Friday, May 31, 2013

Solidarity Is Not The Way Of The Ferengi

In the Star Trek universe, the Grand Nagus, otherwise known as the "Ferengi Pope", has a different idea of solidarity, but then the Ferengi were created to be ultra capitalists on steroids.  The Catholic neocons should take note.

Solidarity seems to be the current word making the rounds.  I don't find that particularly surprising given the current economic situation around the globe.  People seem to finally be making the connection that resources are finite and that distribution of those resources will in fact necessitate a change in the world view of what constitutes an ethical distribution of finite resources. Today I offer two voices who both say the same thing from different starting points and then I add my own view from a very different starting point.  First I offer one of Pope Francis' latest homilies on this subject, a subject which is popping up frequently in his homilies.  It is followed by the thoughts of the Spanish theologian Jose Antonio Pagola.  The Pope Francis article is courtesy of NCR and Pagola's courtesy of Iglesia Descalza.

Francis links Eucharist with global solidarity

Thomas C Fox - National Catholic Reporter - 5/31/2013
One of themes Pope Francis repeatedly returns to in his talks and spiritual reflections is the idea of solidarity – a global solidarity, rich and poor, stemming from the recognition of being children of God.  He sees the church as the instrument of building this recognition and then drawing humanity together.

This recognition, he insists, is not without responsibility. We are all required to live in solidarity with each other, rich and poor. This means caring for each other. Those with resources have a particular responsibility to “feed” those without such resources.
Francis returned to his “solidarity” theme in his Corpus Christi homily Sunday. The following is an excerpt from his homily.

"The multiplication of the loaves [is born of] Jesus' invitation to his disciples: 'Feed them yourselves', 'give', share. What do the disciples share? What little they have: five loaves and two fishes. But it is precisely those loaves and fishes that, in God’s hands, feed the whole crowd. And it is precisely the disciples, bewildered by the inability of their means, by the poverty of what they have at their disposal, who invite the people to sit down and— trusting Jesus' word of—distribute the loaves and fishes that feed the crowd. This tells us that in the Church, but also in society, a keyword that we need not fear is 'solidarity', that is, knowing how to place what we have at God’s disposal, our humble abilities, because only in sharing them, in giving them, that our lives will be fruitful, will bear fruit. Solidarity: a word upon which the spirit of the world looks unkindly!” (Or distorts it to mean something else entirely.)

“Tonight, once again, the Lord gives us the bread which is his body. He makes a gift of himself. We also experiencing “God's solidarity” with humanity, ... a solidarity that never ceases to amaze us. God draws near to us. In the sacrifice of the Cross He lowers himself, entering into the darkness of death in order to give us his life, which conquers evil, selfishness, and death. This evening too, Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist. He shares our journey, or rather, He becomes food, real food that sustains our lives even at the times when the going is rough, when obstacles slow our steps. In the Eucharist, the Lord makes us follow his path, the path of service, sharing, and giving—and what little we have, what little we are, if shared, becomes wealth, because the power of God, which is love, descends into our poverty to transform it.”

“Discipleship, communion, and sharing. Let us pray that our participation in the Eucharist may always inspire us: to follow the Lord every day, to be instruments of communion, to share what we are with Him and with our neighbor. Then our lives will be truly fruitful.”

Amidst the Crisis

Jose Antonio Pagola - translation by Rebel Girl - Iglesia Descalza
The economic crisis is going to be long and hard. We shouldn't kid ourselves. We won't be able to look the other way. In our more or less immediate environment, we will be meeting families who are forced to live on charity, people threatened with eviction, neighbors hit by unemployment, sick people who don't know how to solve their health care or medicine problems. No one knows very well how society will react.

Undoubtedly, the powerlessness, rage, and demoralization of many will grow. That the conflict and crime will increase is predictable. It will be easy for selfishness and obsession with one's own security to grow.

But it's also possible that solidarity will grow. The crisis could make us more humane. It could teach us to share what we have and don't need. It could strengthen ties and mutual support within families. Our sensitivity to the neediest could grow. We will be poorer, but we could be more humane.

In the midst of the crisis, our Christian communities could also grow in brotherly love. It's the time to find out that it isn't possible to follow Jesus and collaborate in the humanizing plan of the Father without working for a more just and less corrupt society, one that is more supportive and less selfish, more responsible and less frivolous and consumerist.

It's also time to regain the humanizing strength that lies in the Eucharist when it's experienced as love confessed and shared. The meeting of Christians, gathered each Sunday around Jesus, must become a place of consciousness raising and impulse towards practical solidarity.

The crisis could shake up our routine and mediocrity. We can't commune with Christ in the privacy of our hearts without communing with our brothers and sisters who are suffering. We can't share the bread of the Eucharist while ignoring the hunger of millions of human beings who are deprived of bread and justice. Passing the peace among ourselves while forgetting those who are socially excluded, is a joke.

The celebration of the Eucharist must help us open our eyes to discover who we have to defend, support, and help in these times. It must awaken us from the "illusion of innocence" that lets us live in peace, bestirring ourselves and fighting only when we see that our interests are in jeopardy. Experienced faithfully every Sunday, it can make us more humane and better followers of Jesus. It can help us live through the crisis with Christian insight, without losing dignity or hope.


I always thought the economic system in the Star Trek universe was interesting in that the Federation had somehow moved beyond the need for money and there was, according to Captain Kirk, no poverty on the 23rd century Earth.  Instead of money, humanity had access to Federation credits and the gold pressed Latinum coveted by the Ferengi. The members of the Federation themselves though, had somehow evolved beyond the need for the acquisition of personal wealth.  I always wondered how that happened.  I suspected it must have had something to do with the invention of replicators. What's the point of acquisition if everyone had virtually unlimited access to anything they wanted. Personal challenges would have to be found in something else.  Maybe such things as exploring the Universe or pursuing knowledge or hobnobbing with more advance beings or attempting to solve what must have been an enormous garbage problem brought on by a humanity that could replicate what ever it wanted.  In any event, Gene Roddenberry never did explain how the economic system in his fictional world was created, or why humanity evolved beyond personal greed and/or the pursuit of wealth as the marker for personal success. Or for that matter,  why the Ferengi didn't use replicators to produce gold pressed Latinum bars.  Maybe that's why Star Trek is frequently placed in the Utopian genre of literature.  Exactly like actually living the Christian way as espoused by Jesus is generally considered Utopian.

I bring the replicator thing up because Pope Francis' homily revolves around the feeding of the 4000 by Jesus. That's a pretty good feat of replication on the part of Jesus. If Christians had ever consistently 'replicated' this feat, we might have a very different economic system and very different definition of personal success.  Nice thing about the kind of replication Jesus is written to have accomplished is that it can't be weaponized.  I'm not sure that can be said for Star Trek's replicators which is one reason it would be nice if Christians had retained any of the spiritual gifts listed in the Gospels and executed by the Apostles.  When humanity creates through science it is always weaponized before the consumer technologies can grace the consumer market.  This is probably the main reason I have very little faith that science will actually ever result in the enlightened more benevolent universe of Star Trek.

Francis' point is the Apostles trusted that Jesus would somehow take their meager stocks and make them adequate.  The miracle was in their trust that God would provide.  This kind of thing still happens today but it's not so spectacular and is almost always chalked up to random coincidence.  I can't begin to recount all the anecdotal stories I've heard, or been involved with, where adequate supplies just 'coincidentally' become available.  Manifestation does seem to be a product of human faith/consciousness, but it doesn't usually happen quite like Jesus feeding 4000 or Captain Picard asking for Earl Grey tea and having it materialize in a replicator.  It's much more subtle which creates less of a threat to those not quite ready to credence it happens, and unfortunately it's seeming randomness reduces it's trustworthiness.  But the real truth is probably something different.  Humanity is far more up close and personal with scarcity than it is adequacy. Coping with scarcity is reality.  Reveling in abundance is fantasy.  The First world has successfully created a reality in which more and more people are now experiencing the reality of scarcity and it is a reality that is coming home to the First World.  The manifestation of scarcity is more believable because it's so much more a part of our collective reality.  The poor will always be with us because we don't seem to have the imagination to create a different reality.  Antonio Pagnola makes a pertinent observation about the growth of demoralization with it's concomitant obsession with personal security. It can potentially result in a no holds barred competition over scarcity rather than a collective cooperation towards mutual adequacy.

Both Francis and Antonio Pagnola see a further awakening to solidarity as the antidote to a our individual fears about scarcity.  The Ferengi solution of ruthless competition need not be the only answer.  There is enough if people are willing to share.  God does and will provide if people trust and believe and are willing to act in solidarity with one another.  That too is part of the story in the feeding of the 4000.  Had those few with something to share withheld it for fear for their own survival, Jesus would not have been able to multiply anything.  

I view the current economic mess as an opportunity to once again try the idea of Christian solidarity, and like Pope Francis, I see this as not just a local experiment, but a global necessity. Humanity needs another economic system.  One more in keeping with the dignity and rights of all people.  Not one that keeps enshrining the Ferengi amongst us as the epitome of the successful human.


  1. I suspect the problem with replicating the gold-pressed latinum had to do with the amount of energy it took. But even if that problem had been solved, I have faith the Ferengi would have found something else to covet. I think that is the point the Ferengi are supposed to illustrate in the Star Trek panorama. The futility of covetousness.

  2. I grew up with my children watching Star Trek and Star Wars. They became the new myth of ethics. Just as any myth the Catholic one included, there are always faults. We also went to the RCC for church and schooling, but I think we all found the Star Trek and Star Wars myths a little more palatable because the Ferengi were not in charge. When the merchants attempted to gain control in Star Wars, what we got is the evil emperor who looked a lot like Pope Benedict. Perhaps Francis is a jet eye knight and will slay the evil emperor in the Vatican but that will take a complete war on the curia and I doubt he can survive that.

    Society has tilted toward the fascism that supports the evil emperor. When Corporatism has more power than one person one vote, we are headed for horrible unrest to say nothing of difficulties in the world eco systems including the human one caused by greed of the merchant corporatist. Their god is really the litinum. They will steal all that they can to get the energy to mint more so they can horde it---- not provide JOBS. The corporate profits were at an all time high last year but no jobs. More dinero for the .2%.

    A society with not socialism, but with a social democracy able to decide where to spend the resources would be better than what we have. It would be more Christ-like!

  3. Not just the futility, but the insecurity as well. The energy solution is the same one I thought of as well, but I don't think it was ever explicitly stated, and as a true Trekkie fan of DS9, I think I might have remembered if it had.

  4. Dennis, the really annoying stat is corporate profits at all time highs and no resultant jobs. Why is that never mentioned?

    It was strange how in some pictures Pope Benedict did look like Palpatine. Star Trek and Star Wars were big in my house as well, but Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings might have been bigger--except for DS9. My daughter told me a couple of days ago she was getting the entire series and shouldn't I be jealous. I had to admit there was no shouldn't about it, I was jealous.

  5. Interesting that both "Franciscus" and "Ferengi" come from the Latin name for Germanic tribes near the Rhine, the "Franci" (the Franks).

  6. I also thought it was interesting that the Ferengi coveted 'latinum'.

  7. George Lucas consulted Joseph Campbell when he was creating the Star Wars universe. His book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" explores the idea of archetypal heroes.

    Campbell was an Irish Roman Catholic who had studied world religions and mythology from the time he was a child until long after his doctoral studies were finished. Here's a link to one of the wonderful interviews by Bill Moyers: On Star Wars.

  8. The idea that we can keep printing money and borrowing money to stay afloat is a dead end. The idea that we can expend billions into a banking system that has failed and is immoral in the sense that it creates nothing but destruction for so many people, is not just fascist, it it just plain stupid and is also a dead end. People instinctually know this to be a dead end. However, the powers that be all pump out nonsensical theories as to how this has come about and they also have no sense of the history in any kind of depth as to the whys. Therefore, they can not reason with a full deck. Hence, we have politicians on the right and on the left and in the middle who really don't have a clue as to how to tame this beast called capitalism, that when it reaches a certain point turns into a vulture. It happened in Spain. It happened in France. It happened in Great Britain. Surely we all feel the scars of the Wars from this death trap of a system that can not and refuses to see its own flaws and the misery it causes the entire planet of human beings.

    I had the opportunity today to listen to a historian talk about the War of 1812. As well I listened to a historian talk about the Iran Contra Scandal or Affair as it is named. The problem I see here is that ignorance & arrogance paves the way to create monsters such as Ronald Reagan who truly did not have an in depth understanding of people and the issues at hand. Nor did he care, or did GW Bush. They do not seem to be able to see the other side of the coin. Any talk that is different from their spin is immediately rebuked. Pope Benedict as well mirrored the same stuff and brought people into this century with a lot more baggage than we can carry to survive as a nation and as a democracy.

    The economy sucks and it has sucked for years and years for so many. Karl Marx spoke about the pitfalls of capitalism. The wealthy love their capitalism and their power. They love colonialism. They do not love independence. They really do not believe in freedom for anyone but themselves. They keep saying we are better off without unions. We are not better off. We are worse off now that GW Bush, his father and Ronald Reagan sold us out. No wonder there is a Tea Party. No wonder there are young people getting angry who are out of work. The solution is work that pays a living wage. The solution is not work camps and people working under the gun. That will repeat under the current system in which the 1% govern everything and determine who works and who does not.

    In Europe the situation is and has been much worse than in the US. My hunch is that there is a lot of infighting amongst the remaining banks for the left over crumbs they can scavenge to empty into their coffers on the backs of poor people who are getting poorer by their greed. The notion that socialism is something to scorn or be afraid of and reject has brought on a lot of post-World War II Wars, which are really proxy wars. I'm just real tired of it all. Especially when I see my son out of work. Especially when I see so many young people around the globe either out of work or working some dead end job for literally nothing. It is a crime. This country, the USA, should get its act together. Will it? I don't know. I pray that it will.

  9. Thanks p2p, I have the whole series of interviews between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell on DVD, a gift for contributing to free speech radio. I read "Hero with a Thousand Faces" at the time of the interviews. It is wonderful. Colleen, you can get all the Star Trek series on Netflicks for $8.00 per month. My son and I have most of all of them except the original series on DVD's. We were really involved. Harry Potter was a little behind my son but my daughters enjoyed those books, and we all liked "The Lord of The Rings".

    The problem with Catholic morality is that it does not follow the evolution of ethics very well. Catholic moralists fail to listen to the scholars of the day and seem to fail to listen to the Holy Spirit. They further support the Ferengi society. They are not only wrong but they are not very ethical. The Church supports the authoritarian in society that leads to .2 % of society controlling 37% of the resources. Again corporate profits were at a all time high last year yet this did not spell job increases, but does spell further attempts to squeeze the middle class and poor for even more in the future to ever increase these profits and the massive benefits for a few. This will lead to societal unrest even violence.

    As long as the Catholic Church follows the path of the fasciest,wealthy, Opus Dei, we ARE the problem. No ethical or moral solutions will come from our religion until ordinary people like us demand it. This is beginning to happen but perhaps what will really happen is a new myth and a spit off church. This is much more likely, plus the secular society of today is at least as ethical as is the RCC.

    Secularism, modernism, and relativism are not the ethical problems that the Opus Dei Church argues. The problem is the lack of ethics in a Ferengi, male, homophobic clericalism.