What shall we give to the Child in the manger?
(Catalonian Christmas carol)
On a cold starry night in an old timber-and-mud shelter for livestock on a rocky, barren hillside somewhere in Asia Minor, a traveling stranger gives birth, helped by hospitable local elders and shepherds. They rejoice and share what food and comforts they have.
...until a Hellfire missile fired from a drone controlled from thousands of miles away blows them all up.
Of course, those shepherds might have been terrorists, and the baby would probably have grown up to be Al-Qaeda or Taliban. Or even become (as a recent slogan said) "a brown-skinned antiwar socialist who gives away free health care." The Romans knew what to do with troublemakers like that, but they at least waited until the child had grown up.
Worldwide, the number of people killed yearly by terrorists: 456. (CIA estimate) Starvation or related conditions kills close to a billion – 925,000,000 (UN estimate) In 2010, 7.6 million of them were children under five.
Economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s resulted in the death of 500,000 children and was called by one critic "infanticide masquerading as policy."
What shall we give to the Child of today?
Don’t even ask. Although half of Americans are presently poor or low income, our overriding public question is:
What shall we give to the Men with the Money?
This week Congress approved a military budget of $662 billion for 2012 – for killing, maiming, destroying, for UAVs, cluster bombs; for surveillance and prisons, for mercenaries.
Congress has cut taxes on the rich, and made cuts in unemployment benefits, in Medicare, in programs for prenatal care, good nutrition, clean air & water, making sure the undeserving poor don’t get any tax-dollars. They make sure we punish children for the folly of parents who get sick, use drugs, lose jobs, or don’t have health insurance.
As a nation we provide less and worse education to the economically disadvantaged; we disdain teachers, disempower them. We allow the private sector to profit at the expense of public schools.
We punish women. A recent survey finds that 1 in 4 women report having been raped or abused – half of them saying it happened when they were 17 or younger. But the Obama administration has denied younger rape victims the right to an OTC drug to prevent conception.
We don’t protect children from sexual predators. More and more cases are coming to light, while major organizations still try to protect the adults rather than the children.
We price college at the maximum possible, saddling our young with enormous debts in order for banksters to profit; we pay university administrators as much as 10 times what we pay the President of the United States. We cheat our youth of jobs by allowing jobs to go overseas, and by forcing seniors to keep working.
We use law enforcement against the young. When they peacefully protested injustice in 1970 we called out the National Guard and shot them (Kent State). Today, we torture them with hi-tech "non-lethal" weapons like pepper spray and sound cannons.
And now we have a system in which private sector corporations can use the money they extract from us as "free speech" to buy politicians and legislation to run our schools and communities for their continuing profit. GE spent $5.65 million in the 3rd quarter this year to lobby the federal government for policies to their benefit.
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What’s a manger? It’s a food trough, a place to eat, a lifeline for creatures who depend on one another.
The Catalonian carolers knew what to give the child in the manger: Raisins and olives and nutmeats and honey,/ Candy and figs and some cheese that is mild.
Food first, then. But after that we have to start acting like humans with hearts -- like parents, neighbors, friends.
We have to recognize that we are more alike than we are different, and we are irreversibly connected to one another by the fundamental tragedies of creation: hunger, sickness, hatred, fear, injustice and war. If we don’t teach our children about our shared humanity we – and they – have no future at all. It is only our generous hearts that make humans worth saving.