Dirty Fingernails

Governments cannot abide Christians with dirt under their fingernails. They are the ones who go beyond the saving of souls and fight for the systemic changes that will bring peace and justice to impoverished and oppressed peoples of the world, regardless of their religion.

This is why the Vatican squashed the Liberation Theology movement in Central America that made the mistake of takings Christ’s teaching about clothing the naked and feeding the poor seriously through its emphasis on Democratic Socialism.

The Sandinistas of Nicaragua, with their blend of Marxism and Christianity, were anathema to successive American administrations until they were finally crushed by Reagan’s Iran-Contra initiative, which returned “God” to his heaven and made the world safe for democracy.

Now, another Christian with dirty fingernails has appeared, Filipino minister Goel Bagundol who works in the Philippine’s Mindanao province with its concentration of the nation’s Muslims.

He believes that it is a Christian’s mission to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

And he has raised this to an art form.

Recently, three young girls were taken from the families to begin a life of prostitution, with the rapes and beatings that would have been an integral part of their vocational training.

Bagundol took his life into his hands, plunged into the back alleys of Manila to rescue the girls and returned them to their families.

For this, and other activities in behalf of the poor, the government has branded him a Communist, and he has received numerous death threats. Given that there have been 900 extrajudicial killings in the Philippines over the past seven years, the threats are real. There have been 200 disappearances, as well. None of these have been solved.

Bagundol is a member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). Sixteen of his fellow pastors have been murdered.

He responds to the death threats with cheerful good humor. In his church, there is a wall with photographs of the murdered and disappeared. With a laugh, he muses that next year his photograph might join the others.

His courage in the face of death is an integral part of his faith.

The Muslims of Mindanao have never taken kindly to foreign rule. When the Spanish invaded the Philippines in the sixteenth century, they conquered the northern end of the archipelago and converted the unsuspecting natives to Roman Catholicism, but they couldn’t touch the Muslims of Mindanao who outfought them.

When America took over the islands after the Spanish-American War, the Muslims nearly fought the Americans to a draw, as well. Then, in 1911, General John L. Hansen Jr. decided to apply some American ingenuity to the problem.

He knew Muslims believed that if a pig contaminated them, they would go straight to Hell. So, he took eight Muslim prisoners and sentenced seven of them to be shot. The eighth was to be a witness.

First, he had the seven dig their own graves. Then he tied them to stakes without blindfolds. Before their eyes, he slaughtered a pig and smeared their bodies and clothing with its blood. Then he had the big cut into seven pieces with a piece dropped into each open grave.

According to eyewitnesses, the prisoners all went “blue/black with terror, screaming for Allah to save them,” while the handcuffed eighth prisoner looked on.

Leonard left them like that until sundown when had had them shot and buried with their part of the pig.

The eighth prisoner was released. The story of the American’s methodology for executing Muslims spread rapidly, and the war ended.

(There is no doubt at least one clerk in the War Department bemoaned the loss of a good pig.)

The respite was temporary.

Since the Philippines achieved independence, the Muslims of Mindanao have fought for their independence, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not.

However, since 9/11, this struggle has taken on a new twist with the advent of our Global War on Terror, known to some as the Eternal War of the Empty Policy.

The GWOT has led to the emergence of an unusual natural phenomenon: wherever there is a plot of land that contains a valuable resource beneath its surface, terrorists suddenly sprout.

The hills of Mindanao contain gold and other minerals that have caught they eyes of large mining firms. Nothing mucks up a good mine like an indigenous people occupying the land. So it was that Muslims struggling for independence became terrorists.

As a part of our War on Terror, which is really a War on Resources, America started providing the Philippine government with military aid and technical assistance to clear the land for the mining companies (or to facilitate economic development, as it is euphemistically known.)

We have a lot of expertise in this area, though George Armstrong Custer did hit a slight bump in the road when he tried to clear the Black Hills of Native Americans to make way for gold and silver mining. But in the end, civilization prevailed.

It is in this hothouse of conflict and oppression Bagundol works. He doesn’t care about people’s religion; he only cares about their needs. He raises money to feed the malnourished and to provide tribal people with water buffalo to help with their farming. He provides books for the area’s elementary schools and arranges for scholarships to send student to high school, an opportunity normally denied them.

And as the war between the Philippine government and the newly-minted Muslim terrorists ravages the land, he is there to provide comfort, assistance and, where needed, sanctuary.

For this, he is called a Communist.

For this, he lives under a constant threat of death.

All for an annual salary of $1,600 (US).

Case Wagenvoord is a political satirist who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two cats. You may contact him at Wagenvoord@msn.com. Read other articles by Case, or visit Case's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on June 22nd, 2009 at 1:13pm #

    An irrelevant comment on an irrelevant comment: what worried the Vatican about liberation theology way back then was the danger of being hijacked by communists, since the Church condemns marxism for the same reason it condems capitalism: an ideology based on athestic materialism. With the communists gone, that problem has disappeared and with Pope Benedict’s emphasis on the traditional teachings of the Church, the condemnation of capitalism will now come back to the fore, more or less by default. Indeed, Benedict himself condemned “unbridled capitalism” in Mexico recently.

  2. Case Wagenvoord said on June 23rd, 2009 at 2:57am #

    …and an irrelevant reply.

    The Vatican’s objections to Liberation Theology went beyond fear of its Marxist overtones. When Pope Benedict XVI headed up the church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), he wrote “Liberation Theology”, which condemned the practice for reasons other than its Marxist leanings.

    He opposed its emphasis on orthopraxis over orthodoxy (practice over theory) because it undermined the “correct and ecclesial theology” of the church.

    He objected to its bottom-up organization that consisted of base communities that were formed outside of the organized church because he saw this as a threat to the church’s orthodox hierarchy.

    Finally, he condemned the painting Jesus as an activist radical who bumped heads with the hierarchy of his day because it challenges the church’s orthodox Christology.

    To deny that Jesus was a radical, one has to ignore the overturned tables and scattered coins left in the wake of His sojourn through the temple. Jesus took on Jerusalem’s temple cult that had the Judaism of His day in its grip. Take away this radicalism and we are left with a blond, blue-eyed milksop who cuddled baby lambs and suffered the children to come unto him.

    For that matter, strip Liberation Theology of its Marxism and bottom-up praxis, and all that remains is a church that sheds crocodile tears over the poor while supporting the hierarchy that suppresses them.

    I have always contended that Socialism in this country will go nowhere until it embraces the one force that unites America’s Euromerican, Afromerican and Latinomerican poor and working poor: Christian fundamentalism.

    Of course, we’d have to lose our ideological prissiness.

  3. duaner said on June 24th, 2009 at 2:34pm #

    “Socialism in this country will go nowhere until it embraces the one force that unites America’s Euromerican, Afromerican and Latinomerican poor and working poor: Christian fundamentalism.”

    Case, dude. I hope that last sentence was ironic, but just in case…

    Jesus was not a real guy. He is an instance of a mythical archetype. His story is an allegory for the evolution of the human spirit from selfishness to selflessness.

    The value of the Christ myth is that it helps show us the way to fully realizing our spiritual potential. When you take it literally, you totally miss the point of the myth: you are Christ, and it’s a long and often painful journey from the animal you were born to the angel you could become.

    So good luck with that – as a fundamentalist, you’re starting ‘in the hole’ so to speak – you’ll have to first let go of the comforting notion that you have an invisible friend that grants you wishes. If you want to be a good person, do it for its/your own sake, not because you fear that the great beard in the sky might be keeping score.

  4. Case Wagenvoord said on June 24th, 2009 at 6:26pm #


    We need a clarification here. I am a renegade Christian, not a fundamentalist Christian. As such, it is a matter of indifference to me whether Jesus existed or not. What counts is the teaching that has come down to us. I follow the Tao of Jesus and not the dogma that has grown up around him over the centuries.

    My point is this: our oligarchs’ favorite strategy is to keep the poor divided by fanning the flames of racism: poor white against poor black against poor hispanic.

    The one force that is common to these three groups is a fundamental or conservative faith. So we’d preach, “Yes sir! Jesus is the Way and he showed the way to you when he trashed the money changers in the temple. ”

    For a union between socialism and fundamentalism to suceed, we’d have to borrow a page from the Liberation Theology of Latin America with its emphasis on bottom up organization.

    The Right Wing Noise Machine is making a lot of headway with the working poor. We could appeal to one thing the right can’t, their faith.

    It wouldn’t be easy, but it might be worth a try.

  5. duaner said on June 25th, 2009 at 11:23am #

    Case, I’m pleased to see that I misunderstood your statement.

    I’m hesitant to use literalism in the way you suggest however. The money-changers story is a good example of this. This story has two meanings, its literal meaning and its symbolic meaning. If you pursue the literal meaning, you’re endorsing a literal interpretation of scripture and therefore perpetuating the misunderstanding of an important message.

    On the other hand, you can’t just discard the literal in favour of the symbolic – I don’t think the audience would tolerate it. Somehow, you’ve got to lead them from “Jesus didn’t like money” to “Material wealth is antithetical to spiritual development.” I guess maybe that’s the same sentence in different wording – one set of words for those who are at a particular stage in their development, and another set for those that are a bit further down the path.

    Anyhow, I think there’s a place for the Christ myths, and I don’t think the value of the message is deprecated by the fact that it is myth and not history. However, the mormons and jehova’s witnesses that come to my door don’t seem to be swayed by my explanations. They’re a tough crowd that way – they really don’t want to let go of the emotional security provided by the belief in their omnipotent father-figure.

    Anyhow, I want to again and sincerely wish you good luck in your efforts.

  6. earthling said on June 25th, 2009 at 12:54pm #

    “Socialism in this country will go nowhere until it embraces the one force that unites America’s Euromerican, Afromerican and Latinomerican poor and working poor: Christian fundamentalism.”

    I stumbled over that, too. Actually, I choked on it. Christianity in any form in anathema to justice, peace, equality, and progress. Religion itself, in any manifestation, is the opposite of those. To their credit, some individuals can and do overcome religious indoctrination to actually do some good in the world. More power to them.

  7. Case Wagenvoord said on June 25th, 2009 at 2:11pm #


    We must distinguish between Christians and Christinists. Christians, who are damn few and damn far between, actually try to live the teachings of Jesus. Christianists, who are the majority, are driven by orthodoxy and doctrines that have little to do with the teachings of Jesus. It is they who constitute the organized religon that has spread so much misery in the world. A favorite passtime of Christinists is marginalizing Christians.

  8. bozh said on June 25th, 2009 at 3:37pm #

    i haven’t heard about “christianist” before u brought it up. If they wld be henotheistic and wld respect basic human rights such as right to live, return to one’s habitat, healthcare; be informed, and enlightened why are they splitting from people who just want that?
    to obtain all that we don’t need further splits; we need more unity at least about basic human rights.

    nader, as far as i know, was or is for some basic human rights. These rights, i affirm, can be best and most quickly obtained via a political party.
    no, no org, cult, or movement wld do.
    any socalled religion to earn that label must be first of all henotheistic. And have only very few dogmas if any. No dogma is even better.
    but major cults such as islam, et al, promise[read lie], command, spread hatred/intolerance, etc., too much.
    and we humans are notorious for not learning from coommands and a priori creeds.
    we learn only thru experience; using langauge as auxilliary tool.
    to know an apple one must taste, smell, touch it. No amount of verbiage will impart the knowledge of an apple, god, saint, moshiach, mahdi, jesus, vapor, snake, spoon, etc.
    to most clergy, theory [cart before horse] is all; experience means nothing or is less reliable. However, the theoretical knowledge that one “asks god and he will deliver you”, is quickly abandoned when a priest [or even christians] has a heart attack and goes to a doctor and not to any god let alone a saint.