When I was a kid, growing up in the 1950s, I loved the religious spectaculars one could see at the movie theaters—films like The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur. I’ve never found it easy to believe that there is a God who intervenes in human affairs to punish the wicked and reward the good. But I loved entering that world in these enthralling works of the imagination.
I loved watching how God sent Moses to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to let his enslaved people go, and then watching how the power of the Lord punished the hard-hearted Pharaoh for his refusal, first by the death of the Pharaoh’s first born son and then by the drowning of the force of fine chariots Pharaoh sent to drag the Hebrews back into bondage.
The dream of a world ruled by justice is an ancient and worthy one.
Lately it struck me that the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia – in conjunction with events that immediately preceded it, and consequences that may well result from it – is something that a good script-writer might render into another such biblical morality tale.
Imagine this pitch to a movie exec:
We start out in the backroom of the Supreme Court, the pitch begins. The nine Supremes are sitting around a table considering a case that’s come up to them. After we hear a few snippets of dialogue indicating what the case is about, we dissolve into the back-story.
So there’s this crisis facing the whole earth: the climate is changing rapidly, and it looks like it could be really bad. Water shortages. Failed crops. Wars breaking out over scarce resources. Worse and worse weather catastrophes. Species going extinct left and right.
We get it that everybody who’s honest about it recognizes that everyone’s children and grandchildren could really get the shaft—unless people take serious action. Everybody who knows what’s what knows there’s an urgent need for people act to together to protect their descendants, blood of their blood, from a terrible fate.
God feels strongly about this. I mean, this is His Creation, and He wants people to stop wrecking it. If ever there was a time for people to take on the responsibilities of the stewardship the Lord entrusted to humankind, this is it.
One night the Lord calls out to the President of the United States –from a bush in the Rose Garden that burns but is not consumed – and tells him in no uncertain terms that he’s got to do something about this gathering crisis.
So the president has his people come up with a plan — the Clean Power Plan they call it. It’s to be an important start. And it has a global importance, since it is the way the world’s leading nation will start living up to commitments that almost all the nations of the world — at long last — have agreed on. And so this Plan represents some hope that maybe humankind can escape the worst and come through OK.
Let’s get started, is the idea, while we’ve got a chance.
Word goes out to all the states: everybody needs to put their shoulder to the wheel and work on implanting this Plan.
But there’s something out there in the country that doesn’t want what God wants. It’s a kind of Greed Power that does nothing but grasp for more. The people who run it are willing to deceive people to keep the money rolling in—even though that deception sacrifices everyone’s children and grandchildren.
This Greed Power – working through the corporations and a few powerful billionaires whose business disrupts the climate — has bought so much of the American political system (including one whole political party) that a lot of the states go to Court to try to stop this Clean Power Plan.
Which brings us back to the Supremes.
A number of state governments that are in the pocket of the Greed System have petitioned to be relieved of having to work on this Plan. Without the merits of the case being argued yet, these states have asked a lower court for a “stay,” meaning that they don’t have to do anything in the meanwhile. But the lower court rejected that request, and now the states have brought that request up to the nation’s highest court.
Several of the Supremes warn against issuing any stay. Granting such a request would be more than unusual: in fact, they say, there has never been an instance of the Supreme Court overruling a lower court on a judicial stay without the merits of the case first being heard in the lower Court.
But this warning is to no avail. And here we get to the pivotal point in the drama.
There is this clique of five justices – corporatists that the Greed System has managed to put onto the Court over the course of 30 years – who have been doing the bidding of the corporate system for years. Emboldened by their dominance of the court, they ignore the admonitions of their colleagues to do the unprecedented: the five of them vote to issue that stay.
Our protagonists — the people trying to do God’s work — are stunned. Here we have the nation — and the whole planet — facing an emergency on which action should have been taken a generation ago. And now the political power of the Greed System has succeeded – through its five-person clique of Supremes – in delaying progress still further!
Now God has really had it! Enough, He says.
The Lord has hung back while these judges have nickeled and timed the workers, and cut the power of labor to stand up to giant employers; and while they’ve stacked the deck again and again to help the richest get richer; and have helped steal the from millions of our most vulnerable citizens the ability to participate in our electoral system, where the voice of the people is heard; and have advanced all that other corporatist agenda they’ve been pushing under the guise of doing “justice.”
But with the whole integrity of the planet on the line, God’s miraculous creation of a planet teeming with life, and the idea of humankind being a creature in His own image, this irresponsibility simply can no longer be endured. The stakes – how much this precious planet will be wrecked – are just too high.
It’s time to remember how the Lord dealt with pharaoh, and with Sodom and Gemorrah. The Greed System has incurred the wrath of the Lord.
Just days later, the Lord makes his move. He of course perceives any easy weak point in that destructive power that is willing to sacrifice his Creation. He sees that only a very small move is necessary. A small move, but enough to set a whole train of events in motion.
The Lord understands, of course, that all this has hinged on a single vote in the Supreme Court. A mere 5-4 vote has been enough to obstruct progress on what the Lord considers His prime issue of protecting His Creation. So all he needs to do is…
Less than a week after that stay is issued, one of the main corporatist justices is sleeping on a ranch in Texas. And lo and behold, he does not wake up.
Suddenly, the president who issued the Clean Power Plan has the job of naming a new justice. And that 5-4 majority can switch. And all this drama in the context of a national election.
From the death of a single justice there ensues a cascade of events through which the cause of righteousness prevails, and the modern equivalent of the Pharaoh’s chariots are drowned in a wave of public indignation.
Of course, the Greed System will not give in without a fight. But the battle then to be fought is a righteous battle, and the forces of the Lord are inspired by the high stakes. We rejoin the citizens we met along the way as they fight the Dark Side with a moral passion to do the work of the Lord.
Just like in Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments, people will leave the theater with a fire burning in their hearts for sacred values and a sense of gratification that the good guys have ultimately prevailed, with the help of God.
How do you like it?
Well, I like it fine. Really fine. I wish I believed that things worked that way. But hey, except for the part about divine intervention (and who knows about that?) the story is an accurate account of our situation, and of the sequence of events we have just witnessed.
I don’t know how much truth there is in the biblical kind of story, where the good triumph, with the help of God, while the wicked are punished. I’m assuming that whether this drama plays out this way with us now, or not, is really up to us. The situation has been dealt us. Are we going to play it as that God would have wanted us to