“Some liberation theologians base their social action upon the Bible scriptures describing the mission of Jesus Christ, as bringing a sword 1 (e.g., Isaiah 61:1, Matthew 10:34, Luke 22:35–38)—and not as bringing peace. This Biblical interpretation is a call to action against poverty, and the sin engendering it, to effect Jesus Christ's mission of justice in this world.”
—From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberation_theology
Several things made got me started thinking about this concept of idolatry… (1.) Pope Françis’s recent homily concerning the “rebels and idolaters” who cannot move past “the way things have always been done.” For a review of this homily, see the report on Vatican Radio. (2) In his book, Tarot and Psychology: Spectrums of Possibilities, Arthur Rosengarten notes that using tarot in his psychological practice can “shake things up” in a technical profession that can be so “clinically static as to become no longer a reliable agent of change but rather a predictable proponent of psychologism…” and “[a] lifeless tendency towards predictability experienced in what often goes as psychological treatment.” (3.) a discussion with a fellow brother who was concerned that my “passion” for social justice might not be amenable or adaptable to the life of simplicity to which he knew the elder brothers had become accustomed over the last several decades. And finally, (4.) Mark Sundeen’s biography of Daniel Suelo published under the title The Man Who Gave Up Money (Riverhead Books, 2012), which has been one of the most influential books of my life.
Lots of misinformed people decry the tarot pejoratively as idolization. If you’ve been reading my blog and getting a feel for my philosophy about the tarot, you will know that I do not fall into that camp. Like so many other mysterious and marginal things in this world, people allow themselves to become afraid of the things they don’t know about, and in human nature, it seems, it is much easier to apply an evil taboo on those things rather than spending the time to investigate and become informed about things. Knowledge and understanding and getting personal experience with people or with unfamiliar things is often the best antidote for our ignorance. This is why you will hear so many people laud the benefits of traveling abroad—when you get to meet and know other people from other cultures around the world, those foreign cultures, traditions, and people seem a lot less intimidating and scary. (Perhaps several of the Republican presidential candidates should take a grand tour abroad and meet some of the people they repeatedly vilify with their rhetoric. I would suggest they not do it the way that Ben Carson did it, however.)
Tarot—by its nature—has a plasticity, malleability, and timelessness that eschews the idolization of institutionalism. By that I mean that its universal visual allegories pertain so relativistically to timeless themes of human nature, emotion, and experience, that the stories they tell are not restricted to past fables or parables or mythologies. They are pertinent to the “everyman” experiences of life, and as such are just as relevant to 21st-century experiences as they were to 13th- and 14th-century individuals. They can teach us just as wisely as the parables in the Bible, because the parables are also just as “timeless” and universal as the visual allegories of the tarot.
The Pope’s Anti-Establishment Position
In his homily on Mark 2:18-22 in which Jesus defends his apostles from the Pharisees who accuse them of not properly fasting…Pope Françis repeats what Jesus himself says (Matthew 5:17-20) when teaching the “Antitheses” of Matthew Chapter 5 when he admonishes those listening, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill…For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus then proceeds to “enrich” the laws with new and greater conditions and rules.
In Pope Françis’s words:
“What does this mean? That He changes the law? No! That the law is at the service of man, who is at the service of God – and so man ought to have an open heart. [To say] ‘It’s always been done this way’ is a closed heart, and Jesus tells us, ‘I will send you the Holy Spirit and He will lead you into the fullness of truth.’ If you have a heart closed to the newness of the Spirit, you will never reach the full truth.”
Françis is basically telling his charges—his congregation, his flock—not to concretize the words of the Bible. The words cannot be a living document if it is bound and tied to a strict doctrine. The lessons of the Bible must be applied to the contemporary, to today’s troubles and concerns in order to “fulfill” the laws of God.
The tarot—as a pauper’s bible—has always had this magic. It resists concretization with every turn of its page, with every draw of a new card, because the wisdom ensconced in the ocular wisdom is insistently applied to the issue-, concern-, or conflict-at-hand.
Thus, if we think about psychology or psychotherapy as institutions prone to the same institutionalization of practice that some in the field apply as a “gospel” progression of mental therapeutic wellness, as though every brain had exactly the same aptitudes for successful amelioration, as though every body could be trusted to maintain the same level of chemical and hormonal balances for peak conditioning… there certainly seems to be room for the benefits of “clinical eclecticism,” as Dr. Rosengarten points out.
Overindulgence in Routine or Institutionalization as Temptation to Sloth
In the case of my fellow brother’s worries… I might infer the same principle—namely that the routine of monasticism can have the same weaknesses of institutionalization as any other profession or indoctrinization. My brothers have every right to have reservations in respect to my constancy and devotion to stability. But in some respects I suppose I want to ask the simple question, “Is it not true that the Lord God dispenses His justice in the world?” And follow that question with another: “Are we not instruments of God?”
The Psalms, which we brothers are tasked with singing multiple times each day, are full of desperate pleas to God to exact justice. Do not listen with an apathetic heart, brother. The choir sings back-and-forth in responsorial echo one side to the other. We echo those pleas for justice over and over and over. It is one thing to remember the words and recite them dutifully. But the echo must eventually ring out farther than the chamber of the chapel choir; it must be heard in the world where its themes can be exacted by the hand of God. Why sing pleas of justice if you do not believe that they can be answered?
I have previously quoted our great friend, br. Simón Pédro Arnold, OSB,2 for this very concept—for not idolizing (i.e.: not preserving, not arresting, not living a commemorated perception of) the idea of monasticism as a profession that has already reached its apex and finite incarnation. That quote is worth repeating here:
“Monastic life, like all religious life, is above all a historical response and not a prefabricated model. The Spirit is constant and changing at once, like life, like history, and we must let it change us for this era. We ought not confuse stability with the rigidity of cadavers.”
Theologies can be just as timeless and prudent to contemporary need as interpretation allows them to be. For instance, Liberation Theology, and Feminist Theology both erupted out of a need for the gospels to reflect relevant issues surrounding those theologies. Liberation Theology was born in the mid-1950 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in a country and a time with extreme economic inequality and extreme poverty. The country itself would become so dependent, so addicted to a global creditor system, that ultimately Brazil—as well as other Latin American countries—requested that global banks and particularly the United States forgive Brazil the massive majority of its debt. When those first-world countries refused, Latin American countries substituted a massive export GDP program in order to try to reverse the debt. This however resulted in under- and un-employment of the population, decreased wages and income, and a dramatic rise in poverty. Brazil is still in debt crisis and is still famous for its socio-economic disparities, in particular, for its slums.
Liberation Theology therefore rescued and elevated those parts of the gospels that provide solace and hope for the poor. (In truth, this facet of the gospels is what has always attracted people to Christianity—hope and promise for the least of society and the marginalized. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”) Liberation theology not only reminds us of the plight of the poor, but flagrantly demoralizes systems of monetizing and governments that rely on theoretical market systems. Liberation Theology points out that we have idolized a money-market system over and above God. And because so many corrupt governments and politicians (and world markets) are dependent on this theoretical market and the institutionalization and idolization of those markets in order to maintain power, Liberation Theology has repeatedly been quashed.
Feminist Theology was born in tandem with the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s. As women began to compete in the male-dominated workforce and to demand equality from male peers, Women’s Theology gave voice to the stories of “hidden” women in the male-dominated hierarchy of the Church. Men had made all decisions throughout the centuries since the Council of Nicea concerning what literature, social teachings, and traditions would survive and permeate Christian rituals and be taught as history. In many cases, attempts were made to eradicate women’s roles and high-ranking positions that were known to have existed in early Christendom. In other instances, the male hierarchy blatantly invented their own demeaning history for women (casting Mary Magdelene as a whore, for instance) in order to elevate the superiority of male “virtue.”
In an effort to reclaim a relevant role and function in the Church, feminist theologians had to become historical and literary archeologists. They also “reinvented” feminist narrative to Biblical tradition, re-applying feminine perspective and women’s innate experience in order to understand biblical literature from a distinctly feminine voice. Since the lessons of the Biblical canon are “universal” stories, their application and meaning to women is just as valid and affirming as the more dominant male hierarchical version. What’s more, despite male protest (for fear of losing the dominant catechesis they have so long promoted and from which they have so long benefited), both gender theologies can be completely complimentary.
The tarot, no less than Liberation or Feminist Theologies, has been vilified as heretical, evil, dubious, and misguided…mostly out of fears by traditionalists and ritual conservatives that have applied a demeaning history onto the tarot.
What’s interesting is that tarot enthusiasts in some instances embraced and “ran with” the invented, demeaning histories of the deck of cards, and used it to further conflate an aura of mystery, taboo, and rebelliousness.
But just as with Women’s/Feminist Theology, we ought to be historical and literary archeologists in order to “reclaim” the important role that visual pedagogy played in history, reënvision the usefulness of visual storytelling and narrative, and honor the oracular prudence that the visual allegories can offer to contemporary faith. Liberation Theology and Feminist Theology both break the bounds of indoctrinization and institutionalism that prevent us from stagnation and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into the fullness of truth. My argument is that tarot is equally a valid ball-buster of institutionalization. And equally, it has the potential to help us reclaim a sense of Wisdom no less than the psalms or other Wisdom literature.
Pervasive Idolization Demands Philosophies that Oppose Them
Lastly, Daniel Suelo’s chosen life of poverty—or rather money-less philosophy—as detailed in the biographical reporting of Mark Sundeen3 is another prime example of an individual realizing that the world has idolized its money, and has opted, therefore, not to participate as a philosophical stance. Suelo was raised in a rather fundamentalist household when young, and as a youth was warned about the evils of idolatry. As an adult he fell into his moneyless lifestyle as a preference, and did not really come to the realization until later in life that it was perhaps an aversion to society’s idolization of money and “things” that deterred him from participation in the “norm” and status quo schema of American market-capitalism.
In reviewing Sundeen’s book for this blog post, I was surprised by the wide range of reviews this book received for a piece of literature that I consider a hallmark commentary and criticism of capitalism. Many of the low-rated reviews came from people who anticipated the book as being a “how to” manual of how to live off the grid, and whose readers were disappointed that the book contained so much biographical information, including Suelo’s religious upbringing and about how his current philosophy was reached. Ironically, and sadly, most of these lower-rated reviews came from women. At the extreme-end of discontent with the book were comments such as this: “I was looking to read about the mechanics of living without money, and about what exactly Suelo's life is like. Instead I got a well-researched but pedestrian chronicle of a fundamentalist Christian's upbringing and philosophy with a side of living without money. At the end of the book, I just don't care. Not even a little bit.” Here is another: “This book is NOT a how-to on how you can live without money. If you thought that was the case, you would be sadly mistaken…. While his commitment to living without money is admirable, I can't help but think that the way he is going about it couldn't be done in another culture.”
I say that these reviews are ironic because they are from people projecting a preconceived notion of what they are looking for without being able to envision a different paradigm in which their projection could exist. I, personally, think that they missed the opportunity to understand the concept and why market-capitalism and an idolized monetary system are innately corrupt. Instead these reviewers acknowledge and acquiesce to an obsequious monetized system trying to figure out how they can out-scam it. There is no overcoming such a pervasive, institutionalized system without a philosophy that proposes antithetical or binary theories of existence. Mr. Suelo is less attempting to anarchistically out-maneuver the system, than he is attempting to survive it while positing his objections to it. (His actions in response to market-capitalist society are, however, indeed revolutionary.) Mr. Suelo’s pauper’s philosophy was the crux and theme of the book. We must think about Suelo’s observations of American capitalism as Diogenes’s cynicism in confronting Alexander the Great.4, 5
 "I have come not to bring peace, but [to bring] a sword" is one of Jesus's most controversial statements because its meaning has many interpretations. The immediate context is the entire verse of Matthew 10:34-35, "Do not think not that I have come to bring peace upon earth. I have come to bring not peace, but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." (New American Bible, Revised Edition)
Controversy continues to erupt over whether this sword that Jesus speaks of using is either literal or figurative (a metaphor). This author has his own opinions… being that Jesus spoke almost exclusively elsewhere in parable and metaphors, the figurative association seems rather obvious. Further, as tarot enthusiasts will readily understand, the suit of “swords,” in its representational characteristics and metaphorical applications, not unlike the poisonous pen of wit, can slash and cut away at falsehoods, injustices, non-transparencies, and fools. The divisions caused among individuals otherwise bound by familial or close ties, reveals that no one is necessarily spared from the truth—those who accept the truth may be torn asunder from [even] those they love who refuse to hear the truth. In each of Jesus’s examples, he pits a younger generation against a member of an older generation, possibly meaning that the “new” covenant may pit those with vision and who hear the voice of the Holy Spirit against those who cannot get past “how things have always been done.”
 Brother (Dr.) Simón Pedro Arnold, OSB was coordinator of the team of theological advisers of the Latin American Confederation of Religious Men and Women (1999-2003); Director of the Institute of Aymara Studies in Peru; founding editor of the magazine Inculturación (2003-2008); is founder and co-director of the Emmaus Center for Spirituality (since 2000); is founder and president of the Institute for Studies of the Andean Cultures, IDECA (since 2009). In this framework, he is also founder and editorial director of the magazine Pan-Andean Dialogue, and Professor of Andean Religions and Cultures at the Catholic University Santa Maria, Arequipa, Peru.
 Sundeen, Mark. The Man Who Gave Up Money (Riverhead Books, 2012). Available from Amazon Books [http://www.amazon.com/The-Man-Who-Quit-Money/dp/1594485690] or at your local independent bookseller.
 Without prejudice, I offer here Daniel Suelo’s personal blog [https://sites.google.com/site/livingwithoutmoney/] in which he addresses—under his own philosophy—several pointed questions from a dubious public about how he is able to justify his lifestyle of money-less-ness and homelessness. As you can tell by the USB site name, Daniel has created the site for free through the public library system.
 Diogenes of Sinope was a 4th-century BC philosopher who rejected virtually all social and societal prescriptions, preferring to live as a naked anarchist in a barrel-for-a-home. He is perhaps the ultimate master of “snark” and sarcasm, and the word “cynic” and “Cynicism” etymologically come from the name of his brand of philosophy. Diogenes was recounted in stories of wit for centuries, including up through the Renaissance. He was depicted in works of art by none less than the painter Raphael. His most famous stories and quips come from a supposed encounter with Alexander the Great who, while Diogenes was sunning himself, came up to him and offered to grant him any request. "Stop standing in my light!" complained Diogenes. (Accounts of this tale are recorded by Plutarch, Laërtius, and Arrian, but there are additionally dozens of references to this incident in ancient literature). When asked why he went about with a lamp in broad daylight, Diogenes confessed, "I am looking for a [honest] man."
The extensive prevalence of Alexander-inspired stories and of Diogenes’s well-known wit in the Middle Ages and Renaissance point to Diogenes as the original Hermit (IX) of the tarot. (More on this revelation to follow in future writing.)