GRIST IN THE MILL OF JUSTICE: Notes on Spiritual Resistance

Allow me to begin by saying that this essay will not be of interest to everyone who reads it. This is because not everyone in our society engages in some form of spiritual practice. I take this opportunity to differentiate the spiritual from the religious: the latter is a series of procedures and observances, the former an attempt to enact religious principles in everyday life. The Republican Party of the United States is an excellent example of an organization that adheres to visible pieties while making no attempt to enact the religious principles of the tradition from which those pieties spring. In contrast to Jesus’s instructions to feed the hungry, for example, Republican politicians at all levels of US government routinely conspire to cut food stamp programs, criminalize homelessness and restrict healthcare options for women (with disproportionately negative repercussions upon families living in poverty). The lawmakers who do this can rightly claim to be religious “men of God” as they contribute to public charities and demonstrate the fundamental pieties of regular church attendance. However, in their failure to enact religious principles in everyday life, they abdicate any claim to spirituality.

There have been historical moments when the spiritual and the religious have operated in close parallel. An example of this would be in Medieval European village life wherein the regular cycle of confession, absolution, church attendance and spiritual observance was closely connected to the everyday life and yearly rhythms of the people as they could only be in a small village. There was, of course, an element of subjugation in all of this. The Church itself benefitted from the prevailing power structure, as it always has. But priests and bishops felt a real obligation to care for the people, and they did. On those occasions when members of the aristocracy abused their power and victimized the poor, the religious community threatened to embargo access to the offices of salvation in an effort to restore justice. This balance of power, precarious thought it was, served the interests of the people for centuries.

But increasingly, the Church (broadly defined) has chosen to maintain its allegiance to power in the face of demonstrated lawlessness and corruption. When the clergy abdicate their mandate to care for the people, then the Church – like the faithful – forfeits any claim to spiritual authority. Any religious leader, for example, who sided with Adolf Hitler conferred upon Hitler’s acts a tacit stamp of religious approval. Every religious establishment faces, in times of social crisis, a choice: whether to side with the people or with the powerful.

A striking response to this choice may be found in the Liberation Theology movement of the Catholic Church. As a pagan, I have studied the tenets of liberation theology, and I am strongly convinced they offer guidelines for future engagement on the political plane. The main idea and central thrust of Liberation Theology has nowhere been expressed more succinctly than in Richard McBrien’s CATHOLICISM:
“God is disclosed in the historical ‘praxis’ of liberation. It is the situation, and our passionate and reflective involvement in it, which mediates the Word of God. Today that Word is mediated through the cries of the poor and the oppressed.” – pp. 249-250

It seems opportune, at a moment when the world’s richest nation has elevated a billionaire to the highest political office in the land (and, arguably, the world), for religious people of all faiths to question their relationship to the structures of power. Be we Catholic, Wiccan, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or of any faith which posits a moral standard, we must question where we fall on said standard. Put simply: the best measure of an individual or a society lies in its relation to the Poor. At a time when the forces of oligarchy and brutality are in ascendance, people of all faiths would do well to examine their relationship to the poor, to the oppressed and the disadvantaged and ask: are we truly standing with them?

If we find ourselves wanting, we might want to take this moment to consider how best to re-engage in the work of charity and witness for the oppressed. So many politically active friends of mine are taking steps against the current wave of oligarchy and xenophobia by calling their representatives, contributing to charities and going to protests. All of these are excellent actions. But they are made even stronger by a commitment to endure, to stay the course and to remain focused on a moral compass. Faithful spiritual practice can work to reinforce this commitment.

A spiritual practice which meditates upon social justice is a spiritual practice built for the long run. A daily meditation, an immersion in prayer and communion with the divine will be fundamental to this effort. And our efforts, make no mistake, are of global importance. Put simply, we cannot – and must not – turn away from those who will be most ruthlessly victimized in the coming new order. We must practice love when dealing with the Other and we must fortify ourselves for the work ahead. I can think of no better preparation for people of faith than to sharpen the tools of spiritual resistance. We must pray together, break bread together and prepare to go to jail together in witness of our beliefs. For without that witness, spirituality becomes the empty observance of a dead religion. We are privileged to live in interesting times – times in which we are called to be grist in the mill of justice.



Let’s talk about rape.

Not real rape. Real rape is a deadly serious issue and a topic on which I am vastly underqualified to speak. But there is another form of rape about which I am very qualified to speak, and that is ‘Make-Believe Rape’.

Some of you – mostly women – have already tuned out or stopped reading altogether. Because you think you know where there is going.

You don’t.

Make-believe rape exists, although it is politically incorrect to acknowledge that it does. This is because the politically correct handle big issues like rape by creating a catechism – a creed that they incant whenever certain Unacceptable Ideas appear (much as primitive people incant charms to ward off demons). Make-Believe Rape is such an idea. Because the catechism about rape, soft-peddled by the Socially Just (those Crusaders Against All that is Unsafe and Oppressive) is that rape victims are never believed. That rape is more prevalent than is statistically suggested and that victims of rape who come forward often face harassment, ridicule or worse.

All of which is true.

But it doesn’t cancel out the existence of Make-Believe Rape. And because Make-Believe Rape is one of those Unacceptable Ideas, greeted by incantations and banished with discourse, it has yet to be mined for outrage. It has yet to be scripturalized, catechised or moulded into PC dogma. So it therefore remains truly a frontier of free thought.

Make-Believe Rape is what happens when a woman tries to destroy a man by creating a story. It is a story so disturbing and uncomfortable that no one dares inquire too deeply into it. Instead they suggest, in hushed tones, that the “victim” seek help from the police or other professionals. They commiserate, offer support, take a dim view of the accused and never ever question whether or not the story is true (because that’s just WRONG). And so it is the perfect weapon for a woman out for revenge, use of which against a man – short of legal recourse – guarantees almost no repercussions.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. But I would imagine that sort of unwritten code of comradeship exists among you all. It makes sense that, as an oppressed group, you would band together. Women appear to support and take care of each other – even strangers – in ways that men don’t. One woman can go to another (again, even a stranger) when threatened with violence or sexual assault with a pretty fair assurance her plea will be heard. And a woman who reports a rape can be assured of an instant support network.

Not so survivors of Make-Believe Rape.

Survivors of Make-Believe Rape are men who, for whatever reason, have been falsely accused of committing an act of sexual violence against a woman. They cannot go to other men for comfort or support because males, by their very nature, crave female approval and so are often only too ready to ‘take the woman’s side’ in cases of gossip and scandal. (Comfort from women, of course, is also completely out of the question.) Furthermore, there is a tendency on the part of both sexes to assume that anyone accused of rape is, if not guilty, probably at least partially responsible for bringing the accusation upon himself by some behavior or other. And so suspicion of the accused deepens to the point at which they become isolated and, occasionally, even ostracized.

We ought to be having a cultural discussion about Make-Believe Rape. Not because I think it is a particularly widespread phenomenon but simply because it exists. And because it is an Unacceptable Idea to discuss. The very notion of Unacceptable Ideas must be challenged at every turn. Failure to do so has led to the very public lynchings of certain celebrities. Some have truly been rapists. But not all. And so the question becomes – how do we talk about victims of Make-Believe Rape?

Don’t, whisper the Social Justice Warriors. Because it doesn’t happen often enough to matter.

To which I say: fuck you, Social Justice Warriors.

It happened to me once. And once was enough.