[R-G] SOCIAL JUSTICE ORGANIZING AND THE CHURCH [And Religion, Tribalism and Socialism]
hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Mon Jan 5 18:25:38 MST 2004
SOCIAL JUSTICE ORGANIZING AND THE CHURCH [And Religion, Tribalism and
Socialism] Hunter Gray /Hunter Bear
Note by Hunter Bear: January 5 2004
Although this was one of my first posts on a discussion list -- the good
Marxism Discussion -- about three years ago, it's still [if I say so myself]
on target and timely. Religion and spirituality come up with regularity on
several Left lists. Personally, I welcome all supportive prayers and
positive thoughts -- and do my best to provide those for others -- along
with any tangible assistance I can give.
When a Catholic priest came to the Pocatello mountain hospital recently,
performed a healing ceremony and gave me Communion, I was glad to see him --
as I am to receive the continuing prayers of a very large number of Indians
and non-Indians from all over what's called the United States and Canada.
Our family theology is, as I indicate below, a " family/tribal blending of
the traditional beliefs with some of the more attractive facets of Jesuit
Catholicism. " At the same time, I should add, I am a member of the
American Ethical Union [Ethical Culture] -- affiliated to the very
supportive Ethical Humanist Society of Greater Chicago.
>From Hunter Bear:
One of the more consistent proofs I've seen of the durability and fertility
of religion is its oft-spectacular proliferation as a vigorous -- sometimes
wildly emotional -- discussional topic. This is true for a very wide range
of people -- and it certainly applies to radical, social justice activists.
And then there's the even more provocative question of, "Can a militant
radical who is fundamentally committed to substantive social justice
accomplish anything "within" the institutional Church -- and can he/she
survive there over the long haul?"
Let me tell you.
For myself, I certainly have no apologies whatsoever of that which I'm
certain is my own inherent spiritual dimension -- manifested in our
interesting family/tribal blending of the traditional beliefs with some of
the more attractive facets of Jesuit Catholicism. I should add that
Ignatius of Loyola -- he of single-minded and super-intensive organizational
commitment [whatever his own historical goals] is for us a special entity.
I have a large personal library replete with works on American and Canadian
and Mexican radicalism and much, much indeed on Native American matters.
And I have a great deal from other parts of the Earth. Several works of
and about Ignatius are immediately adjacent to my 45 volumes of Lenin [no
two volume index with my set.] I'd say that Lenin and Ignatius certainly
have something in common.
I certainly don't feel that a spiritual dimension is anything except
intricately correlated with that dimension of ours which demands material
well-being. And I certainly think we have a liberty-seeking fire as well.
I'd say that all of these are fused together beyond any precise analysis.
And I don't think for a moment that anyone in the history of Humanity -- or
any group or tendency -- has captured the entire complexity of the Cosmos
and all of its components [and all of these components, in my view, are
intricately linked.] And, by the way, the existence of certain
parapsychological phenomena -- e.g., telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis
[psychokinesis], precognition -- have been very well established under rigid
lab conditions. [I've been a member of the American Society for Psychical
Research for many decades.] But these, always known consciously by tribal
people and found, in my opinion, in all humans -- however cloaked they may
be in the superficialities of "western" science -- cannot be put as formulae
on blackboards. I think the case for "survival of the human personality
beyond bodily death" has been at least fairly well established by
parapsychologists. But, presumptuous as it may sound, most humans know
this anyway and most of us aren't inclined to think too much at this point
about what lies beyond the Fog.
But I do state, and categorically, that I'm alive today because of certain
clear and overwhelmingly intuitive warning feelings.
Anyway, I certainly do indeed think that religion -- or the lack of it -- is
up to the individual. And I certainly say emphatically that any really
working organizer seeking to get grassroots people together, develop
on-going and democratic local leadership, deal effectively with grievances
and individual/family concerns, achieve basic organizational goals and
develop new ones -- and build a sense of the New World To Be Over The
Mountains Yonder and how all of this relates to shorter-term steps -- can
hardly afford, whatever the organizer's particular stand on religion may be,
to become involved in his constituents' views on religion.
The institutional Church [or church] can indeed be something else. I parted
company with that in the summer of 1978 at Rochester, New York. For the
better part of the two previous years, I'd been Director of the Office of
Human Development, the social justice arm of the twelve country Rochester
Catholic Diocese. For years it had been a mostly talk situation -- and I
was hired because part of the staff genuinely wanted to do some genuinely
tangible things [and the Church bureaucracy was unaware of what bona fide
community organization really meant!] We moved quickly on a number of
fronts: organized Native mink-skinners [in some of the most repressive,
feudal conditions I'd seen since the Deep South] into successful strike
actions; launched all sorts of effective grassroots single-issue and
multi-issue projects; developed meaningful and effective liaisons with union
labor [and I was a prime organizer and co-chair of the regional Labor Law
Reform Committee -- seeking strong pro-union legislation]; pushed
international justice issues [Chile, southern Africa, Panama] and actively
supported the Iroquois land claims cases -- all of these both directly and
through the New York State Catholic Committee; vigorously supported gay
rights; and we did much else.
And we also pushed hard for the socialization of utilities power -- the
people-gouging [super-gouging] Rochester Gas and Electric -- whose board
chairman, we knew, was the biggest single contributor to the Diocese.
Tension between our bona fide social justice organizing and fighting -- and
the institutional Church -- had been growing steadily as Church politicians
began to realize what we were doing via the Office of Human Development. I
was given a series of ultimatums which, of course, I ignored -- and, in due
course, I was fired by the Bishop's hatchet-man for "insubordination"
[later changed to "a breakdown in communication."]
There was a hell of a grassroots protest through the remainder of the Summer
of 1978: Native organizations, grassroots groups, the 89 unions making up
the Rochester Central Labor Council and the Teamsters Union; many inner-city
parish priests and nuns; faculty from St. Bernard's Seminary; the Diocesan
canon lawyer; Episcopal clergy; the Catholic Worker movement. The widely
read National Catholic Reporter devoted much of an entire issue to the
Rochester upheaval. The Bishop took early retirement; his hatchet-man
[rumored to be his successor] was passed over and relegated in due course to
an obscure rural parish.
I was never, not surprisingly, reinstated -- my growing family and I went on
to the Navajo Nation -- but we did accomplish some solid victories on the
New York scene and we sowed many seeds of discontent. We hear from time to
time of those emergent fruits.
Would I work again for the institutional Church? No. Am I still aware of
my spiritual dimension. Of course. And I will always be so aware.
Traditional Native tribalism [communalistic] -- and this holds true, I
think, for Fourth World peoples generally, has been characterized by the
primary principle of "tribal responsibility:" i.e., the group has a
responsibility to the individual and the individual has a responsibility to
the group. It's a deeply-rooted mutual kind of thing -- with a recognition
that, at least for the most part, what is good for the group is good for the
person. There is, on the one hand, a recognition that, if the well-being of
the group and the self-perceived well-being of the individual come into
conflict, the group-good transcends the situation. But there is always, in
the traditional tribal context, certain clearly defined areas of individual
and family autonomy into which the group cannot intrude.
All of this has enabled tribal peoples across the world to survive the
blood-dimmed centuries of attempted physical and cultural genocide.
When Father Thomas J. Hagerty, the revolver-packing priest of the Western
Federation of Miners, wrote out the preamble of the embryonic Industrial
Workers of the World in 1905, his creation -- however inspired -- started
off, of course, with "The working class and the employing class have nothing
in common." For my part, I read that preamble decades later when I was a
teenager and, shortly thereafter, I did the Communist Manifesto. To me, at
least, it all goes together, along with the foundation dimensions -- the
sensible balance between group and individual -- of Native tribalism.
And hopefully, this will all add up to a socialism where people are
genuinely free in all respects and where their choices are many indeed.
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR] Micmac/St Francis Abenaki/St Regis Mohawk
In the mountains of southeastern Idaho
When you cut to the bone and cut away the college degrees, academic and
other titles, published books and articles, ours is essentially a working
class and Indian family. We consistently join unions -- and we always
support them with the greatest vigor.
It's critical to always keep fighting -- and to always remember that, if one
lives with grace, he/she should be prepared to die with grace.
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