Monday, November 19, 2012

God Loves Everyone So Do As Thou Wilt

Following is a discussion I had with two Christians on Facebook.  I think it highlights the end to which our current approach to theology inevitably leads, that theology being: (a) that God loves everyone unconditionally, (b) That what the world doesn't realize, and needs to be told, is that Jesus loves them, (c) That God hates the sin but loves the sinner.  

Missing in this theology... (well maybe it doesn't qualify really as theology but probably more as pop-theology, or perhaps an approach to reaching out to the world) is any suggestion of God's holiness or his wrath. It is a contorted theology in which the Christian becomes ashamed of the wrath of his God.  While pop theology doesn't necessarily reject God's wrath, or eternal damnation in Hell fires, they simply become the big pink elephant in the Bible.

In this discussion both of these guys hold "judging" as the offense of offenses.  Both hold to relativism, one takes a hard view, the other a softer view.  The personal view trumps everything.  What is absent in both views is a sense of not being loved and accepted by God.

So, here is the discussion.  I've removed the names and replaced them with with Bob and John.  It took place in a short time so please excuse the typos on everyone's part.

Dan-Where do you get Jesus accepts everybody?

Dan-What I mean is, where does it say that in the Bible Bob?

Bob- well doesn't Jesus love everyone?

Dan-Are yo asking me? What does my opinion matter? What does the Bible say Bob?

Bob - one of our commandments say "love thy neighbors" am I right or wrong?

Dan-what if your neighbor is an unborn child Bob?

John - I personally am very against abortion, I believe it is murder and even unborn children should be loved. However, Jesus does not view anybody with different views as lesser people.

John - I believe he does, but he loves and cares for their parents too.

Dan -  Does Jesus love unborn babies?

John - And people who disagree as well

Dan - What does loving the parents too have to do with anything?

Bob -  This is where I disagree with a lot of stuff. I believe that my god is a merciful and forgiving god and that is not judgmental. Yes, Jesus does cares for unborn child its a gift from god.

Dan -  And yet you vote for one who advocates their slaughter?

John  Abortion. Even if the parents get an abortion he loves them just the same. I didn't vote for Obama, but that doesn't make me right.

Dan -  Who you voted for has no bearing on what is right or wrong. I'm simply trying to reconcile the murder of innocent human beings and your professed beliefs.

Dan -  God is merciful, yes. But does that make it OK to crush and dismember the unborn?

John  I DO NOT agree with abortion, and I would never get one. Not even if I was raped. But I don't want to say other's beliefs are wrong when I expect them to be open minded about mine. It's a 2 way street.

Bob - See this is where the problem is. Those our president advocates for it doesn't mean he is the one dragging people to the hospital to get an abortion. its an individual choice on that person. who are we to say NO!! her judgement should be between her and God not US!!!!

Dan - So you would be OK with me killing my 1 year old son?

Dan -  After all, God is merciful right? And it would be open minded, right?

Bob - That's up to you and God. I won't say it's okay but due it it your choice and you will face the consequence judgment day.

John - This is why I'm against abortion Danny. I do truly believe it is the same thing to kill a one year old and an unborn child. Bob doesn't, but her beliefs are hers and I don't want to tell her how wrong she is when she's never told me that. We all just need to be respectful of what others think.

Dan -  So John, what you are saying is that there is no absolute truth.

Dan -  Right?

Dan -  So if I tortured, raped and then killed my 1 year old, while you don't agree with it, you have no right to tell me its wrong?

Dan -  Then God would judge me, but I'm still ok because Jesus died for ALL people. right?

Bob -  I have a right to tell you your wrong. but i can't STOP you from doing it!

John - Not what I'm saying at all. I'm simply saying if you want people to listen to your side you have to listen to their's. I believe it is an absolute truth, and it is part of the reason I did not vote for Obama. But I still think we should be respectful and listen to Bob.

John -  And If you believe Jesus is your savior and accept him as such then yes, you're still fine.

John -  Jesus never stops giving second chances.

Dan -  John,  how have I been disrespectful?

Dan -  Disagreement is not disrespect, though it may feel like it at times.

John - You haven't. I'm sorry, it did seem like I meant that. That's not how I intended that to come across at all. You've been very respectful. I think a better word for what I meant was open-minded.

Dan -  I believe I am open minded John. But that's another discussion and I don't want to get distracted. I'll get back to that in a moment if you wish.

So, what you are saying is that I can torture etc, my child and its OK if I accepted Jesus? Is that what you're saying?

Dan -  Just trying to clarify, not wanting to put words in your mouth.

John -  If you believe you're open-minded you probably are. And technically yes. Jesus died to forgive all of our sins, all of the things he declared wrong. That would be one of them and technically you could get away with it. Still, he gave up his life on the cross so why would you want to do that. Wouldn't you want to try and do what he wanted as a way of thanking him?

John - Jesus never said ANYWHERE that murder was worse than lying. A sin is a sin, harmless or not. Who are we to decide what's worse in Jesus' eyes. When we sin we all suffer death, but Jesus died so that we may have the chance to live with him in heaven.

Dan -  I'm not seeing where anyone is advocating lying. I am seeing where Christians are saying that murdering the unborn OK>

John -  Lying was just a comparison. To us a lie seems way more acceptable than murder, but Jesus didn't ever say that to be true. And Danny, I agree with you on abortion, but I'm with Bob. I've got a lot of work to do. I respect your opinions and I hope you respect mine as well.

Friend of mine - And where does Jesus say to keep on sinning after you accept Him?! He says to turn from your wicked ways and repent. He says in Matthew 18:15-17 that if you see your brother sinning to GO TO HIM, even eventually brining him before the church. He never ...See More

John - It is entirely impossible to quit sinning. Realize it or not we sin everyday. We look at somebody and make a judgement, that's a sin. We may not even mean to, but it happens.

John - Anyway, I can't keep debating, I really do have a lot of homework this week. Ciao.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Has The Church To Do With Capitalism

What does Christianity have to do with capitalism? The short answer is, "not much, really; at least not directly". You see, economics is, simply put, the allocation of scarce material resources. The Christian would do well to remember that Christianity, not only thrives today in all sorts of harsh economic systems, but it has done so all through the changing systems throughout history. In fact, the argument could be made that it has thrived more hardily in oppressive systems, especially if we accept the fact that the Church, in its purest form, is interested much more in men's eternal destinies than in any carnal-minded concepts such as the fair distributions of material resources. 

The Christian therefore must beware of those who fix their eyes on worldly "material" as, not only their source of joy and purpose, but also a suitable solution for all that ails society. The very idea of the economic system of communism was born out of this very perspective. The father of communism, Karl Marx, rejected God.  He then set out to make things “fair” for those whom he saw as the down trodden masses. But he could only see them in a strictly material sense.  That a child with lots of toys and a full stomach might not be as wholly well off as one with barely anything except two loving parents, who are raising their child with an eternal purpose and destiny, is lost on a materialist like Marx. 

As it turned out, man's attempts to bring about the Utopian system he envisioned succeeded only in bathing the 20th century in blood. Yet Utopia never arrived; only deeper levels of hell and fear for those under its oppressive fist ... oh, and lots of disparity in wealth distribution too. In fact, history, as well as Jesus, tells us that wealth disparity is part and parcel to Man's existence. Man's attempts to "fix" that problem only end up changing who gets more than "their fair share".  

From the Christian perspective -- that is, from the perspective that takes into account eternity -- it is the hopelessness during this life that causes the Church to thrive. In the free market system, you see, no matter what the material circumstances of one's birth, there is hope of improving those circumstances. This hope, which focuses primarily on material gains in this life, can present strong competition for our interests and affections, and so therefore are a formidable distraction from a future eternal hope after death. The irony should not be missed that the system dreamed up by Karl Marx, who proclaimed that religion was the opiate of the masses, caused those who discovered Jesus in the midst of his hell to thrive, albeit not materially.

There's no doubt that capitalism eases the pain of our existence through higher standards of living. It also causes disparate wealth distribution, which grates horribly on man's sin nature, his covetous inclinations and his sense of "fairness". In his affluence he will inevitable be drawn to a "fairer" distribution of the world's resources, because in his comfort based on those resources, they are everything, a sort of god in fact.

Affluence also wreaks havoc on our Christian walk. Acceptance and accommodation of evil becomes normal as worldly wealth finds itself in competition with our life in Christ. Our beliefs begin to die the death of a thousand compromises as our thinking increasingly conforms to this world. In the process we become less and less distinguishable from the world until one day we wake to find that our “Christian” bedfellows are not Christians at all, but rather Marxists dressed in sheep's clothing.  We learn that these wolves have co-opted the Christian banner for anti-Christ causes based on social justice, which is just another way of saying "material justice".

Worse yet, affluence begins to inculcate the "religion" of Christianity with a confusion between material wealth and the abundant life in Christ. Because of this confusion terms like "thrive" when used to describe the oppressed and poor's life in Christ is difficult to grasp. It is not mere coincidence then that the very term "abundant life" in John chapter 10 is found in the context of pointing out the existence of hireling shepherds -- shepherds who are there for the material outcome they gain and not for the eternal good of the sheep.

Yet capitalism and Christianity do have a relationship. It finds this relationship in a shared core principle concerning man's condition. Capitalism is based on the premise that Man is not basically good. The so-called father of capitalism, Adam Smith, illustrates this in his treatise The Wealth Of Nations:

A puppy fawns upon its dam, and a spaniel endeavours by a thousand attractions to engage the attention of its master who is at dinner, when it wants to be fed by him. Man sometimes uses the same arts with his brethren, and when he has no other means of engaging them to act according to his inclinations, endeavours by every servile and fawning attention to obtain their good will. He has not time, however, to do this upon every occasion. In civilised society he stands at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons. ... [M]an has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages".
By adopting Smith’s prescription the founding fathers aligned our economic system with reality by the assumption that man would be much more productive, innovative and industrious if doing so would be beneficial to himself. Thus was born what would become one of the freest and wealthiest societies ever enjoyed by Man.

The ideas that formed American capitalism however were not instituted in a vacuum but in the bosom of a predominately Christian culture. In such a culture in which the individual held himself eternally liable before a Holy and Righteous God, the people were more inclined to exercise self-governance and restraint according to an objective moral standard. These standards then guided their decisions, not only as they pertained to their own lives and interactions with resources, but also as they pertained to every sphere of their influence including the selection of leaders. This predominate mindset of the populace, which was subjugated to a higher order, made for fertile soil for capitalism's seed to flourish. However, as it turns out, equal opportunity and economic freedom naturally produce unequal ends. Some got very wealthy while others struggled.  In a a society with a sense of moral bearings this is generally attributed to providence and so does not present a problem.  But such disparity it is not suffered well in a society that is not only disparaging of honor, but is also burdened by a perverse sense of entitlement, envy and covetousness ... and which has no suspicion of those seeking power through promises of a Utopian society.

Central to the health of capitalism, therefore, is the Church's teaching on the truths regarding man's sinful condition. Never mind, for the moment, that this teaching is key to understanding the Gospel, and as such, key to the health of the Church and its Kingdom mandate, for I am attempting here to answer an economic question. The fact remains that the modern Western "Church" has become either unable or loath to make man’s depravity a focal part of her doctrine. This transformation of focus in central doctrines taught by the Church has had a destructive effect on capitalism for a couple of reasons.

First, capitalism is dependent on the Biblical concept of fidelity. As I pointed out earlier, capitalism produces a few fabulously-well-to-do individuals. But it is just as important that it also produces comfortable masses with relatively modest excesses in resources. Fidelity allows for the masses to pool their resources to create an almost unfathomable concentration of wealth.  This wealth then plays an important role in the economy. For one, it doesn't lie dormant, hidden in post holes and mattresses, but rather it becomes productive through investment. Also, its productivity produces a return which not only fuels the economy but also helps to sustain people when they become too old to work. Though this principle was in place long before tax deferment laws were enacted, they are apparent in current 401-k programs.

It is these massive concentrations of wealth that have been responsible for many advancements through research that would have otherwise been unachievable due to insurmountable expenses. Such advancements include the development of drugs and medical procedures,  the willing slave of affordable energy and advances in just about all technologies. But the same wealth also awakens the greed and envy resident in the heart of man.

If there is no objective truth by which to judge all things, then we are left with a syllogism that looks kind of like this:
1. Men are good
2. I am man.
3. What I do is good.
With this view man can rationalize the greed in his own heart while, incidentally, retaining his right to judge the greed in others. The system breaks down as the wealthy are judged as greedy simply because they were successful at accomplishing what those who judge them could not. In addition to this the wealthy begin to judge each other also. You have millionaire politicians judging millionaire businessmen, and millionaire businessmen judging millionaire politicians. In addition, you have millionaire Hollywood stars, who seem to somehow be above judgment, judging them all. All of this judging of the greed of others, while justifying the greed in one's own heart, is therefore not confronted from within with any sense of providence, honor, or accurate understanding of the true condition of the heart of man; much less the economic system within which it is all taking place.

In such a fidelity-starved environment the idea of pooling one's wealth becomes a fool's errand as increasing numbers feel justified in their own actions. Contracts are broken, loans are forsaken, capital is siphoned off by currency printing, onerous regulations, corruption, ponzi schemes, fraud, theft, bribes  and so on. Worse, many who justify their own participation in these destructive actions have their own meager resources invested in the system their actions are destroying. This is like a snake greedily biting his own tail for spite of the tail's head. Those with modest means will eventually have no option but to withdraw what remains, convert them to an historically stable currency such as scarce metals.  This is one reason a rise in the price of gold can be a negative indicator of the health of an economy. As resources are withdrawn there is a corresponding reduction in new resources which results in a domino effect toward a reduced standard of living for the masses.

Second, capitalism is dependent on the Biblical concept of work. Since man's banishment from Eden he has worked tirelessly to reenter. One way man can go about this is to make his way in life off the sweat of his neighbor's brow. The capitalistic system is a system that is dependent on the pooled resources gained by the sweat of one's own brow. The necessary relationship between work and provision has been thwarted in the past by the outright enslavement of man by his fellow man. Contrary to popular belief, this act hasn't ended, the methods have only changed. Now rather than enslaving a few men and making an ugly spectacle, masses are partially enslaved for the benefit of a few through what has become euphemistically known as wealth redistribution.

Liberty, and it's cousin capitalism, are not hardy social or economic systems. They can exist only in environments in which those who hold to the ideas on which they stand cling tenaciously to objective reality. Once man's true condition is rejected by the society at large, that society no longer accepts reality but rather an alternate reality based more on how man thinks things ought to be than how they actually are. This then releases man to embrace the folly that some men can be trusted to siphon wealth from his neighbor and redistribute it more fairly to another neighbor.  Such a relationship is akin to the notion of honor among thieves as the citizen charges the politician to steal while trusting that the same politician will be dealing honestly with himself.  He is blinded by the spectacle of a looming Utopia just beyond the horizon.  The healthy suspicions that once met those who promised such a Utopian society 1, 2, 3 become suppressed and maligned. Instead schemes are invented that are designed to exchange votes and campaign donations for largess. We saw a battle along these lines recently in Wisconsin as out-of-control state liabilities consisting of promised largess to government union members threatened the state’s fiscal health as larger numbers of people were becoming unproductive by living off the confiscated wealth of their neighbors.  This is a spiral as ever more amounts of siphoned resources are required to cover the cost of paying people to do nothing. But these siphoned resources are not coming from nothing, they are confiscated from those who earned it. This is like the snake eating the tail that it bit off of himself, assuming that it will provide him with long term nourishment. It is counter to capitalism, it is counter to a Biblical view of the world, and in a more sane society it would be counter to common sense.

So, in conclusion, what has the Church to do with capitalism? In a word: “nothing”. In summing up the answer however we would do well to rearrange the question and ask, rather, "What has capitalism to do with the Church?” And like every other question that man asks along these lines, the answer is "everything". Many who worship at the altar of capitalism have not asked this question and their beloved system is now in danger as a result ... and they provide a thousand reasons why ... and it continues to crumble. Ditto for family, marriages, joy, happiness, and every other thing that man endeavors to do without God in his few short hours in this life.


1 In Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville had this to say in the 1830's concerning America's constitution:
The Constitution of the United States is like those exquisite productions of human industry which ensure wealth and renown to their inventors, but which are profitless in any other hands. This truth is exemplified by the condition of Mexico at the present time, The Mexicans were desirous of establishing a federal system, and they took the Federal Constitution of their neighbors, the Anglo-American, as their model, and copied it with considerable accuracy! But although they had borrowed the letter of the law, they were unable to create or to introduce the spirit and the sense which give it life. They were involved in ceaseless embarrassments between the mechanism of their double government; the sovereignty of the States and that of the Union perpetually exceeded their respective privileges, and entered into collision; and to the present day Mexico is alternately the victim of anarchy and the slave of military despotism. (page 189)
2John Adams: "Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. Oaths in this country are as yet universally considered as sacred obligations. That which you have taken, and so solemnly repeated on that venerable ground, is an ample pledge of your sincerity and devotion to your country and its government."

3F. A Hayek in "The Road To Serfdom" (written during WWII) had an interesting comment in the introduction of his book on page 57 (in my copy) that I think applies here as well:
... [H]istory never quite repeats itself, and just because no development is inevitable, we can in measure learn from the past to avoid repetition of the same process. One need not be a prophet to be aware of impending dangers. 'And accidental combination of experience and interest will often reveal events to one man under aspects which few yet see. The following pages are the product of an experience as near as possible to twice living though the same period... While this is an experience one is not likely to gain in one country, it may in certain circumstances be acquired by living in turn for long periods in different countries. ...Thus, by moving from one country to another, one may sometimes twice watch similar phases of intellectual development. The senses have then become peculiarly acute. When one hears for a second time opinions expressed or measures advocated which one has first met twenty or twenty-five years ago they assume a new meaning as symptoms of a definite trend. It is necessary now to state the unpalatable truth that it is Germany whose fate we are in some danger of repeating... It is not to the Germany of Hitler; the Germany of the present war, that England and the United states bear yet any resemblance, But students of the currents of ideas can hardly fail to see that there is more than a superficial similarity between the trend of thought in Germany during and after the last war and the present current of ideas in the democracies.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

So Now What?

My children asked me the question a month or so ago, "what if Obama wins?"  I told them that nothing would change.  The next day we would all get up and have a cup of coffee.  People would go to their jobs like always and you guys would have school.

But then one day you'll drive by a shopping center, and you'll say to yourself, "I remember when we used to go shopping there.  Now it's boarded up."  One day you'll happen to notice we haven't eaten out in a long time.  It might occur to you one day that our neighborhood just seems much more blighted and the houses more in disrepair; and that there's graffiti much more common as the people stop bothering to cover it up.

I told them that our economy may collapse under the weight of debt anyway, but that if the current direction were stayed, it's collapse would be much more certain and sooner.  You will first see things start to cost a lot more as the government prints money in order to keep itself empowered.  But eventually the money will no longer buy sufficient food and that will be when things get really bad.  Violence will fill our streets and martial law will have to be declared so that people can work and survive. People will die.  America will probably go on.  But it won't be the America that was.  It will be a new America, an America hostile to those of us who remember and long for the old one.

So what has happened?  We have been drifting for years.  The sixties marked a stark turning point as every boundary was tested.  They crumbled.  Four years ago we entered the culmination of the sixties era upheaval.  Yesterday that reality was affirmed by a majority of Americans, most of which see the historic economic cycles of late as a trustworthy indication of what we can expect in the future.  The economy will recover, they think, simply because it always has.  Those people are blind to the root nature of our predicament. While no economy is so far gone that it can't recover in a moral society, no economy is so robust that it can survive an immoral society.  It's simple really.  No society can sustain the damage to the family and foundations that this society has, and then have things continue as if none of it mattered.

So, now what?  First I personally plan on cleaning house.  There has been a nagging in my heart that I've been placing way to much of my focus on the wrong things.  I plan on spending some time evaluating those things in light of their interference with my worship and adoration of Jesus.  I am confident that I have let idols creep in.  They must go, and I must seek the face of my God.

Second, I plan on beginning work on my heart as it pertains to enduring suffering and watching my family endure it.  I so want to walk through this time in a way that honors God.  That will take some work.  We Americans have never had to deal with these sorts of things before.  I feel fairly certain we will be doing so in the coming years.

Third, I will make some effort to be ready for anarchy.  I'm not talking about hoarding a years worth of food and bullets here.  But I am talking about being able to feed my family, and my neighbors if they need it, for a time.  I will also create a plan so that if we need to leave quickly, perhaps we will be able to.  I'm fairly certain that we have at least a year, probably two, and if we're very very fortunate, never, before our society unravels to the point I envision.

The question I keep asking myself though is this one, can a society do what we are now, and have been doing, and simply expect things go well?  Do we have an indefinite number of administrations that we can elect until someone comes along that can make things normal again?  My answer is always the same.  No, I'm afraid not.