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Religious retreat on Wall Street


To regain perspective on life, we might take a break from our work and family, to reflect, and — if we're religious — pray. Usually we'll go somewhere quiet, away from people. That's because it's our continuous and often rushed and unsatisfactory contacts with others that invariably disconnect us from the core of our being.

But it's just possible that doing the opposite — becoming part of a crowd — can achieve the same end of making us whole human beings, and consequently more effective contributors to humanity.

That, in a way, is what those in the Occupy Wall Street movement are doing. As Jewish activist Jake Goodman says, 'all people who share a love of humanity should actually make the effort to disrupt the routine of their own lives and take the time to put their feet on the street'.

Fordham University theology professor Tom Beaudoin compares the protests to religious ritual, as if Occupy Wall Street is a large-scale spiritual retreat, albeit one that is loud rather than silent.

In other words, the practical outcome is arguably less important than the process of renewing the humanity of the participants. If Occupy Wall Street ends with the protestors appearing to have achieved nothing, it's quite likely they will have achieved a great deal.

There is a pretend 'Detailed List of Demands and Overview of Tactics' published on the Occupy Wall Street website. The demands are unrealistic, and even the document admits that their actual purpose is to create a 'crisis-packed situation' that will open the door to negotiation.

The 'crisis-packed situation' is an ingredient of what Beaudoin calls the ritual, and is intended to create the spirit and conditions for change, rather than try to force change. Beaudoin says:

'Whether or not this action is immediately politically effective, such protests can have long-term spiritual and political effects, when they embody visions of a possible future that influence the larger social imagination, and when they sculpt the desires of the protestors themselves for the better.'

In a traditional religious retreat, we make a temporary exit from our regular existence in order to put ourselves right with the world, for the good of ourselves and humanity. Goodman believes the protesters are doing much the same thing, 'philanthropising with their feet'.

Those who are not so wealthy 'engage in their own type of philanthropy, which they are doing with their feet on the street' rather than with large dollar donations. Often the best thing we can to do further particular causes is to demonstrate that we believe in them.

'They cannot exist unless you believe in them, and the media/general public will not know you believe in them unless you actually show up and make the crowd look larger. Truly, sometimes all you have to do is show up.'

It's all about the power of symbol, which is more deep-rooted and longer lasting than concrete action alone or, in some contexts, bullets.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Occupy Wall Street



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The Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral in London requested the police to leave the forecourt occupied now for two days, not the protesters. The canon feels that the cathedral does not need protection, but it can be observed he is also defusing potential conflict. It is reported that the cathedral believes in peaceful protest. The staff of the cathedral would certainly believe in people going on retreat, whether it is inside or outside the cathedral.

PHILIP HARVEY | 17 October 2011  

One American commentator stated that what is happening in the United States of America is simply part of the "left's" effort to deflect attention from the state of the economy that was wrecked by the profligate domestic and war spending of President George Walker Bush and brought to ruins by the expansion of Bush's policies by the 2009 Nobel Prize laureate, President Barack Hussein Obama, who has now launched military operations with Congressional approval in three places this year (Libya, Nigeria and Yemen).

The "Occupy Wall Street" protests have been endorsed by Caesar Barackus Obamus Ignoramus and the Minority Leader Nancy Patricia D'Alesandro Pelosi (D-California) as they seek to maintain their own power by any means necessary. And power is the bottom is the bottom line of all midget naturalists, including the "establishment" Republicans, who believe that themselves to be the "gatekeepers" of the "mainstream" to acquire and then to maintain power by supposedly "respectable" means.

The acquisition and retention of power by any means necessary is a particular concern of the "left," which is why it is important for them to make it appear as though that the "masses" support their cause of "social justice" to "soak the wealthy" in order to empower themselves and to enslave the rest of us to their whims.

Trent | 17 October 2011  

I happened to watch the 'Occupy Wall Street' crowds in San Francisco yesterday, and what struck me more than anything else was the big number of people who seemed very ordinary, but who wanted to express that they did not agree with the great unevenness of wealth in our world. To me, whatever their religious affiliations or lack of them, they are intuitively in touch with the heart of the gospel. This may indeed be a very effective form of ritual!

Peter Dowling | 17 October 2011  

Trent, have you read ALL of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? You seem to ignore this part:
Chapter Two The Human Community
Article Three: Social Justice
(1928) Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.
(1929) Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:
(1931) Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that "everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as 'another self,' above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity."37 No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a "neighbor," a brother.

AURELIUS | 17 October 2011  

Trent, what is happening is called 'chickens coming home to roost'.

The modern religion of Free Trade and the neoliberalism that promotes it within every Western government today, is part of a long 'progress' we are embarked upon.

The 'sentimental veil' of family has gone reduced to a 'mere money relation'.

Could it be that 'the grave diggers' are here, on Wall Street and counterparts across the West?

Doubtful, frankly, but we can hope.

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is no longer considered a just system by our CEOs and politicians, by economists and priests yet, in essence,it is the underlay to the carpet of piety Aurelius spruiks, although he would deny that I am sure.

As for 'being in touch with the Gospel', maybe the human condition pre-existed this collection of myth, fable and fear, and these 'Wall Street' people are just finally waking up to the excesses that exist today and have existed for the greedy through all time?

Where though, is the Pope, and Pell, to shine a light on the greed of others, and open the Vatican Treasury to fund a Western Revolution?

Ah, disturb a very comfortable status quo?


Harry Wilson | 17 October 2011  

To Harry Wilson: Are you sure you are not one and the same person as Trent? Backing each other up?

Not that it matters, but I would appreciate if you didn't at least second-guess my views.

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is a slogan by Karl Marx so I can't see the relevance to any piety I may have been spruiking. Marxism is an atheistic dogma, but 'piety' refers to religious observance ie. God, Jesus - complex, I know.

AURELIUS | 17 October 2011  

After reading this piece this morning I visited our local Occupy Brisbane site on my way home from work. Much of what Michael writes strikes a chord with my experience.

The Brisbane site that has been "occupied" is the Post Office Square where an Aboriginal warrior, Dundalli was hung in 1834. That story is known to those who have gathered to occupy this site.

I spoke to a few people who as Michael writes had taken time to "disrupt the routine of their own lives and take the time to put their feet on the street'. One woman, Liv works at a major fast food "restaurant" and was taken with my idea when I suggested that she could encourage her staff to say "occupy Brisbane" rather then "enjoy" or 'Have a Nice day" Another young guy handing out info sheets to people walking past the tents was Martin, a Year 11 student from an outer suburban High School.

Both of these as well as those maintaining the hi-tech communication tent, the foodies and supporters challenged me to join them as often as I can in the coming days "philanthropising with our feet'.

So, who else in this readership will join me in this ritual for change i their local city if there is an "occupation"?

Tony Robertson | 17 October 2011  

What a fantastic article! First of all, thank you for including my quote. I'm honored. Second, I totally agree that engaging in this protest does renew people's humanity. I'm finding that to be very true!

Jake Goodman | 18 October 2011  

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