Jesus and Muhammad about People, planet, profit

in: blog, English

Technical students won't get credits very often for attending a lecture about Jesus and Babylon System! Last week they did, in Eindhoven. Together with a muslim I explained the connection between my faith and PPP.

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By the way, credits is an overstatement. Students earn 1 credit when they attend 12 or 16 lectures, I believe. This one was organised by Studium Generale. Here's my story, plus some questions from the audience that I can remember.

(Read also the speech of Nourdeen Wildeman, a Dutch muslim who explained an islamic view on People, Planet and Profit. You can find it on his website.)

Jesus and Babylon System

  • For today, I have good news and I have bad news. I'll begin with the bad news.


The bad news

  • People, Planet, Profit, that's not just a hobby or a nice subject. It's a very serious subject, because our world is in crisis.

  • There's a crisis of the Planet. Every hour one species of animal disappears. Each year a tropical forest of the size of Portugal disappears. Deserts grow, become bigger and bigger because forests are cut and the climate changes. Fish stocks are depleted. Etc.

  • There's a crisis of People. Because it's not just a pity for animals. It's hitting poor people very hard. For example: when we want a plantation in Indonesia, to they cut down rainforest. But who lives there? Poor tribes who are dependent on the forest. When we need oil, we go to Nigeria to drill for it. But who gets the money? The company. And the corrupt Nigerian government. Not the poor people, but their land is destroyed.

  • Not everything is bad in the world, I know that. But yet we live in a world where 1 in 6 people have overweight and at the same time 1 in 6 people go to bed hungry, each day.

  • And what do we do? We build strong fences and big armies, to make sure that we can defend the oil pipelines. And to make money: we the Dutch are in the top-5 of biggest weapons exporters.

  • Related to this is a third crisis, a crisis of Profit. The Western world built its wealth on free money. We allowed banks to print money. This money is debt. It can be borrowed by governments, companies and house owners, but they have to pay it back to the bank, with interest. This is possible, as long as the economy grows. Now we see that we can't grow forever. As a result, banks go bankrupt. We are stuck with big amounts of debt. How can we ever pay it back?

  • Whose fault is it? Bad companies? Bankers? Bad governments? Yes, in a way, but I think that's too easy. It's the fault of every one of us. The core problem is: we always want more. We are never satisfied. When everyone buys a smartphone, we also want a smartphone. But we forget that mobile phones are not for free. We need natural resources for that. There are many different metals in a phone, for example. Many children in Congo dig the ground to look for copper and coltan and gold, for example, to sell it to phone companies.

  • But we don't see that. Why? I think it's a spiritual question. We're blinded by the system that we built together. Our economic and military system has become our religion. It's in our heart. We believe the high priests (the bankers and the politicians), and we think we can only be safe and happy when we do what our system asks us. And we can't stop. When Mark Rutte appears on TV tomorrow, and says: "OK, from now on we will stop wanting more. We all will be more satisfied with what we have and grow organic food in our own garden, and stop sending tanks to dictators to protect oil wells..." Men, we'll have a problem. Then the economy won't grow anymore, people will revolt and hell breaks loose! So we're stuck.

  • In the old religions people had to sacrifice some virgins every year to please the gods. Now we have to sacrifice people and the planet to please the financial markets. But the financial markets, that's the banks. And whose money do they keep? Our money. So in fact, we are the gods. And at the same time we are the victims.


The good news

  • The Bible talks a lot of the crisises we're in. These are not new. For example Hosea, a prophet, more than 2500 years ago, fulminated against his people, who didn't live as God wanted: Listen as the Lord accuses everyone in the land! No one is faithful or loyal or truly cares about God. Violence is everywhere. And so your land is a desert. Every living creature is dying— people and wild animals, birds and fish.

  • The different writers in the Bible talk about an economic and military system, in which we put our trust. They call it Babylon, based on greed, injustice and domination. It appears in history in the form of different empires. The Bible writers said that God would send a Saviour, a Messiah, to liberate the people from this system.

  • In the first century Babylon took the form of the Roman Empire, which was based on military conquest, slavery and trade. In this setting, Jesus started to preach. In one of his first preaches he quoted an old prophet and told the people that it's about him: The Spirit of the Lord has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind and to free everyone who suffers. This was his mission statement: good news for the poor, and freedom for everyone who suffers.

  • People were wild about it. This is the one! They expected him to become a rebel, to kick the Romans out of Israel, with military force. But he refused. He said: my kingdom is not from this world. Instead, Jesus cared for the unimportant people, the outcasts. He showed a way of love, and refused to use power or violence, even when he was arrested. Jesus was executed in the end.

  • We believe Jesus rose from the dead. Because he refused to follow his own desires and power, no one was able to have power over him, not even death. Unexpectedly, his death marked the beginning of the end of Babylon System. From that time on, Jesus was the king.

  • So, Faith in Jesus is more than accepting theoretically that he existed - and then you can go to heaven. This idea is really not based on the Bible. Faith means: you really trust that this is the right way, and that Jesus liberates us from our own mistakes.

  • And: from our collective mistakes. I mean: Jesus liberates us from Babylon System that is still existing today, the economic system that is based on desire and domination. When we love each other and do justice, when we stop following our own desires of more stuff, more sex, more power, more money, and when we care for the outcasts, then God will make us free and we will see that our system is a fake god. And that it will collapse.

  • That's why the first Christians were called the people of the way. Not the people with the right political program, but the people of the way. I know that the church sometimes tried to build a new system, a new empire, with power. That is very sad. That's why every day we should go back to the core: following the way of Jesus.

  • We call it the kingdom of God. God will create it fully, in the end, when there will be no more crisis, no more tears, no more death. But we can start now. We can already see it coming, if we let Jesus kick Babylon System out of our hearts, and choose a new logic, the logic of love and sharing.

  • For me this is not just theoretical talk, it is very real to me. This picture I took in Copenhagen, during the climate summit. We joined the demonstrations with Time to Turn, a group of young christians. "Another world is possible" is the motto of the environmental movement. We agreed, but we added: "Another world is coming, Another world is reality." When you think that everything is bad and you have to save the world, you can become a frustrated or even dangerous idealist. We believe that God will build a new order. But not just in the future, it's happening now, and we can already choose for this reality.


What next?

  • What does this mean for us, when we deal with people, planet and profit? There's no law for it in the kingdom of God. Christians don't believe a set of rules will make us perfect. We only have to choose for the way of Jesus... and then we make room for God to change us.

  • For example, I have decided not to have a television, a car, or a savings account for my future. And no smartphone. Of course, the smart phone, or the car, or the tv, in itself is not the problem. But our never ending desire is the problem. Babylon System is built on our desires. So when I freely decide to leave it, it liberates my heart. It makes it easier for me to share, to meet people who are poor or lonely, to make parties with them, to live in a community.

  • When you are a student, you're often in a position to experiment with these things. Use your time! After university Babylon system wants you to buy a car, a house, a wife, and save money. Train yourself now to disobey the system! Now you have time, to try to find people who are outcast, and become friends with them. Find out what is right, what is just, and how you can live with respect to God's creation.

  • And take time for spirituality, for prayer. Without God we can't kick the system out of our hearts.



I remember three questions people asked me during the conversation. Three very good questions, plus my answer:


Q: I am not a Christian, but still I feel the same way about the world, and I do the same things. So when you say 'Without God we can't do it', isn't that a bit of an insult? You say that it can become dangerous when you're just idealistic, but the same counts for religious people.

A: From my point of view we need to be liberated from our own desires, to be able to really love one another, even people we don't like. In the end, everyone has a god he or she worships. Maybe money, or ideals, or technology. So it's a matter of which god you want to obey. I personally think you can't do without a god - so you better choose the liberating One - but I can't speak for you. If you really think that love guides you, well, I believe God is where love is, so please continue with that.


Q: Why is it that religious people are often right-wing, politically, and not doing what you describe? Isn't that strange?

A: Yes, for some people the achievements of the christian culture are more important than following Jesus. Historically, I believe Christianity sets people free. It makes love possible, but also individualism. So paradoxically, without Christianity, capitalism wouldn't have developed. Moreover, when a society is touched by Christianity, some people start to want to defend the achievements they see threatened. Like Geert Wilders.

I'm not so much interested in religion, but in following Jesus. And when you go to developing countries, or the red light district, who is helping poor people, for free? Very often they are Christians. Who helps illegal refugees in the Netherlands? I know that, because my wife works with them, and it's primarily anarchists and churches. You have to look to the right direction if you want to see it.


Q: In Islam, interest is forbidden. Isn't it strange that Christianity doesn't forbid it?

A: The Old Testament says it's forbidden for Jews to charge interest to each other. So the church used to forbid interest, too. But this rule was set aside when capitalism came up. But for Jesus it was even more radical: you can just follow me if you leave everything behind. I agree the church has forgotten this.

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