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Can King Midas Be Healed of his Sickness?

Healing from the sicknesses that injure us is rare because our longing for wholeness is so weak, easily diverted and quickly satisfied with many little gods.. We expect wholeness and healing from the king Midas who rules without opposition in our land.
Renovabis faciem terrae - Renew the Face of the Earth
By Dorothee Soelle

[This essay is translated from the German in: Wort und Antwort 37, July/Sept 1996.]

An ancient legend tells of king Midas who declares his wish to the god Dionysus. Midas desired that everything he touched should become gold. According to Ovid, he said: Transform everything that I touch with my hand into gold" (Metamorphoses XI, 100ff). Full of apprehension, the god nodded approval. A branch of the oak tree broken off by king Midas and a lifted stone became gold. When his servant served up a marvelous banquet with fruits and choice foods, he first noticed that gold can not be eaten...


Healing from the sicknesses that injure us is rare because our longing for wholeness is so weak, easily diverted and quickly satisfied with many little gods. This is connected with our concrete situation at the end of our millennium after the final victory of the free market. We expect wholeness and healing from the king Midas who rules without opposition in our land. He makes everything into gold, our forests into highways, our water into sewers and our air into a poison mixture. Simultaneously the number of millionaires increases in the land of king Midas. Impoverishment, indebtedness of many in the two-thirds world and one-third among us and enrichment of a few are related. Unrestricted growth is the king Midas principle. This economy of money multiplication was first possible through the suspension or abolition of space and time offered by computer technology. One of its most important characteristics is that money rapidly increases without producing anything useful.

"Every day a trillion dollars circulate in international trade. More than ninety percent of this money serves speculative ends" (DIE ZEIY, March 3, 1995). If the only goal of the economy is money multiplication, if the word "free" means that the true needs of people and the preservation of the earth have no significance for the economy, then our state is consistent. This follows from the so-called "free competition" in which women, children, senior citizens and the unemployed are as irrelevant as the limited provisions of nature. Why should business produce what is humanly useful, create jobs or test benign technologies when money multiplication is faster, more efficient and functions unencumbered by tax demands and social or ecological regulations?!

The most momentous change since the 1980s is the uncoupling of financial markets from productive investments. This system following the free play of forces is called "jobless growth". The monetary sphere is detached from the concrete economic sphere. Financial- and capital markets are "de-regulated", in other words cannot be called to account nationally or internationally. A business like Siemens, for example, gains only 30 percent of its profits from production and 70 percent from financial transactions. Why create jobs with money at hand, why introduce an ecological transformation if the goal of the economy is not a blossoming community but money multiplication and the subject is not the likeness of God created for love and work but a very different species, homo oeconomicus, who aside from this idol has nothing in its head? Thus our national societies develop in the same direction as the world society: the gulf between millionaires and the homeless widens more and more.


Are there ways out of this kind of riches? Can king Midas be healed of his sickness? Must the water of our grandchildren be contaminated and low lying lands flooded with the help of the unholy economy in which energy has no real price, distances mean nothing and local products are withheld from neighboring consumers? Must we sacrifice the real necessities of production and consumption to the fetish world market and its holiest practical constraint "globalization"? Must we accept the inner cultural side of this economic system, consumerism and fun, jokes and jests of all kinds?
The great economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), one of the fathers of liberalism, reflected skeptically and self-critically over the tension between religion and the economy. Economic progress, he insisted, is "only attainable when we exploit the human drives of selfishness which religion opposes and counsels traditional wisdom." In the first half of our century, he wrote, "the time for a return to some assured and most fundamental principles of religion - that avarice is a vice, usury a crime and love of money detestable"- has not yet come. Today in view of the ecological catastrophe, this time is at hand. We need a different relation to these two realities, creation and money. Nevertheless in the presence of these realities, we feel so powerless and mindless as though the breath of life does not blow any more.

The breathing sicknesses increase. However before the breath is taken from us, the spirit of life, the Ruach, the aspiration of freedom, the wind of change, falls away. Powerlessness, often wrapped and covered by cynicism, rules in us. Who has not been a spectator not only of the evening distribution of drugs but of one's own life! Without feeling God's breath, we are as dead as the dry bones of the dead that Ezekiel saw scattered on a field. Can these scattered bones become alive again", God asked the prophet. We should hear this question.


There is among us a spirituality of escapism, the flight from reality that - in many forms - promises to make us new. Learning to feel oneself again, recovering consciousness, coming to one's senses and preparing for prayer and immersion are important elements of the psycho-culture. Still in considering the abundant offers on the spiritual market, I often sense a deficiency in reality. The comfort in the psalms and the gospels seems hidden to me on account of their explicit unveiled reference to reality. I do not seek general contemplation. I do not want souls only to swing or dangle. The real trees on the earth are important to me. I would like to learn to pray for what is perhaps most important today, to plead for the Ruach, the goddess, to renew the face of the earth. Renovabis faciem terrae (Ps 104,30).
What is the meaning of the word "spirit"? Trust in the spirit and in the power of knowledge shriveled long ago. The beautiful old saying alive in the working class movement, "knowledge is power", once meant that education, knowledge and perception of connections can lead us out of the misery of exploitation and self-destruction. Workers voluntarily gained knowledge after a long grueling workday and then were suspected or derided if they were women. A kind of leadership and spiritual renewal was associated with knowledge.

Today, it seems to me, this ancient saying is inverted into its opposite. An elemental feeling that I bravely resist but cannot expel tells me knowledge has no strengthening power for conduct but only confirms our powerlessness. This shows and proves how desperate is the situation, whether regarding the economically useless, the spread of leukemia near our nuclear power plants, the number of street children in Brazil or the rehabilitation of the idea of a just war with all its consequences for industry and lucrative weapons exports. Our knowledge has little share in the power of life but essentially represents a death-knowledge. Whoever reads more and has more retrievable facts does not feel more powerful but more powerless and called to de-politization and retreat into private life, not resistance.


Is the spirit the same as knowledge? Is not something disordered in modern enlightened thought? Latin has two different words for the intellectual abilities and virtues of the person. Like many ancient languages, Latin distinguishes between scientia and sapientia. Scientia in our word science means knowledge, expertise, control, operating insight and a kind of know-how. This knowledge of objects objectifies what it wants to know to gain advantages.

Sapientia, usually translated as wisdom, insight or understanding, comes linguistically from "tasting" or "smelling". It refers back to a physical activity and is a rather hesitating conduct, a knowledge of life emphasizing the connection of individuals with the whole. The power of this kind of wisdom comes from humble learning, not from dominating. Wisdom was conceived as maternal and brooding like God's spirit over the waters before the creation, the Ruach, or calling to life as the wind, a power setting others in motion and overcoming all weariness, laziness, laxness and death.
Are scientia and sapientia connected? Our academica knowledge hardly inspires or leads to change. This academic knowledge ignores connections and is not given wings by visions. Death-knowledge plunges us into hopeless feelings of powerlessness and makes us increasingly cynical as though hope, vision and spirit were na´ve idealistic inventions.
Scientia without longing for sapientia is self-destructive. The imperial knowledge of utilizing or exploiting things allows neither the object nor the subject to be uninjured. The object becomes isolated and homeless while the subject becomes lonely. The whole syndrome of the absence of the spirit should be personally balanced in inner space or in an inner family homeliness despite what occurs outside so hostile to children, so destructive of nature, so violent and self-paralyzing. Religion could revitalize the scientia that hardly suspects how much it tastes of death and the other knowledge, wisdom, only empowering its private patients so to speak.

The longing for wisdom and the call for the goddess in the time of mindlessness presuppose a different culture of feelings, another kind of solidarity with things, nature and other persons. Sapientia and scientia need not exclude one another. That is a fundamentalist error to which not only fundamentalists of many religions succumb who defend themselves against the spirit of science to save a conventional way of life. Their enlightened cynical brothers beyond religion think just as exclusively. They declare the wisdom and the spirit that we cannot create and that blows where it will to be superfluous. They reduce themselves to scientia, in the terms of Max Weber to practicality, denial of meaning and self-abandonment. The civilization of the white man free of religion and bonds may actually come to an end without any protection and guidance by wisdom. He is weary, cynical and tedious. He has completely reduced his desires in life. He swims in "desireless unhappiness" as Peter Handke described.


Our real powerlessness is a consequence of spiritual powerlessness. If we take seriously the term spirituality, it represents another experience of empowerment as feminine theology proclaims. Petitioning the holy goddess and believing in her means having other desires than those that scientia can fulfill. Sapientia gives more than everything that can be explored, manufactured and purchased. The most important truth that our Christian brothers and sisters from the ecumene can teach us is to have different desires than those ruling over us on which we depend. In desireless unhappiness, we are spiritually dead, without the breath of the goddess.
Energy, movement and change belong to God's goddess. Perhaps the great hope binding us to her is to be alive, not hardened in our customs and our fears, to follow her and become her dwelling as many hymns sing: "Let us be your dwelling." "Come, dwell in us." The Ruach has no firm dwelling place but needs a dwelling. Where can the spirit or Ruach dwell if not in us?
In the Pentecost sequence of Stephen Langton "Veni Sancta Spiritus" around 1200 to which most of our Pentecost hymns appeal, the yearning was directed to the goddess:

Penetrate to our innermost soul.
Without your living breath
Nothing holy or healthy can abide.

Purify what is defiled.
Pour life into our dryness.
Heal where sickness torments,

Warm what is cold and hard,
Redeem what is congealed.
Guide what misses the way.

Making whole, healing, washing, moistening dryness, bringing the confused to the way, making harshness pliant and coldness warm are expressions describing what the motherly goddess does. She comforts us and holds us in her arms until we can hope, laugh and cry again. She orders us anew. In faith we are "born again" as new persons on the renewed earth.

Participating in this kind of wisdom means embarking on three fundamental themes of Christian existence today: justice, peace and the integrity of creation. In them the Ruach blows. No renewal of spirituality can occur as long as we close our minds to God's call. The goddess seeks a dwelling , even in our banks that absolutize the debt slavery of the poor. We can become free from dependence on the avarice that dictates our desires, allow other desires in our hearts and make them politically visible in our prayers, our processions, memorandums and everyday conduct. "In the path of righteousness is life", one of Solomon's proverbs proclaims (12,28). This is a way to be sought, not a state, as may be seen in the failure of both experiments of our century, communism and triumphant capitalism, before the questions of hunger, war and destruction of nature. In the way of injustice, as I understand the saying, is death. A more just world economic order, a nonviolent peace and a reconciliation of industrialism with creation are the conditions in which our desires can take wings again and our spirit-filled sons and daughters can learn to spell out another way of living. Healing and sharing belong together.


By Dorothee Soelle

[Is the post-modern friendly to women? Dorothee Soelle critically questions the "post-modern" culture from a feminist perspective. Her essay is translated from the German in: Offene Kirche 27, September 1996.]

The telephone rings. A woman tells me that she is from a Frankfurt church community doing a survey about religion. I declare my readiness and listen. "Let us assume that you meet a man in a good position, successful, healthy, satisfied, beautiful family life and so forth... who is an atheist. What would you say to him?" I reply: Something is missing to you. "What could that be?" Answer: the hunger and thirst for God's reign. She objects: "He has no hunger." I respond: Precisely. His stomach is full with other things. "Would you reproach him?" Of course!, I said. He thinks God is superfluous. "You are intolerant." Says the voice on the telephone. Somewhat confused, I ask: Do you want to discuss tolerance with me? "You reject the man", I hear, because he does not love God. I stutter. I wish him to be different. The answer comes immediately: "Behold, how intolerant you are!" I hang up the receiver.

I reflected over this failed conversation for a long time. The only value that is important and inalienable is tolerance. The greatest sin is to marginalize or exclude others. There are no standards according to which one could judge another initiative as dangerous, false or self-destructive. The either-or should give way to the both-and. We need not choose between different options; we should allow them to coexist. Ultimately everything is possible, "anything goes."


Raspberry and vanilla do not exclude each other. Why should there be a distinction between a firm that produces and delivers poison gas and one that manufactures children's beds! What is actually perverse about the bumper sticker summarizing the meaning of life with the words: eat, screw, television... ?

The culture that treats all things like raspberry or vanilla is described as "post-modern". It has its sophisticated forms in a new philosophy and its cheap forms in everyday life. The diplomatic telephone conversation belongs to the platitudes of the post-modern. A new feeling of life is expressed in the affluent society.

Is the post-modern friendly to women? Does it mix up the women's movement with other hopes of humanity to the dust bins of history? I hear much about tolerance but it is a tolerance with the free market as a model on which everything is possible if it is only purchased. That this market provides that the banana-picker today must work eight times as much to receive the same wages as ten years ago is no longer striking out of pure tolerance. An argumentative culture that could be a form of the search for truth is not needed.


The post-modern defines itself as the "order of radical plurality". In my native language, the Koln language, this means simply: "every fool is different". Koln persons assume with good reasons that all persons are "fools", at least at times. The philosophers speak of different "forms of discourse" (Lyotard) and language games. Discourse is called the basic model of world interpretation. Diversity and thinking in differences replaces identity. What is decisive in the post-modern is that a master discourse does not exist. There is no explanation of the world that can be accepted by everyone.

Acknowledgment of individuality and difference is not bound in common values that can be valid for everyone. Therefore the woman on the telephone could not at all understand my old-fashioned hunger and thirst for God's reign. Some have hunger and others are satiated, she seemed to say. The self-contentment of successful atheism is normal and unquestionable.


The moral imperative that follows from this radical openness of anything goes is: keep your options open, never commit yourself, something different is always possible. This may be true for a computer but is not true for beings who were born of a mother, inhabit the borrowed earth for a short time and die. Sophia, God's feminine form in the Bible, teaches that "everything has its time". We are not the lords and masters of time. That is one of the fundamental illusions of the patriarchal world-view.

Power on one side and justice on the other side seem uninteresting in the whole discourse of radical pluralism. As if everyone could peaceably sell their vanilla on the market if she wanted! The free flexible individual keeping open his options is presupposed as absolute in this orientation that recognizes no absolutes. The only being who dwells on this earth is the dashing, proficient, healthy, unattached wise young man. Community, mutual organization of life and solidarity with the not-so-proficient are not sought but considered the hobby of some specialists.


Women today discover here the patriarchal cloven hoof of the fashionable men's shoe. What is so hostile to women and anti-feminist in this polished mentality? Several interpretations come to mind. Robin Morgan, an American feminist, sees the enormously successful "genius of patriarchy" in its ability to dismember life, to subdivide it in little sections, prohibit all holistic thinking and develop a science based on "compartmentalization". It is an ancient women's experience that we cannot fit in these compartments of men and run aground again and again in the dismemberment. To give a personal example, I recently wrote a text on rape, starting from women in Yugoslavia and received it back from a newspaper with the remark that it was unsuitable for a foreign section! Must I first explain that a text on rape and the relation of the potential murder to the potential mother belongs to the arts or women's pages? The post-modern assumes this compulsory division very naively. The little sections are attractively aestheticized and enjoyable. We should forge that they are prisons without any air.

Freedom denotes self-realization of individuals. The conception of a unity of children and parents, of the healthy and handicapped, of workers and unemployed or even of the living and the dead (as I sought in my religious folly) in which both groups have rights must be abolished. Splintering and institutionalized fragmentation are essential to the post-modern culture. The intellect must be cut off from emotion and thought from action. Science is separated from art and so on.


Feminist criticism of the post-modern has emphasized this point and shown how fragmentation and splintering are first practiced through violent manipulations. The mutual dependence of the living must be denied; the limitation of resources does not fit the post-modern delusions of omnipotence. Individualization must be forced. Even today many people in the two-thirds world cannot imagine how a sick person alone on a hospital bed can become healthy, severed from the clan. In groups, relatives squat in the corridors of hospitals. Modernization, understood as individualization, has not reached them. Do they have to submit to the pressures of the post-modern and its systematic dissolution of solidarity in every human being and entity?
The post-modern does not raise the question of power but lets it sink in the rule of the simulated world. Its understanding of freedom is oriented in consumption. The expansion of individual possibilities becomes the essence of freedom. At last research has succeeded in providing fresh strawberries in the winter, the science section of the newspaper exclaims. For women, research has made possible pregnancy and birth of a child even after menopause. "Anything goes" and "keep your options open" stipulate one another and characterize the post-modern feeling of life.

A novel aesthetization of the whole life world arises for injuries. Religions are also subject to an aesthetization in the framework of post-modern arbitrariness. Value neutrality and pluralism lead to an attitude in which selection, accentuation and emphasis only follow aesthetic judgments of taste. "Does it feel good?" becomes the guiding question that ensues from "anything goes". Nevertheless the claim of feminism is not satisfied when individual middle-class women "feel good" now and then or receive half of the cake. Let us set out to bake completely different cakes.

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