Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.
President Grover Cleveland, State of the Union Address, December 3, 1888
We live in a corporatized world. Most of us either own stocks, have an IRA account, are a member of a union or church, live in an incorporated city, work for an NGO, own or work for a small, medium size business or a transnational corporation. These are different types of corporations. Some are non-profit (501c3), like unions, churches, NGOs, etc, and other are for profit corporations. The non-profit bodies are organized for public good and don’t have earnings as an ultimate concern, whereas moneyed corporations are comprised of shareholders who have an interest in profit oriented enterprises. That being said, moneyed corporate power has increased consistently ever since court challenges brought into question the nature of a human being, a natural person, versus that of a corporation, an artificial person. This began during the era of the robber barons with legal battles that have created a favorable environment for corporations eventually leading to the emergence of the Investor State. An outcome made possible by promoting an ambiguous understanding of the term person.
Many of the legal challenges began in the nineteenth century by lawyers who filed successive legal challenges on behalf of dominant railroad corporations, arguing that a corporation is a legitimate person with similar Fourteenth Amendment rights that were granted to former slaves. Since then, moneyed corporate influence has increased in proportion to its economic power as evidenced by successive Supreme Court victories in favor of corporate rights. These victories were matched with the successful corporate lobbying of congress. All of this has led to a corporate doctrine that has permeated our cultural mindset and changed the social, religious and political landscape of power.
Keep in mind that a corporation is invisible, immortal and in the case of the body of the transnational corporations, it is omnipresent and omnipotent. These attributes endowed this emerging power as a quasi-religion, making the transnational corporations, that has transcended into the “Investor State”, the most powerful economic body in the world. As a result it functions like a subliminal deity. In that capacity it has replaced institutionlized religions as the major purveyor of mediated doctrine settings the standard for human models of behavior. Role models that were typically managed by traditional religious institutions.
The following is a brief interpretation of how it happened.
Prior to his nomination as Supreme Court Chief Justice in 1874, Morrison Remick Waite was a successful attorney representing large corporations and railroads companies. In 1886 he presided over the Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Company supreme court case involving unpaid property taxes by the Southern Railroad Company. The case was ruled in favor of the defendant based on the argument that the Santa Clara county had no jurisdiction including the value of fences siding the tracks in its tax assessment of property value levied on the railroad company.
Nothing about this ruling is remarkable in itself and would have been lost in the annals of jurisprudence, except for a controversial comment made by Chief Justice Waite which has been used as legal justification in favor of moneyed corporations ever since. The statement was not part of a ruling, nor part of the opinion of a majority or minority of the Court; nonetheless it’s been accepted as quasi-legal precedent. Keep in mind that the Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Company case was not about a ruling on the meaning that any person, including a corporation, had equal rights protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The chief legal adviser for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company was a lawyer and former judge named S. W. Sanderson. He was know for his view that a corporation was a person under the Constitution and should be treated the same as natural person ̶ a human being. He used this argument to prove that the provisions of the Constitution and laws of California are in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, an opinion that was most likely shared by the Chief Supreme Court Justice who made this comment in the case:
The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.
The lead lawyer for the Santa Clara County was a man named Delphin M. Delmas, also known as the silver-tongued orator of the west. He made a passionate plea against the fallacy put forth by the defense:
To my mind, the fallacy, if I may be permitted so to term it, of the argument lies in the assumption that corporations are entitled to be governed by the laws that are applicable to natural persons. That, it is said, results from the fact that corporations are [artificial] persons, and that the last clause of the of the Fourteenth Amendment refers to all persons without distinction.
One of the reasons the quote by Chief Justice Waite gained accepted legal status is because it was recorded by a court reporter named J. C. Bancroft Davies as a head note and published in a collection of Supreme Courts Reports (1885-1886). Davies held several jobs throughout his career. Among them he was a journalist, an assistant secretary of State and a US diplomat. He was also the president of the Newburgh and New York Railway Company. In 1883 he became the Reporter of Decision of the Supreme Court of the United Sates. In his capacity of recorder he published and interpreted Waite’s statement above as follows:
The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
To this day the non-ruling head note of corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment has been inadvertently accepted as a matter-of-fact.
I leave it to the reader to interpret Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment and make his or her own mind as to the meaning of any person which is believed here to refer to all persons born or naturalized in the United States.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
In order to redress what is considered to be a misinterpretation of the meaning of any person, various semantic and literary analogies are used to help clarify essential differences between a natural and artificial person.
Dr. Frankenstein and the creation of a person in his own image
In Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, the author recounts the story of a science student named Victor Frankenstein who creates a person in his own image; an Adam of his labors. This creation turns out to be a vindictive killer responsible for the murders of Victor’s brother and his childhood friend. The killings were committed by the creature as an act of revenge for being lonely and rejected by society because of his hideous looks. As a result the monster demands that Victor create a female companion to cure his loneliness and to enable him to procreate like a human being. Feeling threatened, Victor at first agrees and proceeds to create a mate, but then relents and destroys the female companion out of fear that they will procreate and create havoc in society. The monster finds out the doctor’s action. In retaliation he murders Victor’s newly wed wife Elisabeth. The story ends with Dr. Frankenstein in pursuit of the monster in order to destroy his wretched creation. After a long chase Victor dies in the North Pole without completing his mission. Upon finding out of his creator’s death, the creature wanders in the freezing wilderness seeking death.
Shelley’s book is a literary creation and the creature is a fictional person. In a similar fashion a corporation is a literary creation, more precisely a juridical artifact described as an artificial person. Both of these creations are fictional and are made in the image of man. The term man here does not relate to gender but to the creative properties of an individual being.
There is an essential distinction between a naturally born being and an artificial person, a creature of the law. The first is a unique individual while the second consists of two or more individuals, referred to as a “body” which is synonymous with corporation.
The original meaning of person -persona- is a mask used by an actor playing a role in a drama or in life. Hence, it is a guise played by a character in a play or movie. This sense has somehow changed since the nineteenth century when the term person came to be understood as a human being. The period corresponds to the growth of moneyed corporations during the Industrial Revolution exemplified by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company legal case.
The first thing to understand is the difference between the natural person and the fictitious person called the corporation. They differ in the purpose for which they are created, in the strength which they posses, and in the restraints under which they act.
Man is the handiwork of God and was placed upon earth to carry a Divine purpose; the corporation is the handiwork of man and created to carry out money-making policy.
William Jennings Bryan
What relevance does a quote from a congressman who lived in an era when it was acceptable to make Christian references to God to a world that is overwhelmingly secularized? Foremost, it shows how far secularization has unfolded in our cultures today.
Secondly, a corporation is man’s creation. In this sense it is a legally modified organism that is challenging the premise of creation described in Genesis that God created Adam and Eve in his image. He created them male and female in order that they procreate the divine essence of life to reproduce, multiply and take dominion over the world. The argument here is that although the corporation is comprised of human beings, and as such is a body, it is not an individual and does not have the biological capacity to reproduce.
For the purpose of this analysis, I rely on basic functions of religion as they are appear in our cultures. They relate to the Roman experience of religio centered on a dynamic attribute of the sacred that establishes a separation, a buffer zone if you will, between beings and things that are sacred from beings and things that are common and ordinary. The word religion has many definitions and varies with various religious perspectives and experiences. The function of separation between the sacred and the profane is nonetheless found in most religions past and present. As a parenthesis, there are several examples of separation between the chosen/holy/sacred, and the common/unclean/impure in the Jewish holy scriptures, but there is no Hebrew word for religion. Whereas, in the New Testament the term is used as the scriptures were written in Greek by people who lived under the influence and control of the Roman empire.
Let’s steer away from a Judeo-Christian concept of procreation and use a more pagan example of fertility. We owe the Romans the terms for religion, person, corporation and Genius. The meaning of soul ̶ animous/anima ̶ is closely related to the word Genius, meaning to cause to be born. Genius is a specific attribute of male fertility distinct from the female property of giving birth represented by the goddess of childbirth Juno/Lucina. Genius is a unique personality, a physical and moral sum each one of us embodies at birth. According to the Romans, this essence of life has a divine origin. Hence, Genius signifies two converging principles, life common to all human beings and the unique aspect of life each individual incarnates when we are born. Every human being is unique yet part of the whole mystery of life. The essence of life is immortal. And although the individual dies, life goes on after his or her death through the natural and human capacity to procreate.
In a more related context, the Declaration of Independence is considered a sacred text. It is sacred precisely because it is set apart from other ordinary documents on the grounds that it outlines the creation and the historical foundation of the United States of America. In similar fashion to our analogies of religion, the text describes the act of Separation from the Political Bands of the king and corporations that have abused and usurped the rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness of We the People. More to the point the document was signed by the Founding Fathers. In terms of literary criticism the term Fathers is a metonymy: A figure of speech that refers to procreating fathers and mothers having children born in the United States constituting the people.
A metonymy is a figure of speech that uses one word of one thing for another of which it is an attribute; like, the White House for the people working in the oval office; or, church as the physical building referring to the worshipers in the temple.
Before we go any further, the meaning of secularization needs clarification. It is commonly understood as a decrease in church attendance and a declining role played by institutionalized religion in society. This idea about secularism is somewhat misleading and is the result of an assimilation of religion with Christianity, the consequence of Christendom having dominated the western cultures for many centuries. However, secularization does not mean that the secular world is devoid of any religious dimension or that contemporary culture has rejected the sacred. What the term implies is that the core function of religion has morphed elsewhere. In periods of cultural change the sacred inconspicuously metamorphoses in other hierarchical power schemes.
The Surfing Madona Mural – Incinitas, CA
The following are some examples of the sacred from one religious/sphere to another. They show how corporate empowerment was made possible by the conversion of language. Words and symbols that are the creative endeavor and human heritage are being converted into highly protected logos and corporate trademarks that are legally protected with unlimited financial resources.
The first Olympiads were essentially a religious ceremony created in honor of Zeus, the dominant god of the Greek pantheon. Today the Olympiad is an international sporting event involving most countries on the planet. They have been taken over by official sponsors consisting of the biggest transnational corporations in the world. The games have the same function as they did originally; namely celebrating competition, victory, and instituting order and hierarchy. This is accomplished by not only separating the contestants from the audience, the victors from the competition, but also separating the special status of the gods and winners from the masses. Mainly, the Games were a ritual to commemorate the status of the gods. Today the separation consists in elevating corporate trademarks and logos from the masses of ordinary words and symbols. Nike for instance, who was the Greek god of victory, is today the name of a powerful transnational corporation.
December 25th was originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice. It later became the date of the celebration of the birth of Christ, although there is no historical data to support that Jesus was born on that day. Now Christmas has reverted back to a period of consumerism. The change shows that the sacred dedication of a holiday switches back and forth between different religious belief systems. It is not the intrinsic nature of certain beings and things or their representations that are sacred, it is the underlying incursion of power established by hierarchy that proceeds to separate and confer different levels of status of sacredness on beings and things.
The word economy has evolved from a theological meaning of the divine government of the world to the art of managing the resources of the people and of its government. The conversion is attributed to renowned anti-clerics like Voltaire and his contemporaries who were successful business men. Following the aftermath of the Reformation and the development of the Renaissance, a wave of freethinkers and monarchs from various countries challenged the moral and political power of the Church in Rome. During the declining power of the Holy See, kings felt justified in confiscating the Church’s vast property in order to finance their conquests and wars. Hence, the original meaning of secularization was the confiscation of Church property by potentates or worldly powers for monetary ends. This confiscation also applies to religious language, symbols and icons.
In most minds Santa Claus is an American Icon. This notion overshadows the fact that Santa is a conversion of Saint-Nicholas. The result of fictional alterations of an historical figure created by advertising, framing the image of the Santa as we know him today. Only since 1773 has he been known as Santa Claus and perceived as a secular figure rather than a saint. The transformation of Saint-Nicholas was made possible with the help of various media; newspaper articles, poems, books, postcards, sketches and advertising. Santa became a mythical icon conjured from a patchwork of different sources no longer Saint-Nicholas or Sinterklaas. He is an entirely different person transformed into a venerated icon by the media. His mission is no longer to help children in distress but to be a consecrated agent of marketable goods.
From its early settlement and until the nineteen sixties, the US was a predominantly Christian nation. Sunday was still observed as a day of prayer, of church going and of rest. The Lord’s Day was considered a religious holy-day. Like the Sabbath, it was set apart by God for a time of worship and rest, separate from the other ordinary days. With the spread of TVs in people’s living rooms the sacred attribute of Sunday would slowly change and be phased out of the religious framework of the nation. The day of rest was converted into a day of business as usual, enabling an additional day of consumer spending. A change was taking place in the religious fabric of America. Market forces and secularism was shifting the sacred allocation of time and worship elsewhere.
The decline of institutional religious influence over the population was made possible by the advent of media. The preaching of the good news shifted from the clergyman in church to TVs in people’s living rooms and in temples like the theaters. This event promoted a proliferation of new religious movements (NRM). Some examples include, the Hollywood star system, the pop-rock star phenomenon and the professional sports system, endorsed by a consumer oriented culture propagated by the media. The important thing to remember is the function of the sacred: To separate and establish a boundary between the sacred sphere of the promoters/idols/stage and the followers/fans/audience. In Kanye West’s song I am a god. It is not West who is a god but his image consecrated by the the media that is a god.
Marshall McLuhan explained: “The “content” of any medium is always another medium… the “medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and forms of human association and action.”
The content of mass-media is a myriad of moneyed corporations. Its message shapes human association that eventually evolved into the Investor State. Although a new comer, the the legal notion of Investor State is the result of consistent legal battles, political lobbying and media promotion of the artificial person impersonating a human being. The corporate empowerment has currently assumed a dominant function in the economy and in politics as evidenced by the involvement of the Investor State in trade agreements with countries around the world.
As we conclude, we as citizens have a civic duty to question the incursion of transnational corporations in the public sphere and inquire about the impending challenges posed by the Investor State. Among the questions we need to ask is: What legitimacy does this Investor State have? A state is by definition an organized political community living under a single system of government. On whose authority did the Investor State become a state? Who are the members of this corporate body and who are its financial backers?
It is important to stress that transnational corporations are indispensable and have an essential role to play in the world economy. However, their role is to be the servant of the people not the people’s masters. A public debate is needed in order to clarify the function and limits of the Investor State in respect to elected governments to establish a balanced and healthy relationship between the rights of human beings and those of corporations.
The post has been hacked and replace with the following paragraph that included a link to the original posting:
The resurrection of the body of Christ is a central Christian creed. Most believe in the literal meaning of the word resurrection about an individual’s resumption of one’s personal life after his or her death. Paul letters’ reveal the resurrection of the body of Christ is about faith that is rooted in the commitment to Jesus’ commandment of love your neighbor. According to Paul the word “body” means the members of the Church. A body that was exalted Lord with the resurrection. As such it is sovereign and stands above the tyranny of the worldly powers.
The Risen Lord: On Sovereignty and Tyranny
The description of the resurrection has been modified as: “an individual resumption of one’s personal life after his or her death”. Yet nowhere in Paul’s letters, especially those that scholarly consensus attribute to Paul authorship, namely: Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Corinth, Philippians and Philemon, does the apostle describe the “literal meaning” of the resurrection in those terms. Furthermore, it is not what “most” believe that is a justification for faith. And I challenge the perpetrator to show me where in the Gospels the resurrection is defined as the “resumption” of one’s “personal life” after death.
The hacker implies that belief rather than faith should predominate and that believers are Christians because of a reward for their beliefs rather than a commitment to the meaning of the Word. And that one should not interfere with a popular “belief” about Paul’s exaltation of the body of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.
More important: Why didn’t the hacker include his comment via a regular posting instead hacking the page? This might have initiated a healthy discussion.
Every year as winter sets in, people go through a yearly ritual called the Holidays. For some, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, a religious event. For others, it’s a secular season of gift giving and receiving. For most, it’s a consumer regimented event. Weeks prior December 25th, the mainstream media revives images of a mythical Santa Claus to set in motion a festive mood that will entice consumer spending. In most minds Santa Claus is an American icon, the result of newspapers’ fictional alteration of Saint Nicholas and the contribution of advertising that framed the image of the Santa as we know it today. Yet only since 1773 has he been known as Santa Claus and perceived as a secular icon rather than a Saint. This beckons the question: How did this transformation occur? Is it truly a secular transition or a market driven substitution of a sacred figure?
Saint Nicholas was a bishop of Myra, a city now part of Turkey, during the 4th century AD. He was known for kindness and generosity to children. One account of his life reveals that he gave gold coins as a marriage dowry to three girls in order to save them from prostitution. Legend also has it that he threw money from windows to poor children while remaining hidden. Regardless of his kindness, he was imprisoned during the most ruthless persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian. He was released from prison during the rule of Emperor Constantine. He is officially celebrated on December 6th, the day of his death. The Church documented several miracles that occurred during his life. He was canonized and became a patron Saint of children.
Soon after Saint Nicholas’ death his reputation grew in his country and abroad. He was buried in Myra and by the 6th century, the burial grounds became the site of a popular shrine. In 1087, a band of Italian sailors who heard stories about Saint Nicholas took it upon themselves to steal the Saint’s remains and bring them back to their home town of Bari. Once his remains were in Italy, the Saint’s popularity spread all over the country. A basilica was built to shelter Saint Nicholas’ relics and in time the shrine became one of most popular pilgrimage centers in the country.
A few years later, a French knight named Charles Aubert traveling through Bari took a piece of the relic and brought it back home. The relic became a sanctuary and the site of the basilica of Saint-Nicholas Le Port, near Nancy France. From Bari, the celebrated protector of children made its way to the east and north of France. Over the next 700 years his cult would spread to Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and beyond – so much so that a great part of Europe celebrated a holiday of Saint Nicholas, patron of children.
The Reformation put a hold on the saint’s devotion in Germany and throughout the Protestant world. Martin Luther did not look kindly on the domineering power of Rome and its veneration of saints. Nonetheless, the devotion to the saint persisted in the Netherlands and in order to circumvent Luther’s admonition, the saint became known as Sinterklaas, a man dressed in a long red robe with a white beard who brings gifts and candy to children on December 6th.
Centuries later, a number of Dutch immigrants who sailed to the New World brought the devotion of their Saint with them.They landed on a shore that they named New Amsterdam. It did not take long before the prized piece of real estate was coveted by English-speaking settlers. In the aftermath of the Anglo-Dutch war, the city became known as New York. The varied nationalities established themselves in different neighborhoods and coexisted somewhat peacefully. The Dutch kept their cultural traditions, including the celebration of Sinterklaas on December 6th. The English-speaking population took a liking to the patriarchal figure and adopted him. Unable to pronounce Sinterklaas, they instead named him Santa Claus. According to journalistic annals, the official Americanized name made its first appearance in a New York City newspaper in 1773.
Christian faithful of the New World ended with two holidays dedicated to children in the same month; the first on December 6th dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and the second on December 25th celebrating the birth of Christ. Americans, known for their propensity to simplify things, combined the two holidays into one. What was once the celebration of a Saint and of the birth of Christ became a festivity dedicated to children and gift-giving.
In A History of New York, a book written by Washington Irving in 1809, Saint Nicholas was no longer depicted as “lanky bishop,” but portrayed as a portly bearded man who smokes a pipe with a peculiar habit of coming down chimneys. The book was meant to be a parody about the overindulgence of New York City inhabitants living in exuberant wealth. Nonetheless, the account of a chubby character who was able descend a chimney ironically became part of “Santa’s” accepted behavior.
On December 23, 1823, the Sentinel, a newspaper based in Troy, New York, printed a Christmas poem by Clement Clark Moore entitled, A Visit From St. Nicholas. The story depicted Saint Nick as a broad faced character, “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf” dressed in white fur spotted with ash and soot. The poem introduced the idea of Santa traveling through the cold night skies in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. The American poem seemingly captured the imagination of readers and its popularity spread all over the country. Santa Claus was slowly overshadowing the story of an old Bishop riding on a cart pulled by an equally aging donkey.
What Moore conjured up with words, Thomas Nast framed Santa’s image with sketches. Nast’s portraits of Father Christmas were seemingly inspired by New York writers and journalists rather than a by a concern of reproducing a historic Saint. Over the years he added varied details of his own about St. Nick’s personal life, including that the he lived in the North Pole. From 1863 to the turn of the century, Nast’s depictions eventually established a framework of what Santa Claus would look like. One memorable print shows Santa depicted with children sitting on his knees enumerating their Christmas presents wish list.
During the course of the nineteenth century, Santa was depicted wearing costumes of varied colors. Prior to red, he was pictured in white, green and purple dress. In Nast’s first sketch, Santa was dressed in a patriotic star and stripes costume. In his later renditions the red suit was the preferred color, perhaps to keep with the tradition of Sinterklaas’ long red robe. However, Santa could hardly take care of business wearing a long robe, so the Americanized Father Christmas was dressed in a more sporty attire consisting of a short coat, bonnet, sizable belt and boots to face winter and sneak down chimneys.
Further contribution to imprint Santa’s image was introduced by Louis Prang with his Christmas postcards. Prang is known as the “father of the Christmas card” for starting this commercial tradition of buying and sending Christmas cards. This custom originated in England in 1874 and it spread to the United States a few years later. His first Christmas card was created in 1885 depicting Santa in a red costume.
A side note: The bodily contrast between the meager Saint and the modern portly Santa reflects the perception that corpulence has been regarded throughout the ages as a sign of wealth and material abundance. In this regard, Santa reflected the US’ growing economic wealth, generosity and power.
Then came the tradition of a live Santa in department stores. The custom was introduced in 1980 by James Edgar, a Massachusetts businessman who is credited with coming up with the idea of having a Santa impersonator attract customers to his store. This marketing tool was so successful that children from all over the state dragged their parents to see Santa in Edgar’s dry goods store.
The most memorable contribution to Santa’s image was made during the roaring 1920s. In order to promote drinking cold drinks in winter, the management of a famous cola drink hired an established advertising agency to begin a nationwide campaign by placing ads in popular magazines. The image of Santa that is most recognizable today is attributed to illustrations created by Haddon Sundblom, who relied on Moore’s poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, as an inspiration to draw his portraits. As it happens, red and white were the official colors of the famous soft drink company and, thereafter Santa has been portrayed as a jovial and plump father figure in red and white attire.
World War II
In 1939, the United States was still struggling to revive a stagnant economy that began with great depression. The following years, young men of legal age were sent abroad to fight the dual evils of dictatorship and fascism while older men and women stayed at home to engineer and single-handedly build the greatest industrial powerhouse in the world. The US and its allies’ victory created an economic prosperity that would last several decades and a recovery that also lifted the Old World out of its economic doldrums.
The American troops that landed on the shores of Italy and France pushed back the occupying forces into a final retreat. The victory gave way to a welcome reception to soldiers who freely shared their name brand supplies with the people: chewing gum, cigarettes, soft drinks, music, movies and Santa Claus. The war liberated a great part of Europe and it just happens that the military also opened a new market for corporate America’s goods. For most Europeans, US soldiers were generous liberators carrying with them precious gifts; a relief from years of rations and starvation. However, not everybody felt the same way about their generosity.
On December 23, 1951, a priest set an effigy of Santa Claus on fire in front of the Cathedral of Dijon. The priest was venting his indignation toward a growing popularity of Santa Claus who he considered to be a poor travesty of an honorable Saint.
Secularization and the Sacred
The priest from Dijon might have been overly touchy about his religious devotion. He might also have been alerted by the invasion of a foreign symbol representing globalization. He nonetheless embodied a concern about an irrevocable shift in the representation of the sacred in popular culture. This process is referred to as secularization, which is commonly understood as a decrease in church attendance. A more apt description is when various elements of human life cease to be administered by religious institutions. Whereas, the historical definition of secularization is the confiscation of Church property by the State or a sovereign for worldly ends. In other words, the priest was objecting to the transfer – or symbolic confiscation – of a religious figure being converted it into an idol for commercial purposes.
The transformation of Saint Nicholas was made possible with the help of various media: newspaper articles, poems, books, postcards, sketches and advertising. Santa became a mythical icon conjured from a patchwork of different sources. As a result, he is no longer Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas. He is an entirely different character transformed into a media deity, a supernatural being whose mission is no longer helping children in distress but an agent of marketable goods.
For the sake of clarity, the term “media” is simply the plural of “medium.” And, in respect to secularization, the media has become the new intermediary between the providers of goods and services and the consumer. In a postmodern era, corporate media has imposed itself as the provider of the good news. It displaced the priesthood as the mediator between the sacred and the believers and imposed itself as a technological medium to the people. It provides televised models of conduct setting new grounds for acceptable behavior, a prerogative previously held by the priesthood concerned with moral principles. In time, the media became the gateway to an unlimited source of worldly gratification, a technological medium between an invisible power source that sets apart new standard for the sacred and the ordinary viewer: The purveyor of amoral forms of behavior.
Believers used to congregate in churches to celebrate their venerable Saint; now they assemble in malls to meet Santa and shop. What is at stake is more than a transfer of the sacred for a commercial use, but a challenge to the traditional role played by the priesthood. Priests, ministers and reverends are intermediaries between God and the faithful. They are agents that interpret the Word of God and administer rites to facilitate access to the divine. In essence, they are a living medium that connects the holy and the common believer; a medium that bridges the supernatural and the ordinary believer.
Secularization has not eliminated the sacred. It merely shifted its quality elsewhere. As a result of the vast economic development and the control of mainstream media by the market forces, Santa was elevated as a name-brand idol. It has shifted peoples’ alliance to a different form of devotion. Although the sacred today does not have the same religious meaning as it did in the past, it is regenerated with the same dynamic principle namely that in order to be sacred a being has to be set apart from the ordinary and common sphere; as supernatural and otherworldly. In our day and age, the media at the beset of the corporate market forces is the new power source that establishes sacred representations permeating popular culture.
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Christmas and December 25th
In 274 AD Emperor Aurelius decreed the celebration of Sol Invictus – the “Unconquered Sun,” god patron of soldiers of the later Roman Empire, to be celebrated on December 25th. Less than a century later the Christian hierarchy had settled in Rome. In 354 AD, in order to settle a growing dispute regarding Jesus’ birth date and to foster peace among the increasingly diverse cultural backgrounds of Christian converts, Pope Liberius dedicated December 25th as the commemoration of the birth of Jesus. The Church had no factual evidence on the historical date of Jesus’ birth; nonetheless, the magisterium decided that a reasonable way to displace the pagan celebration of Sol Invictus would be to replace it with the commemoration of the birth of the Son of God.
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He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past.
Regardless of the covert encroachment of the Internet by the varied security States, cyberspace is nonetheless altering the jurico-political landscape of the world. Fugitive Edward Snowden’s legal status personifies what Giorgio Agamben describes as a homo sacer – a sacred man. In his book sharing the same title, Agamben explores the significance of this archaic Roman legal figure in conjunction with the concept of sovereignty elaborated by Carl Schmitt in his book, Political Theology . In light of the state of exception relating to Edward Snowden’s legal status, one is left to conclude that he does not only fit the portrait of a homo sacer but that he is also a paradigm of sovereignty in respect to the uncharted domain of the Internet.
Although the idea of sacred has retained some its original Roman meaning, today it is mostly associated with a religious attribute relating to specific people, objects and places rather than establishing a ritual process of setting apart. In Roman religio , sacer meant “all that is the property of the gods,” and “that which has been dedicated and consecrated to the gods;” hence, what is separated from the profane – the common, the unclean or the impure, etc. In essence, this setting apart is a dynamic that establishes a buffer zone, if you will, between the sacred and the profane, conferring a special status to one as opposed to the other, legitimizing hierarchy and instituting order; the mortals being the disposable players of a power play justified by the gods.
The Latin expression of homo sacer has been translated into “sacred man” and is defined as an individual who either broke an oath made to the gods, committed perjury or for moving markers that determine property limits and rights. Offenses that were considered to jeopardize the good relationship between citizens and the gods, compromising the peace and prosperity of Rome. As a result, the offender is set apart for his breach of trust and could only be punished by the gods. And, according to prescribed rules, it is not permitted to sacrifice him. Yet he could be killed without the killer being regarded a murderer. Hence, homo sacer stands in a fuzzy no-man’s land by being a previous member of a privileged circle – sharing the same status as his patrons – yet accursed for his breach of trust and banned from society.
While in Hong Kong in May 2013, Snowden released numerous secret documents to the press. Much of the secret activities were already suspected by a great number of people; however, the documents consisted of more than a description of secretive conduct, but proof that these government agencies were conducting mass surveillance on its citizens – surveillance that Snowden considered to be illegal and in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Edward Snowden is a former government system administrator who later worked as a private security consultant contracted by the State. With his revelations, he exposed some of the inner working of the government’s secret agencies, showing that public and private sectors are closely aligned and form a coherent body, referred to in some circles as the fourth branch of government, whose budget is kept secret as a matter of national security. During the media blitz against the renegade, it was revealed that his job was highly remunerative. And although he worked in the private sector, his firm was contracted by the government and his salary was subsidized by tax payers’ money.
Snowden worked in the public and private sectors, connected to both worlds. From the perspective of his former employers, his revelations were considered a tacit breach of trust. As a result, on June 14 th the Department of Justice charged Snowden with violating the antiquated Espionage Act and for theft of government property. On June 22 nd , the State Department revoked his passport and as a result he remained stranded in Moscow’s airport. On August 1 st , he was granted one year of temporary asylum in Russia. At the end of the one year term he was granted an additional three years of asylum.
As a US citizen and former government employee, Snowden made an oath of allegiance to the United States of America to support and defend the Constitution and its laws against foreign and domestic enemies. Based on his confessions, Edward Snowden made classified documents public in order to “cure the abuse of government” and fight against the “banality of evil” – an expression attributed to Hannah Arendt – and because the secret agency was violating the Fourth Amendment. In his defense, he stated that he did not benefit personally from the disclosures and that he made the documents available to journalists so that the public could decide what type of country they wanted to live in.
Snowden betrayed the trust of both his public and private employers, compromising a covert and unrestricted surveillance of the Web. His revelations have been perceived not only as a threat to national security, but also a jeopardy to the growth of the security and surveillance industrial complex. As a result, several death threats were made against his life. Some of them were anonymous; others made by public figures. And it is possible to assume that if an individual who felt betrayed by Snowden’s disclosures would take it upon himself to take him down, that the killer’s identity would never be revealed to the public or that he would be prosecuted for murder.
What is more, his entire existence is reduced to a bare life stripped of every right by virtue of the fact that anyone can kill him without committing a homicide; he can save himself only in perpetual flight or a foreign land. And yet he is in a continuous relationship with the power that banished him precisely insofar as he is at every instant exposed to an unconditioned threat of death. He is pure zoe (life common to all living beings), but his zoe is as such caught in the sovereign ban and must reckon with it at every moment finding the best way to elude or deceive it. In this sense, no life, as exiles and bandits know well, is more “political” as this. (Agamben)
In Judeo-Christian religious tradition, God is the ultimate sovereign. According to Schmitt, political power is modeled on God’s creation; the world is literally created out of nothingness for the purpose of instituting a semantic order, providing instructions and the law. Prior to the Renaissance, the world was perceived solely in theological terms, based on the certainties revealed in the scriptures with the king and the pontiff being the legitimate representatives of God on earth. As such, God is the only power able to sanction an earthly sovereign of his choice. Schmitt explains:
All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development – in which they were transferred from theology to theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver – but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology. Only by being aware of this analogy can we appreciate the manner in which the philosophical ideas of the state developed in the last centuries.
Hence, the central concepts of the theory modern of state are all secularized theological concepts. Schmitt quotes Hobbes to show that the exception in jurisprudence is analogous to a miracle in theology. Thus, believing in a miracle is an act for faith: Faith in God’s revelation of his chosen messiah or king – Lord/sovereign. As such, a miracle is more about a sign of election of a person involved in a miracle rather than the work of wonder itself. Very few people witness an actual miracle. As it happens, miracles related in the scriptures are mediated events; in the sense that they are described in narrative form.
Whether God alone is sovereign, that is, the one who acts as his acknowledged representative on earth, or the emperor, or prince, or the people, meaning those who identify directly with the people, the question is always aimed at the subject of sovereignty, at the application of the concept to a concrete situation (Schmitt).
A sovereign is a person with supreme powers within a defined jurisdiction. The definition also implies that he is free from external controls. A sovereign has the power to establish a state of exception. Whereby in a “state of emergency” a head of state – acting as a sovereign – can suspend the constitution in the event that the public good or security of the people are threatened. As a result, a sovereign stands inside and outside the law.
Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.
Only this definition can do justice to a borderline concept. Contrary to the imprecise terminology that is found in popular literature, a borderline concept is not a vague concept, but one pertaining to the outermost sphere. (Schmitt)
Carl Schmitt makes a distinction between the State and politics. The first is comprised of the agencies and departments that form a government – it does not change from election to election. Whereas, politics consists of the election of representatives to govern the State for the benefit of the people. In a democracy, the two interact and the peoples’ representatives rule. In a dictatorship, the two conflate and the State rules. In respect to the historical background in which Schmitt lived, he was understandably concerned about the dangers of the State becoming “a huge industrial plant” that runs by itself where “the paternalistic element in the concept of sovereignty is lost.”
The modern idea of the state replaces the personal force of the king, with the spiritual forces of the law. And only if these forces are perceived to be spiritual they will be obeyed voluntarily (Schmitt).
War on Terror & the State of Exception
In a war, laws with the enemy are suspended. Economic exchange is banned. And in a declaration of war, all lines of communication between the warring parties are broken. The term “War on Terror” was first used by President Bush in response to the attack on 9/11. This beckons the question: How is an enemy identified as “terror”? It is noted that President Obama no longer uses the term, he uses the expression “Overseas Contingency Operations,” instead. The expression “War on Terror” is no longer part of an official government policy. However, the slogan is still being used by the media and its pundits as a well-publicized agenda implying that a state of exception is ongoing.
By virtue of its monopoly on politics, the state is the only entity able to establish friends from enemies and thereby demand its citizens subservience. (Agamben)
In light of Edward Snowden’s revelations, it seems that in our media-centered cultures an open debate about the Internet and its sphere of influence has been overshadowed in favor of a state of exception. Agamben explains in his book, State of Exception, that in times of crisis a government, a branch of government, or any of its agencies can use a perceived threat to its security in order to implement a state of exception whereby parts of the Constitution, free speech or individual rights can be diminished or even suspended.
Snowden, in a similar manner to homo sacer, could not be sacrificed. As a result of the nature of his conviction he could not be judged in a regular trial. Under the Espionage Act, Snowden could not defend himself before a jury in an open court and unable to explain the reason for his actions to the public. In a regular trial he would be asked to expose additional information deemed to be a threat to national security.
What he doesn’t say are that the crimes that he’s charged me with are crimes that don’t allow me to make my case. They don’t allow me to defend myself in an open court to the public and convince a jury that what I did was to my benefit. … So it’s, I would say, illustrative that the President would choose to say someone should face the music when he knows the music is a show trial. (Snowden)
Snowden’s work as security consultant for both the public and private sectors led him to realize that he was caught in a legal dilemma; faced with a choice to either betray the trust of his employers or renege on an oath allegiance, he chose to side with the Constitution. A decision that resulted in being banned by the State. However, in an unexpected twist – thanks to the Internet – it is the state of exception that has been put on trial. Whereas Snowden became the focus of attention and the instigator of a relevant political debate on mass surveillance.
Herein lies the paradox: the Internet stands in a jurico-political outermost domain. Right or wrong, Snowden made a genuine decision and used the Internet to reveal his concerns about a perceived violation of the Constitution. However, his decision resulted in an indictment and the revocation of his passport. As a result, Snowden is unable to leave Russia but able to express his views to the world using the Internet. The government can control his travel, but not his freedom of speech. He is banned by the State, but a sovereign being mediated by the Internet.
According to Snowden, the Internet is a “technological equalizer” – it allows an individual like him to stand up to overreaching and overpowering systems. Keeping in mind that the Internet consists of hardware located in different countries. It is a medium that stands in a juridico-political outermost domain yet undefined by international law.
Even Hollywood could not have come up with a better plot or more intriguing character than our stranded ex-security consultant, whose disclosures propelled him from secure anonymity to controversial notoriety. The irony is that Russia, not known for being a champion of human rights, has granted political asylum to a US ex-secret consultant. And that Edward Snowden, an American former consultant working for the surveillance state, will end up being a paradigm of sovereignty of the Internet.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of Christianity’s most central creed. It is also one that is subject to literal as well as spiritual interpretations. The contention between the two stems from a lexical ambiguity of the term “body,” a word that, in respect to spiritual salvation, signifies a group of believers; an assembly, hence the Church, rather than the anatomy, the flesh. The Good News proclaimed by Paul and the Apostles reveals that despite the crucifixion, the Lord has risen and is present among his believers. The cross is the symbol of tyranny of this world that consists of the political, legal and priestly institutions that have judged and condemned Jesus for claiming to be the Son of God and the Messiah. Thus, the Good News proclaims that although the worldly powers attempted to dispose of Jesus by putting him to death, he was exalted and risen from the dead. With his passion and resurrection of the mystical body of Jesus Christ, the living Church is henceforth sovereign and risen above the tyranny of this world.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Rom 12:4)
What is conveyed by certain words in the Bible is different from their ordinary, everyday use. Many of the terms used in the Old and New Testaments have a distinct and specifically religious connotation. This is especially true of the meaning of body, death and the resurrection. Consequently, it is essential to put the original meaning of some of terminology in proper perspective. The expression “Good News,” synonymous with “Gospel,” is equally used here as it conveys a better mental representation of what the Apostles and the first Christians meant about the message of the risen Lord and the church as the resurrected body of Jesus Christ.
Apostle Paul was a determinant figure in the spreading of the Good News. His militant work made him the second most important figure in Christendom after Jesus Christ. Moreover, his epistles are the oldest documents relating to the development of the early church. In his letters, he outlines the basic tenets of the resurrection of the body of Christ. Although he has never met Jesus, he did meet Peter the apostle that the Lord chose as leader of his church in Jerusalem. As a result, Paul heard Peter’s testimony of Jesus’ message firsthand. Nonetheless, Paul is a controversial figure. Some blame him for a fateful opposition between Jews and Christians; others contend that too much emphasis has been given to Paul instead of Jesus Christ. Regardless, Paul was Christianity’s most persuasive and crucial organizer. Without him, Christianity would not be what it is today.
Saul, who is also called Paul, was born between 1 and 5 A.D. in Tarsus, a city in south-central Turkey renowned for being a center of Greek culture comparable to Athens. He was an orthodox rabbi and according to his letters, he was a Pharisee. The book of Acts reveals he was a Roman citizen, but some scholars suspect the assertion. He was raised and educated according to the strict rules of Rabbinical law. There is no explanation on his part as to why he wrote his epistles in Greek. Nevertheless, his exhortations – meant to be read aloud – reveal a traditional Jewish, rather than Hellenistic mindset.
According to his letters, Paul persecuted Jews who were proclaiming Jesus’ message and was actively involved in trying to destroy the early church. As a result, Christian Jews were either beaten or chastised according to the law. Paul doesn’t give any details about his persecution and the level of violence, except that he was driven by Pharisaical zeal in defense of his ancestral tradition. He simply perceived Christian Jews as violating Jewish law.
The irony is that, on several occasions, the Gospels describe Jesus being confronted by Pharisees, who claimed that Jesus did not have the authority to forgive sins and that he should not be eating with sinners. He was also admonished for healing a follower on a Sabbath. On one occasion, Pharisees confronted him by saying that the law of Moses requires that an adulteress be stoned, to which Jesus replied that “he who is without sin throw the first stone.” (John 8:7)
One day on his way to Damascus – presumably in order to persecute Jews who believed in Christ – Paul heard a mysterious voice calling him and was shaken to the ground by a vision of Jesus. He gave no details of what exactly happened. Nonetheless, the event brought a radical change in his life. This religious experience compelled Paul into having a diametrical view of Christ Jesus and the Jews who believed in him and, as a result, he submitted to the revelation of “Christ and I are one” and in “One body in Christ.”
From the outset, Paul was educated in the school of thought that relied on the oral and written tradition of the Torah, or instructions, a belief system based on the liturgy and rituals that constitutes rabbinic Judaism. As a result, he opposed Jews who believed in Jesus whom he perceived to be violating the law. His calling unraveled a shift where the law that was responsible for his persecution was no longer necessary. With Jesus’ message of “love thy neighbor like yourself” (Mark 12:31), Paul the Pharisee opened his heart to all followers of Christ: Men, women, Jews, Gentiles, circumcised and uncircumcised, slaves, free men, and members of all nations. Hence the term “neighbor” is no longer limited to a group of chosen people but to all who submit to the commandment of love.
As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of
them is love. (1 Cor 13:13)
As a consequence of his persecution of Christians, Paul equates the law with sin and death. For the apostle, sin is the condition of being devoid of faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. It is linked to Adam’s original sin that resulted in being cast out of God’s presence, ensuing in a spiritual death. Whereas, with His mission and presence on earth, Jesus redeems Adam’s sin by restoring God’s presence among the believers.
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. (Rom 5:12)
In Genesis, God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat the fruit in the middle of the garden or they would die. The story reveals that Eve listened to the serpent who tempted her by promising that, if they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve would be like gods knowing good and evil and that they would live forever and would not die. Adam’s sin stems from listening to Eve and eating the forbidden fruit rather than obeying God’s commandment. The betrayal resulted in their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and incurred an estrangement from God’s presence and dominion. Paul equates this original alienation from God to a spiritual death – a death that is redeemed by the Son of God’s presence on earth among the people who have faith.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written between 70 A.D. and 90 A.D. after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are considered “synoptic” because they share a similar chronology of the life of Jesus. Mark, the oldest gospel, was written approximately 20 years after Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonians. The Gospel of John was written the latest, circa 90 A.D., with a chronology and style all of its own. None of the authors knew or met Jesus. The narratives are recollections of oral testimonies of Jesus’ mission. The authors were likely all Jews. They took great care of linking the Old Testament to the messianic legitimacy of Jesus. All of the text was written in Greek and share a similar allegorical style in respect to their use of metaphors, parables, signs and miracles.
The synoptic Gospels share a similar chronology of the last supper, the passion and resurrection. The accounts use the same metaphors to describe Jesus’ central message of his body. During the last supper, Jesus breaks the bread, drinks the wine and shares it with his disciples and says:
Take and eat; this is my body
Drink from it; this is my blood (Matt 26-28)
In terms of literary criticism, the metaphor is a figure of speech. Whereas in terms of messianic expectations these words inaugurate a shift away from the normal use of language, an exile from a former way of being in respect of communication, community and communion. The metaphor is used as a code to reveal the spiritual meaning of the Good News. It implies a shift in meaning, a break in the ordinary use of language instituting a new symbolic reality in terms of religious commandments and ritual practices. The metaphor expresses an expansion of being as an assembly of believers as the body of Christ.
The breaking of a loaf of bread and sharing with all the disciples constitutes the one body. This institutes a living church comprised of Jesus and his disciples. Jesus giving the commandment to do the same in his memory and preach his message to all. The same goes for the sharing from one cup of wine that become the blood of the new covenant. Thus the Good News proclaims that all are welcomed to partake in the breaking and eating of the bread in remembrance of Jesus Christ.
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. Cor 11:25
Although the Gospel of John does not have a last supper scene, he does confirm the importance of the metaphor in order to understand the Good News.
I am the gate ─ door (John 10:9)
I am the way (John 14:6)
Jesus told his disciple Simon that he would be known as Peter (literally meaning rock) on which he would build his living community, his church. This is an additional confirmation and an allegorical allusion that the metaphor holds a vital role in understanding the meaning of the Word.
You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my community ─ Church. (Matt 16:18)
Jesus’ fate unraveled shortly after his last supper. He was betrayed by one of his followers, abandoned by his disciples, and arrested by the Roman occupying forces. He was denounced by the priests and the mob in Jerusalem and judged and condemned by the crowd under the supervision of Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect. He was tortured, humiliated and forced to carry the instrument of his death and was finally nailed to a cross as a violent display of the sanctioning power of the Empire. Finally, he was left to die between common criminals. Throughout his ordeal the only people that stood by his side were Mary of Magdala, the mother of James, Joset and Salome in the books of Matthew and Mark, and Jesus’ mother in the book of John.
During Jesus’ ministry, a number of women followed Jesus but typically remained in the background of the twelve male apostles. These women, among them Mary of Magdala, provided financial support to Jesus’ ministry. Early on, Jesus cured Mary of Magdala of her possession of seven demons (possession was a term used to imply an illness for which there was no known explanation or cure.) In the eight times that a list of women is mentioned in the Gospels, on every occasion Mary of Magdala is named first. All in all, she is mentioned more times than any other disciple.
There is no scholarly consensus as to the origin of the surname Magdala. The Church’s position is that it refers to a place named Magdal (Migdal in Hebrew and Magdala in Aramaic), meaning tower or fortress. However, such a place on the banks of the Sea of Galilee no longer existed at the time of Jesus. Nonetheless, the surname Magdala should be viewed as a metaphor and symbolic attribute in terms of fortitude similar to John, who was also known as John the Baptist, or Simon, who was given the metaphorical name of “rock” by Jesus.
Mary of Magdala is not only mentioned in the synoptic Gospels but is also present in the book of John. All four accounts describe women that accompanied Jesus during his last week and were present at the crucifixion. They alone remained until the end, whereas the male disciples fled. Foremost, these female followers were the first to witness that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb.
It was Mary of Magdala who discovered the empty tomb and was the first to witness the risen Christ. She was also the first to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead, a messenger to the Good News. As it happens, the root word apostle in Greek means “messenger.” Consequently, the narratives bestow the attribute of apostle to Mary of Magdala and the other women.
The Gospels describe Simon as the metaphorical rock on which Jesus builds his Church. Mary of Magdala, who was the first to witness the risen Lord, is alluded to in the narratives as the metaphorical tower proclaiming the Good News of the resurrected body of Christ to the believers. In addition, the name Madgal-eder also appears in Micah 4:8-10 and refers to a symbolical “tower” or “stronghold of the flock,” a biblical link that infers that Mary of Magdala is a stronghold of the church.
Paul’s letters reveal that Jesus appeared to him in the same way he appeared to the Apostles following his crucifixion. The appearance is described as establishing a communication and a spiritual union between the risen Christ and his followers. In this sense, Jesus does not re-assume his physical life on earth but he is present with his disciples who are living witnesses and members of his risen body. His resurrected body rising up above the tyranny of the ruling system of this world.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (Cor 15:42)
Sovereignty & Tyranny
Paul and the Gospels proclaim that the Son of God has inaugurated a new covenant, one that consists of the inclusion of Jesus’ commandment of love. Consequently, the old meaning of neighbor is supplanted and expanded to include not only a chosen people but all who have faith in the resurrected body of Christ: Men, women, Jews and Gentiles, circumcised and uncircumcised and people of all nations, and members of all walks of life; the disfranchised, the outcasts, the powerless and the poor.
The Good News proclaims that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and that he was exalted as Lord/sovereign. With his resurrection, the Lord granted a divine birthright to all who have faith, a birthright that bypasses one established by a worldly order and its institutions. However, his messianic message is not to be understood as political but as spiritual. It does not challenge any political system. It is a body that lives in but is not of this world.
The Epistle to the Romans were meant to be read to Christians living in Rome. Although Paul had planned to visit the church personally, he never made it willingly. He was arrested in Jerusalem in 56 A.D., likely for sedition. He finally ended up being extradited and sent to prison in the capital. Paul’s letter planted the Good News at the center of the empire. His exhortations, seen as a challenge to the spiritual legitimacy of the ruling order, in all likelihood led to Paul and Peter being executed in Rome. History shows that the Roman empire eventually collapsed. It was unable to destroy the living church in its midst. And although the tyranny of a worldly power can put Christians to death, it is incapable of eradicating the Good News of the Sovereignty of the body of Christ.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come
With this essay I venture into uncharted territory linking past and present fields of social sciences in order to solve a metaphysical puzzle. This relates to the nature of a subliminal person known as the corporation and how this artificial person was able to sponsor a surreptitious belief system. The following essay offers an hypothetical interpretation on how the corporation evolved into a deity and its doctrine into a quasi-religion.
In the later days of the Roman Republic the word corporation was used in documents in the same sense as collegium. The term referred to a form of legal association consisting of at least three persons. The collegium was also described as a body –corpus habere. The corporation possessed the legal right to hold property in common. It shared a treasury and could sue or be sued. The property of the corporation was liable to be seized and sold for its debts.
The Roman concept of corporation was adopted by the early Christian churches as a legal form of protection in periods of persecution. It was mostly used as a legal means of holding and transferring the churches’ property. Corporations were later used by varied religious monastic orders. In the Middle Ages life was largely corporate, in the sense that religious institutions were defined by corporations of monks and friars. It was considered a secure way of protecting ecclesiastical property especially in times of feudal warfare. These corporations in the course of history survived and prospered.
The concept was improved with the introduction of “corporation sole” by English law, where a sole or single religious office holder could transfer the same position with identical powers to his successor.
Mussolini had been an active socialist member until he abandoned the idea of class struggle in favor of stati corporativi. A similar concept was promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. It was issued to counter the growing influence of socialism and class struggle. Instead, the Church promoted its own Catholic trade unions or “corporate bodies” as an alternative to class conflict into social system that integrated groups that shared social functions, acting in matters of common economic interest, all coordinated by the state. This was also defined as corporatism.
Mussolini’s change of heart made him appealing to a greater number of voters and powerful institutions. Under his leadership business owners, workers, trade unions, professionals, and other economic groups were organized into 22 associations—or guilds. They were given representation in a legislative body known as Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni. The symbol of the fascio, or bundle, was meant to indicate the unifying strength of all the guilds and corporations. The unifying body helped to integrate a geographically fragmented and diverse Italy into one greater market area. The idealistic union led to a totalitarian political system known as fascism.
The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question [whether corporations are persons]. We are all of the opinion [that they are].
Chief Justice Waite, 1886
In the U.S. the corporation is defined as a person, more precisely as an artificial person. The idea of person has a dual and misleading meaning. The ambiguity is attributed to a deceptive confusion between artificial and natural person (a human being). Adding to the misunderstanding is the fact that the Latin origin of corporation is corpus or body. The word body in this sense does not mean a physiological organism commonly understood as a human body, but refers to a society or an association. In addition, the original Latin meaning for person is persona, a mask worn by an actor. One must keep in mind that the mask of a person, his or her personality, does not mean the essence of being, his or her soul.
The misconception around the meaning of person is exemplified by the oxymoron of corporate citizen. Although the corporation is defined as an artificial person, it cannot be a citizen. Citizenship is granted either by birth or through the process of citizenship, a ceremony that involves taking the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Fourteenth Amendment’s first article
The corporation is an association defined by civil law as an “artificial being”. The legal interpretation of the Constitution is that the corporation is a body “existing only in the contemplation of law”: Chief Justice Marshall of the Supreme Court describes the corporation as follows:
A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it, either expressly or as incidental to its very existence. These are such as are supposed best calculated to effect the object for which it was created. Among the most important are immortality, and, if the expression may be allowed, individuality; properties by which a perpetual succession of many persons are considered as the same, and may act as a single individual. They enable a corporation to manage its own affairs, and to hold property without the perplexing intricacies, the hazardous and endless necessity of perpetual conveyances for the purpose of transmitting it from hand to hand. It is chiefly for the purpose of clothing bodies of men, in succession, with qualities and capacities, that corporations were invented, and are in use. By these means, a perpetual succession of individuals are capable of acting for the promotion of the particular object, like one immortal being.
The corporation defined as invisible, intangible and immortal, supersedes ordinary human attributes. This artificial person is larger than its constituent parts, with a power greater than the individuals comprising it. The body of corporations as we know it today surpasses many countries in power and wealth. Although corporations are identified with a variety of brands they nonetheless all have a similar legal definition, structure and accounting standards. This body of unfathomable artificial persons sharing a similar doctrine, has evolved into the “Investor State”.
A portrait emerges of a body that is invisible, immortal and endowed with supernatural qualities above and beyond ordinary qualities found in a human being. It has attributes that are typically associated with supernatural beings and deities. As such, this super-natural person has inspired a belief system that shares some unintended but similar attributes with religion.
During a conference delivered at Columbia University in 1961, theologian Paul Tillich used the term quasi-religion to describe the encounter of world religions and the challenges of secularism faced by Christian churches. Paul Tillich was a theologian but also a philosopher. The definition of religion that follows is based on philosophy of religion, one that is more open and inclusive.
Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of life. Therefore this concern is unconditionally serious and shows a willingness to sacrifice any finite concern which is in conflict with it. The predominant religious name for the content of such concern is God -a god or gods. In non-theistic religions divine qualities are ascribed to a sacred object or an all-pervading power or a highest principle such as the Brahma or the One. In secular quasi-religions the ultimate concern is directed towards objects like nation, science, a particular form or stage of society, or a highest ideal of humanity, which are then considered divine… Even the mutual relations of the religions proper are decisively influenced by the encounter of each of them with secularism, and one or more of the quasi-religions which are based upon secularism.
The term quasi-religion has been having a resurgence of popularity. It was used in an article in The Economist to describe people’s adulation for iPads. Since Tillich wrote his essay many other types of quasi-religions have emerged. Among the more surreptitious example is the subject of this essay.
Tillich further explains that the attribute quasi is meant to “indicate a genuine similarity, not intended, but based on points of identity” with religion. Some examples given by Tillich of secular quasi-religions are Nazism, fascism, communism and nationalism. He explains that the first two examples are “demoniacal” and “radicalized” forms of quasi-religion. They nonetheless reveal points of identity with religion by embracing a belief system that effectively functions like a religion, even though they are a shift away from what is typically understood as normal forms of religious expressions.
Burdened by unmanageable amounts of debt after World War I, and saddled by a lingering economic depression, Germany opted for militarism and conquest as a path to recovery. The birth place of Martin Luther became engulfed in a nationalistic fervor of “one state, one nation, one leader”. Germans surrendered their ancestral moral character and succumbed to a vision of a mythical superiority of the Aryan race. Nazis followed blindly a Fuhrer who promised an eschatological vision of a Third Reich as means of salvation encompassing the world and all history.
Italian fascism shared many aspects of Nazis ideology. Its anti-democratic political philosophy placed the corporate body above the individual. Both ideologies attributed a god like power to their leaders who preached redemption through political means. Every aspect of society was bundled into a system that did not tolerate any form of dissent. Both examples share a quasi-religious faith in a totalitarian state that effectively controlled all aspects of life.
The Fascist conception of life is a religious one, in which man is viewed in his immanent relation to a higher law, endowed with an objective will transcending the individual and raising him to conscious membership of a spiritual society. Those who perceive nothing beyond opportunistic considerations in the religious policy of the Fascist regime fail to realize that Fascism is not only a system of government but also and above all a system of thought.
On the opposite side of the planet, Japan shared a similar political philosophy. Its people surrendered to a sacred devotion to the nation. The figure representing the empire of The Rising Sun was symbolized by the Emperor perceived as a deity endowed with divine powers.
The above examples show that economic recovery was accomplished through the arms industry, political militarization and war. It eventually led to the collapse of these political systems. However, the collapse did not destroy the corporations that took part in the militarization. After the war many major corporations survived and thrived.
Another example of quasi-religion given by Tillich is communism. This example reveals that the social aspect rather than the nation becomes a matter of ultimate concern. Marxist political doctrine promulgated myths of an idyllic classless society devoid of exploitation of the workers. This system was also based on the state effectively controlling all aspects of life of its citizens.
Fascism, Nazism, and communism share one thing in common. They were radical responses to the sweeping changes brought about by The Industrial Revolution and moneyed corporations. In retrospect, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Japan reveal the excesses of munition industrialization that signaled the apotheosis of the modern era. Post WWII resulted in a metamorphosis in the basic components of modernity. During this period we begin to see a slow but steady shift away from a production based economy to a consumption oriented culture.
Secularization began during the Enlightenment: A period where science and technology became the predominant driving forces behind the economic growth and development of the western world. They played a major role in providing answers and solutions to the problems of the world, a prerogative previously held by religion. This period came to be known as the modern era.
The Reformation, the Enlightenment and the advent of modernism inspired a greater role in individual responsibility for one’s personal economic salvation. This ethic of responsibility was outlined by Max Weber in his seminal work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Individual moral responsibility and industry eventually resulted in The Industrial Revolution. Keeping in mind that secularism throughout the development of modernity had religious undertones influenced by centuries of Christian religious teachings.
Secularism is commonly understood as a decrease in church attendance and a declining role played by religion in society. Jacques Ellul explains that this idea about secularism is misleading and is the result of an improper assimilation of religion with Christianity, the consequence of Christendom having dominated the western cultures for many centuries. The author contends that secularization does not mean that the secular world is devoid of any religious dimension or that contemporary culture has rejected the sacred. He explains that in periods of cultural change the sacred proliferates elsewhere. Furthermore, Ellul dispels the notion that the sacred is an exclusive prerogative of Christianity or any particular religion.
The increase in urbanization and immigration during the second half of the twentieth century resulted in Christianity’s encounter of world religions. It exposed society to religious pluralism and secularism. An example to illustrate this type of shift of the sacred from being an exclusive prerogative of the Catholic Church to a profane sphere is the secularization of the French speaking population in Quebec during the nineteen sixties. This period reveals how sacred objects of devotion do not die but metamorphose into other forms of ultimate concern.
The québécois had been religiously sheltered by the Catholic Church and lived in relative cultural isolation for almost two centuries until the nineteen sixties. In less than a decade the majority of the people abandoned the Church leaving behind decades of priestly moral directives. Many of them took up the nationalist cause of the Independence of Quebec. The separation from Canada became a quasi-religious quest. For many, independence was perceived as a matter of ultimate concern.
The political upheaval in Quebec and the emancipation of its people coincided with the incursion of television in people’s living rooms. In a matter of years a new medium was implanted in all homes feeding viewers a culture made in New York and Hollywood. The québécois were no longer captives to the preaching of the Church. Secularization took hold of a predominantly French Catholic people. As a result, the priestly hierarchy was no longer viewed as the sole guardians of the sacred. The Church was dismissed as a dominant sacred organization and relegated as a religious institution like any other. A shift occurred in the power scheme of things.
A similar phenomenon occurred in the U.S. In the nineteen sixties America was still a predominantly Christian nation. Sunday was still observed as a day of prayer, of church going and of rest. The Lord’s Day was considered a religious holiday. In a few decades this would change. Eventually Sunday was phased out of the religious framework of the nation. The seventh day of rest was converted into a day of business as usual, enabling an additional day of consumer spending. December 25th was originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice. It later became a celebration dedicated to the birth of Christ, although there is no historical data to support that Jesus was born on that day. Now Christmas has reverted back to a period of consumerism. The change shows that the sacred dedication of this holy-day has switched back and forth between different religious belief systems. A change was taking place in the religious fabric of America. Secularism was shifting the sacred allocation of time. The sacred was proliferating elsewhere.
The United States was undergoing a cultural transition. The country was changing from production based economy to a more consumption oriented culture. From a predominantly Christian country to a more open and secularized society. During that period, declining church attendance to traditional religious denominations was matched with conversion to evangelical churches. Some left the churches to embrace Buddhism, Islam, Hare Krishna, Jews for Jesus and other New Religious Movements (NRM). This transition was occurring in conjunction with the growing role played by the media in shaping culture at home and abroad.
Secularization also led to the appearance of various forms of quasi-religions. Some examples include, the Hollywood star system, the pop-rock stars phenomenon and the professional sports system. All endorsed by a consumer oriented culture propagated by the media.
The Medium Is the Message
Eisenhower was among the first presidents to use TV to address the nation. His televised farewell speech on The Military Industrial Complex was made during media’s growing influence over US’ economy, culture and politics. The paradox is that Eisenhower’s speech was televised. It might be inferred that the warning about a “misplaced” power was not only about a complex relationship between the military and the arms industry but about the nascent power of the media and how it would alter the character of the nation.
A few years after the speech Marshall McLuhan wrote: “This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium.” That is to say that behind TV is another medium and this other medium is a corporate entity embodied by the networks and corporate sponsors.
The fact merely underlines the point that “the medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.
At the time of Eisenhower’s speech, the Big Three were still independent networks committed to independent journalism. In the sixties and seventies the U.S. press corps functioned closer to its ideals of skepticism toward power. Back then the networks were strictly in the business of providing news and television programming. Through mergers and acquisitions and the advent of Big Four the networks evolved into conglomerates more inclined to preach the corporation’s ultimate concern of privatization and maximization of profits.
In a postmodern era, corporate media has imposed itself as the provider of the good news. It displaced the priesthood as the mediator between the religious hierarchy and the believers and imposed itself as a technological medium to the people. It provided televised models of conduct setting new grounds for acceptable behavior. In time the media became the new opium to the masses, the gateway to an unlimited source of worldly gratification: A technological go-between between a sacred power source and the profane viewer.
The Sacred and the Profane
Tillich’s definition of religion is helpful to understand quasi-religion as it appears in secularized society. However, his definition does not disclose the full spectrum of a quasi or religious experience. Although Tillich links his idea of ultimate concern to the sacred, he does not elaborate on this most crucial principle.
Evidence of a spiritual dynamic between the sacred and the profane has been documented by scholars such as Emile Durkheim and Roger Caillois in the field of sociology of religion, Rudolf Otto and Gerardus Van der Leeuw, in the field of phenomenology of religion and Mircea Eliade in the field of history of religion, just to mention a few. These scholars revealed that the sacred/profane dynamic is present in many and perhaps most religions.
This long scholarly tradition of research on the sacred has been carried on by intellectuals like Jacques Ellul, known for his discourse on the proliferation of the sacred in culture. He explains that once a religion looses its predominance in society the sacred may disappear temporarily but only to reappear elsewhere in places one did not expect to see it flourish.
The concepts of the sacred and profane existed long before prominent scholars wrote about them. They were central to Roman religio. Contrary to popular belief, Romans were scrupulously religious people. Citizen undertook a priestly role corresponding to his level of authority and status. For instance, magistrates performed important civic rituals, whereas the paterfamiglias, the father of the family, performed domestic rituals and ceremonies. Romans did not have religious doctrines or dogmas to speak of. And they did not have a predominant priesthood. This lack of dogma and a powerful priestly hierarchy may explain why people do not perceive the Romans as being religious. As Ellul explains, the lack of strong and powerful priestly order does not exclude religiosity or the presence of the sacred.
The Romans introduced two important concepts to describe a dynamic inherent in religion: The sacred and the profane. Trebatius, a contemporary of Cicero defined it as, “all that is the property of the gods was sacer”. Sacred is not to be understood as a power possessed by a being or an object, but as a status attributed to them. Sacer was not a magical force but a juridical quality defined by property. Any violation of the gods’ property was met with dreadful divine wrath. Hence, the meaning of sacrilege was defined as the infringement of the gods’ property. Divine property, and by extension private property, was considered inviolable. It could be said that the gods also instituted and were guarantors of mortals’ property rights.
The opposite of sacer was profanus. Any sacred object that was ritually removed from the realm of the gods and moved to the sphere of the mortals was profane. Profanare meant “to bring out” the offering from where the sacrifice was performed. And profanum meant what was “in front of the temple precinct”. The temple being a location set apart by a wall and surrounded by a space available for profane use.
Different religions have varied sacred objects or holy beings. Anything can be sacred as long as there is a marked separation with the profane. This discriminating force establishes a systematic order of things: The rule that keeps the profane at a distance from intruding into the higher hierarchy of power.
There are two main spheres involving a spiritual dynamic of the sacred and the profane. This is best illustrated by the categories of sacred space and sacred time. Sacred space is a place of worship like a temple, a shrine or a stage. Outside the boundaries of the sacred space lies the profane, the believers or an audience. Whereas inside the sacred perimeters stand a holy place reserved for cultic purposes dedicated to a god or holy object, accessible only by a priest. The sacred space is dedicated to the celebration of rituals, rites of initiations and festivals. Sacred time constitutes the holidays that celebrate the sacred rituals distinguished from ordinary time. Sacred space and time integrate the individual to a group, set status and rank and provide order, meaning and harmony. Both principles establish boundaries and parameters between good and evil, pure and impure, member and non-member, holidays and ordinary time.
The most important principle in the dynamic between the sacred and the profane is a fuzzy opposition and a distance that the first imposes on the second. And as a rule, the sacred systematically discriminates against the profane located outside its jurisdiction, perceived as “other” and potentially chaos.
In a post-modern world the media plays a similar role of separating the stars and idols from the viewer. The same can be said about a rock concert and the separation between the stage and the fans. In a sport event the spatial separation is between the field, the players and the spectators. The game representing the opposition between a local team held as sacred by the fans and the opposing team considered as outsiders. The ultimate goal of the game consists in victory, and ultimately the quest of a world cup. In mythology a cup has an important symbolic significance. It is synonymous with bowl, chalice and Holy Grail.
A Quasi-Religious Medium
Since the mid twentieth century the implantation of TV in people’s living rooms has diverted the power of the word away from priesthood. It surreptitiously displaced the temple as the center for the propagation of identity and solace. The preacher is no longer the sole medium between the sacred and the believer, the single provider of the Gospel, i.e., the good news. The insertion of TV in people’s living rooms created a captive audience. It converted homes into postmodern sanctuaries. While outside the homes the theater replaced the temple as the purveyor of the supernatural. Churches were suddenly competing with malls for a faithful gathering. A fuzzy mutation was occurring in the sacred allocation of space and time.
In religion the priesthood acts as an intermediary, a mediator of sorts, between the sacred and the profane, a deity and the believers. The higher the priest’s status the closer he is to the holy, to the divine. As a ritual officer his role is to manage and enforce the separation between the sacred a profane. It also consists in the promulgation of doctrine and dogma implemented in rituals and varied religious practices, setting the boundaries between the pure and impure, good and evil and dictating rules of moral conduct.
Similarly in the star system, actors inaugurate new rules of conduct. Screen idols provide new models of behavior and changes in moral conduct to the masses. As such it challenges ethical standards and encroach on a function previously held by religion. Progressively a technological medium claimed control over viewers’ souls. Seeing is believing became a new mantra in a postmodern world, and material consumption its ultimate concern.
The media’s predominance in culture eventually evolved into an inconspicuous quasi-religious medium. This is evidenced by a separation between the screen and the viewer, analogous to separation involving the sacred and the profane. In a theater the separation is even more dramatic. The audience sits aligned facing one direction in total darkness surrounded by thundering sound. The viewer is immersed in a rapturous absorbing experience captivated by stars living in another worldly sphere inaccessible to ordinary mortals.
Media was instrumental in consecrating words of the common language, systematically copyrighting and subjecting idioms to legal protection. Logos and trademarks are cast as untouchable sacred symbols. Flashing bright lights on billboard elevated in visible fashion in central squares of New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong are signs of the ever prevalent quasi-religious shrines dedicated to a corporatist agenda and globalization.
Since the advent of the newsreel and silent movies, actors and actresses have been projected as inaccessible beings living in a separated sphere from the ordinary spectator. Part real and part unreal they are rendered immortal by video and film. Celebrities share a dual nature like super-heroes. They are part human and part supernatural rendered sacred by the medium. Stars live in a separate time zone distinct from ordinary time. When stars die they are rendered immortal by their cinematic roles.
In his book Les Stars, Edgar Morin explains that actors participate in both human and divine arenas, similar to Olympian pantheon of heroes, gods and goddesses. According to Morin the mythology of the stars is always in the making, non-categorical. It is part esthetic, part magical and part religious, never being completely one or the other. In Greek mythology, heroes are mortals that entertain a relationship with the gods and are in the process of deification. These mythical characters play an essential role in culture not unlike religion. Movie stars like Greek heroes live in two worlds: In a real world on one hand and in a perfectly edited self-enclosed and inviolable time capsule on the other.
Fans demand to know everything about their idols. Endless amounts of data are readily available for consumption about every aspect of the star’s intimate life. Marilyn Monroe’s personal life was scrutinized and her public life idolized. In American mythos she represents a contemporary version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, renamed Venus by the Romans. The movie industry has been instrumental in immortalizing Charlton Heston as Moses. The media was influential in portraying Lady Di as a saint and as a sinner. In music, born this way, Lady Gaga is shown as an embodiment of a contemporary centaur, half motorcycle and half human.
Today many children are named after stars rather than saints or biblical figures. The love a fan feels for their idol is akin to devotion reserved for deities. It is not reciprocated. It is a one-way love, akin to worship. The fan is not jealous. He doesn’t mind sharing his idolized star with millions of other viewers. This type of love fills a deep human need for devotion previously reserved to saints and religious figures.
The Myth of Super-Inc
Super is a prefix meaning above; elevated in status and rank, higher up than the ordinary person, than the masses; i.e. above the law. The affix is used to represent supernatural beings, deities and super-heroes. These super beings share special powers not available to mortals. These powers include the ability to break and create new rules, supervise orderly management of the world, restore order and harmony when needed. And keep out alien elements from intruding and disrupting the harmony of an orderly belief system.
Several essays on super-heroes have been posted on this web site. Their content reveals several examples of mythical heroes. All have one thing in common. These characters have a dual personality, one mundane and the other supernatural. They alternate between public and secret identities, similar in fashion to the ambivalent meaning of person: One is natural and human and the other artificial and super-natural. Keeping in mind that corporations are created by human beings. The creation allows mere mortals to become part of an immortal entity bigger and more powerful than its constituent parts.
The following quote from Claude Levi-Strauss captures the surreptitious role myth plays in our cultures:
We are not, then, claiming to show how men think in myths, but how myths think themselves in men, an unknown to them.
Levi-Strauss infers that myth works in subtle and covert ways. Its symbolic significance undetected by the people who live by its scheming power. Analogies shown thus far reveal a myth-making process of a mysterious super person, one that is elusive and prevalent in our cultures, a character that has become global in stature. Since its creation this mythical person has overtaken its human creator and used its power to misplace the legitimate influence of the citizen in the government of human affairs.
To subject myth to criticism, to lay bare the symbolics of its process, is to engage in the most comprehensive criticism of a culture. Whereas to control the myths in which a culture believes —to govern its symbolism—is to control the hearts and minds of a people, to allow the criticism of myth is to dilute that power, to loosen sedimentations of thought and belief that may be harmful to a community or, positively, to reaffirm beliefs and values that are indeed helpful. The task of critical semiotic is not to replace one dogma by another, but simply to disclose the rules of the symbolic processes by which symbols become such —to place control on that control—leading, as Peirce suggests, to self-control.
The Semiotic of Myth, James Jakob Liszka
On August 23rd 1971, Louis Powell, a corporate lawyer and board member of Phillip Morris, and future Supreme Court Justice, issued a confidential memo to his friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memorandum was released in response to President Nixon’s signing of the National Environmental Policy Act that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Shortly after, Congress passed amendments to the Clean Air Act. The legislation was enacted to protect the environment and set air pollution standards by the EPA. Powell viewed the new laws as an “attack on the American free enterprise system” not only by extremists of the left but by “perfectly respectable elements of society”.
Within two years of the release of the memo, the Chamber of Commerce formed a task force involving powerful business executives to organize a campaign targeting universities, the courts and the media. The media became the anointed medium for the propagation of corporate agenda, channeling the subliminal message of an artificial person. The intricate connection between the media, advertising and the star system materialized into a crusade preaching the gospel of the corporation.
This mythical person has overtaken many aspects of our lives. It has been set free to grow in a world unaware of its existence.
It’s the dark heart of Britain, the place where democracy goes to die, immensely powerful, equally unaccountable. But I doubt that one in 10 British people has any idea of what the Corporation of the City of London is and how it works… What is this thing? Ostensibly it’s the equivalent of a local council, responsible for a small area of London known as the Square Mile…The City of London is the only part of Britain over which parliament has no authority. In one respect at least the Corporation acts as the superior body: it imposes on the House of Commons a figure called the remembrancer: an official lobbyist who sits behind the Speaker’s chair and ensures that, whatever our elected representatives might think, the City’s rights and privileges are protected. The mayor of London’s mandate stops at the boundaries of the Square Mile.
George Monbiot, Guardian.co.uk
Powell’s memo inspired what William Simon defined in his book A Time for Truth, a “veritable crusade”, anointing CEOs as high priests of a quasi-religious movement. It established the grounds of the supremacy of the corporation as a sovereign body, whose ultimate concern is maximization of profits. Generating unlimited amounts of money geared toward the propagation of its doctrinal personhood.
A direct consequence of the crusade can be illustrated by a recent Supreme Court decision. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down limitations on “outside spending”, the money spent outside an official campaign. The verdict consecrates the power of money in the media, granting corporations greater access to free-speech. It makes it easier to fund “electioneering communications” and made it much harder for citizens to know who’s actually behind the political contributions.
The Supreme Justices ignored a warning made by Justice Rehnquist in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti in 1977, who explained that it is one thing to grant property rights to corporations but to grant political rights belonging exclusively to human beings “poses special dangers in the political sphere”.