uploaded : Saturday 11th Aug 2007 at 02:44
by : David Paulin
The intellectual elite of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have in recent years joined ranks with the radical left. Its members vilify Israel, apologize for Islamic terrorists, and cheer on the Palestinian cause. Now, these Presbyterians have another villain: the Big Mac.
America’s most famous hamburger is emblematic of the dark underbelly of globalization, according to David Hadley Jensen, an associate professor of something called “constructive theology” at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas. On top of that, McDonald’s and its iconic burger are even at odds with Christian values, Jensen contends.
The professor’s scathing critique is the subject of a recent essay, “The Big Mac and the Lord’s Table: A Theological Interpretation of Globalization.” It’s among several anti-globalization essays in the recent edition of “Insights,” a semiannual faculty journal published by Austin Seminary. Situated on idyllic grounds near the University of Texas campus, the seminary is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is no stranger to controversy. In 2004, it initiated steps to divest from companies operating in Israel, an action that ultimately failed.
Ironically, Jensen’s attack comes as the world’s leading food retailer reported increasingly strong sales overseas. Some of its strongest sales occurred in none other than anti-American France and former Cold War enemies China and Russia, according to an earnings statement from the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company. In Europe, McDonald’s sales rose 3.5 percent last April compared to the same month in 2006. And in the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia/Pacific region, sales increased 10.3 percent. It’s yet another example of how ordinary people worldwide embrace slices of Americana that are despised by leftist elites worldwide. Could it be only a coincidence that all-American McDonald’s is seeing some of its strongest sales in foreign countries where individual freedoms have traditionally been in short supply?
The left-wing extremism found at many universities is an old story. But it exists as well at many seminaries, where professors embrace an odd mix of Christianity, Marxism, and Edward Said. Seminaries affilianted with the Presbyterian Church (USA) have been particularly problematic in this respect. Austin Seminary is one example.
In late 2005, it hosted a pro-Palestinian conference whose guest speakers included radical University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen, an apologist for the 9/11 hijackers and venomous critic of Israel. The speakers at a special dinner were the parents of the late Rachel Corrie, the radical college student who died when she stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer involved in anti-terror operations. One of the event’s organizers was an Austin Seminary professor, Whitney S. Bodman, an ordained minister and expert on Islam. He has praised terror group Hezbollah and worked closely with the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the problematic Muslim group.
Many Americans asked a question after the 9/11 attacks: “Why do they hate us?” An answer is suggested in Jensen’s essay: It’s because America is imposing its culture on other nations. The Big Mac is a case in point.
Jensen’s essay and others in the faculty journal provide yet another example of the troubling alliances being made by leftists today. Anti-globalization advocates have made common cause with radical leftists and even Muslim jihadists. In their own ways, all of them embrace an anti-American and anti-Western worldview. And they're attracted to wacky conspiracy theories as well.
For instance, Jensen writes: “An unexpressed goal of the global march of McDonald’s is cultural homogeneity.” Not surprisingly, though, he cites no supporting evidence for this; no purloined documents from McDonald’s or anything of the sort. Most bizarrely, he contends that Christian values themselves are undermined by the Big Mac and all it represents. He writes, “The McMeal is…a parody of the Eucharist, extending an invitation to all, but embodying only one culture.” Among Christians, the Eucharist relates to the Last Supper in which Christ passed bread to his disciples.
Driving home his case for Big Mac imperialism, Jensen compares a meal eaten at McDonald’s to one served at the “Lord’s Table.”
"Our peculiar North America culture has…bequeathed a meal for the world’s consumption, a meal that gorges a larger number of bellies every day: the Big Mac, fries, and Coke. This meal also embodies distinct practices: of burgers packaged in individual containers that resist sharing, of a maddening rush to the counter, of empty calories rather than food that sustains, of convenience rather than hospitality, of intricate global supply chains ensuring that beef from Brazil arrives in Asia on time, of homogenous tastes rather than sharing that begets moderation."
He concludes, ”Such meals, in the end, enable us to devour all we can quickly without bothering to interact with those hosting the meal.” A graduate of Yale Divinity School, Jensen also contends that McDonald’s is part of a global system (read American system here) that encourages “hoarding” by rich nations - hoarding which supposedly leaves other nations impoverished.
McDonald’s says it serves some 52 million meals worldwide every day. That its outlets are familiar and convenient is something Jensen acknowledges. So who are the retailer's customers? Obviously, they're ordinary people. And obviously, they lack the good taste and social consciousness embraced by Jensen and his privileged elite counterparts who live in trendy places in America and abroad.
The success McDonald’s enjoys overseas is obvious to anybody who has traveled abroad. In the dozen or so countries I’ve visited, its restaurants were usually packed. Sure, the food may not be spectacular or healthy. But no matter: the service is quick and friendly. Above all, it’s a piece of Americana: This seems especially endearing to many customers in foreign countries.
While in Guatemala City, I’ll never forget the charming scene I saw one morning. A young mother led her pajama-clad toddler, a lovely dark-eyed little girl, into an immaculate and orderly McDonald’s. The toddler was wide-eyed. You would have thought she was visiting Disneyland. And not far from where I used to live in Caracas, a nearby McDonald’s overflowed with people every Friday and Saturday evening . A Caracas sociologist told me, “It’s too expensive for many people to go to Miami anymore, but when they go to McDonald’s it’s like being back in the states for a little while.”
Nearby, there were several traditional Venezuelan restaurants and eateries. None of them ever had a fraction of the customers that McDonald’s did; and it was perhaps no coincidence that they were not as well-run, clean and friendly as McDonald’s. And nor did they offer as good a value for the money. It’s a pattern I’ve observed repeatedly when traveling in Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
To be sure, a case can be made against McDonald’s and fast-food culture, and two examples of such social criticism may be found in the book “Fast Food Nation” and documentary film "Super Size Me." One interesting thing about such social criticism is that it may have influenced McDonald’s decision to introduce healthier menus, which reflects the ability of free-markets to adapt to consumer demands and needs. But don’t look for any intelligent social criticism from Jensen and other Marxist Christians: Their social commentary and theological dribble is only dressed up in anti-Americanism.
Using the bible to whip McDonald’s, Jensen writes: “The food and drink of the Lord’s Table always takes shape in local culture.” These meals encourage “sharing and are worth “lingering over,” he says. And they ultimately “become part of a global meal as they remember and celebrate the risen Christ who is present at all tables.”
Jensen never mentions the specific kinds of food found at what he variously calls the “Lord’s Table” or “Lord’s Supper,” except to say that it “celebrates the diversity of God’s children” instead of promulgating McDonald’s “homogenous culture.” This culture, he contends, is “shunned in Christian practices of table fellowship.”
A proper Christian meal must “not erect boundaries around a particular culture at the expense of another,” Jensen explains. “Rather, it invites all cultures to participate in the richness of a meal that takes shape in local practice, connecting the celebration of one meal to all meals where Christ is host.”
Although Jensen says the “verdict is still out on the peril and promise of globalization,” he is clearly unhappy with how it’s unfolding. Citing cherry-picked figures from a U.N. Development Report, he writes, “The habits of the McMeal mimic some patterns of wealth distribution in the global economy.” Moreover, he writes: “Current trends, it seems, only confirm attitudes of hoarding among the wealthiest nations on earth."
Jensen is particularly disturbed by what he describes as an ever widening gap in income ratios between rich and poor nations. Yet he’s silent on corruption and mismanagement in poor countries, which have caused them to fall even further behind nations that have ridden the wave of globalization, and this includes developing nations. How would Jensen propose to redistribute the West’s “hoarded” wealth to countries such as Zimbabwe and Sudan, two of Africa’s most corrupt, authoritarian, and dysfunctional basket cases?
Jensen’s claims to the contrary, rich nations are not “hoarding” wealth. Their wealth is constantly on the move, flowing from banks and investment houses into countries around the word: those with open markets, stable governments, and the rule of law. Profits from McDonald’s form part of this flow, amounting to billions of dollars invested in 30,000 restaurants in the U.S. and more than 100 countries. Is McDonald’s “hoarding” its overseas profits? According to McDonald’s website, “More than 70 percent of McDonald's restaurants worldwide are owned and operated by independent local men and women.” And presumably, a job at McDonald’s would be coveted in many countries. Jensen addresses none of these things.
Others essays in “Insights” offer similarly wacky anti-globalization arguments. Some excerpts:
*Janet L. Parker, a pastor from Arlington, Virginia calls the global economic system (read American system here) “totalitarian in nature.” Evoking the bible, she writes: “Do we serve an economic system oriented toward serving the welfare of the few at the expensive of the many? Or do we serve the God who gifted us with his food, green earth, who calls us to sacrificial love for one another, and who charged us with this responsibility to care for God’s creation?”
*Hak Joon Lee, an associate professor of ethics and community at Brunswick Theological Seminary, suggests America got its comeuppance on 9/11 as the terror attacks “revealed that the entire world is not content with American influence.” Using the rhetoric of moral equivalency, he writes that “U.S. Supremacy and Islamic religious terrorism” have “similar logic and dynamics.” He writes, “Supremacists refuse to treat other human beings as equal to themselves. In an ‘Us vs. Them’ state of mind, supremacists think of themselves as righteous, while demonizing the opponents as evil.”
*Lameck Banda, a minister from Zambia, blames Africa’s dysfunction on the malevolent influence of “Western individualism.” This, he claims, is suppressing the “African identify of communality” and is leading to haphazard urban growth and overpopulation. He contends that these problems in turn are fostering a welter of other problems: poverty and soaring crime; prostitution and street children; and even the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
And just think: McDonald’s is part of all of these atrocities by forcing its anti-Christian culture on foreign countries. This would, of course, explain the rage of the 9/11 hijackers.
If only it were so.
*For more information about the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Austin Seminary in particular, see my two-part series, "Presbyterian Seminaries: Schools for Anti-Semitism?" It was published last year by my friend, screenwriter Robert Avrech, at his blog Seraphic Secret. (seraphicpress.com).
*Austin Seminary Professor Whitney S. Bodman’s pro-Hezbollah Op-Ed, “Hezbollah aims to defend, rebuild Lebanon,” was published on August 16, 2006 in the Austin American-Statesman, a Cox newspaper.
David Paulin, an Austin, TX-based freelancer, was a Caracas-based foreign correspondnet during the years that Hugo Chavez came to power. He blogs at The Big Carnival (bigcarnival.blogspot.com).