest corporations. Where once we paid welfare to the poor, now we pay massive subsidies to the multi-national corporations. 
Recent Supreme Court rulings now reinforce the power of the wealthy by making it possible for Super PACS to buy elections with enormous infusions of cash for candidates this continued largesse to the super rich. 
Where once the proportionate split was about 80/20 between the rich and the rest of us, it is now about 92/8. More than 80% of the population of this country must live our lives on less than 8% of the nation’s wealth. It is no surprise that the housing bubble burst, and foreclosures have replaced home ownership, pension funds have disappeared and 401K’s have lost much of their capital value. What was once the American Dream has now become a nightmarish reality for many of our fellow citizens. And the economy continues its lackluster performance and millions suffer.

We have seen in many ways the best of times and the worst of times. Things could get better or they could get much, much worse. For us to deal with the new Feudalism under which we toil, I believe we must reverse the flow of wealth into the hands of the rich. Lets face it the wealth is not “Trickling down”, it is “Trickling up” and at a rate that endangers the viability of our economic system.

If Joh the Baptist were alive today, I believe he would be calling for repentance. He would prepare the way of the Lord. He would call for the exaltation of the valleys and bring the mountains down to size. He would call to make the rough places plane. He would probably loose his head to the powers that be for proclaiming such a message. But he would give the people hope nonetheless. Thus he would prepare the way for the Lord.
When the Anointed One came he too would call for Repentance. And he would bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, make the lame walk, and release to the captives. Great crowds would gather around him; the poor, the outcast, peacemakers, those that mourn and those who suffer to see the right thing done. And he would be crucified for sharing his message.
But then Hope would be born as that one seed would die. The sins of the whole world would be forgiven and eternal life such as only God could give it, would become a gift for those who put their trust and their love and belief in what he taught the world. 
We call ourselves a Christian Nation and yet so much of the message Jesus brought to us is obscured by a new aristocracy that smacks of the same kind of oppression that was the presage of many a historic change.
It must be said that the Gospel must contain a message of Hope or it is no Gospel at all. I have spent my life saying what I felt needed to be said. I have done my fair share in the soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, and safe havens for battered women and children. 
And I haven’t lost my voice. Thus I preach and I thank God from the bottom of my heart and I thank the people of God for giving me the blessing of living my life this way. Thus I proclaim my joy on the 40th Anniversary of my ordination.
In the Name of the Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit.


James J. Olson said...

Another brilliant reflection, Fr. Paul. Thank you.

Fr. Paul said...

Thank you Jim