Never do understand Economics

Apologies in advance for those who do not appreciate sarcasm.  I heard the quote from Churchill on NPR, found it amusing which then started the chain of thought, which only goes to prove that it is easy to slide downhill.

As the American government and politicians continue to wrestle with the financial crisis and as they try to decide what to do about it, we can take some comfort in the words of Winston Churchill: 

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

Meanwhile, the AP reported today The Stocks Surge Higher despite the inability of the politicians to come up with a solution (proof that the free market works?).  And the very people who have seen government interference as part of the problem with the economy now seem anxious about the inability of the government to do a bail out. 

My non-economically minded brain watches all of this with demure.  Not so long ago some of these same people were advocating taking money out of the Social Security System and letting citizens invest the money themselves.  If that had been allowed to happen, we would probably now be watching Washington have to draw up a bail out of Social Security by creating a new bureaucratic Social Security System to keep Social Security and countless retirees afloat.  And it too would have been done by the government borrowing even more money to bail out all of the failed investors.  But then who is going to bail out the government when it sinks under the weight of its debt?    Not to worry – all of the Wall Street Investors, bankers and CEOs who created the current crisis would no doubt be able to come up with a financial scheme like the one they used to create the current crisis to bail out the government – they would use borrowed money and inflated bottom lines.   By having a circular chain of lenders borrowing from debtors the system would – well it would get us to where we are.   And some would settle for that as they only fear what comes next.

A Brief Guide for Christian-Muslim Dialogue

For any Orthodox interested in learning more about Islam and possibly a basis for a dialogue with Muslim co-workers or neighbors, I would recommend: Fr. Theodore Pulcini’s  A Brief Guide for Christian-Muslim Dialogue from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s magazine and webpage, In Communion.   Fr. Pulcini points out the theological differences that make dialogue difficult –  Christians and Muslims do not have a common understanding of sin or a need for salvation, and so differ greatly on their understanding of God, the role of scripture and of a prophet, and on who Christ is.   Still there are some points where Christians can explain the understanding of God as love to Muslims – the basic message of the Gospel.

Prayers for the Election

The Orthodox Church in America announced that there are four petitions to be added to the Fervent Supplication during liturgical services which call upon the faithful of the OCA to pray for God’s guidance and intervention as we elect a new metropolitan at this critical juncture in OCA history.     Though in Orthodox style they are a bit wordy, they are still powerful prayers.  I encourage my parishioners to add these petitions (or the sentiments expressed in them) to your own personal prayers and devotions.

It would be good if the OCA as THE autocephalous church in this country, as THE Orthodox Church in America, would also send out to the U.S. parishes some petitions to pray for the presidential election as well.  Instead of ignoring the presidential election we should be offering up prayers for the nation we live in and for our political leaders and candidates.  I encourage my own parishioners to pray for our country during this presidential election, to pray for the candidates running for office, and for those who get elected to office.

It would also be good if we would get rid of the monarchical prayer for the president of our country, and replace it with a petition that better reflects the reality of the American democracy and the tripartite government :  “for the president of our country, for the congress and for the supreme court…”   The president is not the equivalent of a king or emperor and our prayers should reflect the political reality of the country and the century in which we live. (and in Canada and Mexico the petition ought to reflect their political realities) 

Here are the Prayers for the 15th All-American Council and Election of the New Metropolitan of All American and Canada            to be inserted in the Litany of Fervent Supplication

Furthermore we pray that the Lord our Almighty and Eternal God, the Source of all wisdom and understanding, will be present with us as we prepare to gather in Council; and that in our striving to serve and glorify Him He will enlighten us with right judgment and godly purpose to His glory and the building up of His Holy Church.

Again we pray that the Lord our God, the Giver of every good gift, will look with favor upon His Church and bless and guide the minds and hearts of His people being gathered by the grace of the Holy Spirit; and that He will increase in us holy conversation, vigilance, fervent prayer, and trust in Him, guiding our plans and deliberations with faith and knowledge of His will for us.

Furthermore we pray that the Lord our God, Who raises up servants in every time and in every place as leaders for His people, will send His Holy Spirit upon us and so guide our minds and hearts that, inspired by His gifts of discernment and understanding, we may know and do His will as we prepare to elect a new Metropolitan.

Again we pray that the Lord our God, in His mercy and providential care for us, will call forth for His flock a true shepherd of wisdom and strength, blessing us with a Metropolitan to care for the well-being of our Church, and to unite His faithful people in a zealous confession of the Orthodox faith, in loving service to one another, and a bright witness to the glory of His Holy Name.

Light Which Shines out of Darkness: Faith and Economic Crisis

Sermon Notes for 28 September 2008


Still thinking about the traumatic financial crisis which is gripping this country and affecting the world. 


The good news is really in the first line of today’s epistle:

(2 Corinthians 4:6)   It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.   

Though St. Paul refers to the Genesis 1 story of creation, it is a message of hope in every generation.   There are many kinds of darkness which can take over our lives – the darkness of sin, of natural disasters, of war/invasion, of plague/pandemic, of economic disaster, of manmade disaster, of depression.  

God still commands light to shine out of darkness.  Darkness does not overcome God’s light, though we might experience the darkness as real, and the light as vague hope or even distant delusion.

Darkness does not overcome the light, though darkness can oppressively last for years as witnessed by the Jews, and many others through the centuries. 

This is why it is important that we not contribute to the darkness by our political decisions!


[that God commands light to shine out of the darkness tells me that the basis for light is spiritual not material.  The basis for existence is spiritual not material.  In fact the basis for the material world is spiritual as well.   The Big Bang (used by science as a description of the beginning of the known/empirical universe) is from what we can know light emerging out of the nothing.   The basis of the empirical universe is not found in matter but in the nothing which precedes matter, from our point of view, from the spiritual, from God!] 

(Luke 5:1-11)    Jesus [2]  saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.      [5] Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Economic downturns and disasters have been known to humanity as long as human social systems existed –  famine, flood, draught, invasion, insect plagues, disease, warfare have all taken their toll on human fortune and fortunes.   And in a time when there were no hourly employees, as the apostles knew, you could work long hours, but if you produced nothing, you earned nothing.    The fisherman are washing their nets – they have to continue working and cleaning up and repairing even when they earn nothing!   Economic demands are pitiless. 


The Gospels are full of stories about bad financial decisions, unscrupulous financiers (the publicans!  Zacchaeus!), money lenders, people who got rich off the miseries of others.  There is no Parable of the Good Merchant.  The Gospels say a lot about debt, debtors, the rich, the prosperous.   People were very familiar with poverty, taxes, financial disaster and economic oppressors.    Christ’s followers knew very well what it was to work hard and long and to have nothing to show for it.  He who won’t work, doesn’t eat – but even those who work hard might not have anything to eat in this system! 

[6] When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. [7] So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. … Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” [11] When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Note in the story, Jesus doesn’t ask the disciples to abandon their business when things had failed – when they worked hard and had nothing to show for it.  He asks them to follow Him after the hugely successful catch of fish.   He asks them to abandon prosperity to follow Him, not to abandon poverty and failure!  The disciples don’t leave behind their empty nets, but rather their enriching catch to follow Jesus.  


While we may all feel the need to turn to God during times of economic downturn seeking His merciful intervention, it is in times of prosperity that we are most tempted to forget not only to thank God, but that God exists.


In Washington politicians may work out a bailout plan for the troubled financial market and their agencies of wealth (gained and lost), but whatever ideas they implement are themselves fraught with risks and offer no guarantee of success and might in fact exacerbate the problem.


Prayer in bad economic times offers no risk, except that it might go unanswered.   On the other hand, it might turn God to attend to us, but at the minimum will make us attend to God.

Intelligent Design – Still a Matter of Faith

In the debate between secular humanist scientists and biblical literalist creationists, some creationists have offered what they see as a compromise – Intelligent Design (ID).  ID has been seen by many believers as a good way to deal with the otherwise unbridgeable contradictions between the discoveries of science and the claims biblical literalists say are the scientific truths of the Genesis creation story.   Because some believers accept the truth of secular science regarding the age of the earth and the mechanism of evolution, they have wanted to find a way to reconcile the discoveries of science with the Genesis story of creation.   Since there are some “gaps” in evidence for the theory of evolution, believers have proposed ID as the key to fill the gaps and explain the unfolding of the universe.  Secular scientists criticize ID as a “God of the gaps” idea, whose need shrinks with every new scientific discovery that fills one of the existing gaps in our knowledge.  

All of this introduction, which is simply restating this old debate, to get to the point of this blog.  While Intelligent Design seems like a good solution to many believers as they synthesize their beliefs from the bible with their knowledge of science, it has not proven itself to be a very useful tool for evangelism and outreach to secular scientists and atheists.  So while believers take comfort in it, if our goal is to preach the Gospel to all nations and peoples, we must be aware that ID is not convincing to many secular scientists and non-believers because it is not science.  Take for example the concluding comments of Harvard’s sociobiologist E.O. Wilson in his book written as an outreach to biblical literalists, THE CREATION: AN APPEAL TO SAVE LIFE ON EARTH:

“Much as I would like to think otherwise, I see no hope for compromise in the idea of Intelligent Design.  Simply put, this proposal agrees that evolution occurs but argues that it is guided by a supernatural intelligence.  The evidence for Intelligent Design, however, consists solely of a default argument.  Its logic is simply this: biologists have not yet explained how complex systems such as the human eye and spinning bacterial cilium could have evolved by themselves; therefore a higher intelligence must have guided the evolution.  Unfortunately, no positive evidence exists for Intelligent Design.  None has been proposed to test it.  No theory has been suggested, or even imagined, to explain the transcription from supernatural force to organic reality.  That is why statured scientists, those who have led in original research, unanimously agree that the theory of Intelligent Design does not qualify as science.  …  it is a dangerous step for theologians to summon the default argument of Intelligent Design as scientific support for religious belief.  …. In science, as in logic, a default argument can never replace positive evidence, but even a sliver of positive evidence can demolish a default argument.”

Wilson says the very glory of science is to propose theories and to prove or disprove them.  He says the person who could prove through scientific method the existence of God would gain instant fame and recognition.  So he dismisses the idea that scientists are simply closed minded to God, and says that instead since no theory or test has been proposed to prove ID’s claim of a God, it is de facto not science. 

My only point in this blog is to say as comforting as ID is to believers to help them reconcile biblical faith with secular scientific truth, ID at this time is not an effective evangelistic tool with which to bring the Gospel of Truth to secular scientists and atheists.  Let us not blind ourselves to scientific truth because we find ID reassuring to our shaky faith.  ID remains totally unconvincing to secularists.  And instead of us committing ourselves to ID as science and then trying to convince scientists that ID is science, we are better off acknowledging that ID belongs to the realm of faith not science.   Otherwise we believers are once again going to find ourselves trying to offer as truth something which science rejects – just like the biblically based claims that the earth doesn’t move, that the sun circles the earth, that the earth is the center of the universe – and we will be placed again in the odd position of arguing against the truth, and we will not bring secularists to faith in God.  It will simply be a modern version of the Copernicus/Galileo controversy all over again, and the Pope already apologized for that debacle.

A People Prepared – the Kalenjin Story of Creation

Thirty years ago, 1978, I was in Kenya as a missionary for the Greek Orthodox Church.   While I was there I did learn some things about the native culture. The photo at the left is a scene from market day in the Rift Valley in Western Kenya, among the Kalenjin people.   In my journal for September 24, I have written the following, which describes the story of creation from the Kalenjin Tribe’s ancient religion:

“Their story of creation says that in the beginning God created a man, named Chi (his name translates as “a person”).  God then gave Chi a wife, and they had many children.  Due to a famine, they had to move to a new country (they traveled East) and went into the land of giants.  There, one man a day was eaten by the giants.   There was a young boy who was given a dream by the God behind the Sun (the Sun was God’s eye looking upon His people).  As a result of this dream the boy led the people out of the giant’s country.  When the giants realized their slaves had escaped, they became angry and pursued the people.  As  the people were following the boy realized the giants were chasing them, they began to complain to the boy that they were better off in the land of the giants – because the giants only ate one man a day, but now the giants were angry and they were going to destroy all the people, so everyone was going to suffer.  The fleeing people came to a river and were trapped between the giants and the river.  The boy spoke to the river as God had directed him, “O river of my ancestors spread apart.”  The river obeyed and all the people passed through.  But when the giants reached the river, the boy called the river to close and the giants were drowned.

Amazingly like the Israelite story in Exodus 14.”

 I of course do not know whether the man who told us this story was indeed retelling the tradition of his people, or whether their own story had been modified over time due to hearing the story of salvation of the Christian missionaries.   Assuming that he told us an accurate account of their ancient religious beliefs, one can see how they were indeed a people prepared to hear the story of God’s salvation as told in the Bible.

Free Market – Free from our Control

The devastating crisis in world financial markets today is very much the result of America’s advocacy for “free market” thinking.  Apparently the belief was that left to itself the free market would make the few filthy rich, sustain the middle class in their position, and help lift the poor by at least giving them hope for upward mobility.  To achieve this so the theory seems to have been the governments of the world must keep their hands off the market and no kinds of restraint and no regulations must be imposed upon the market.

The end of course is the current effort to bailout the free fall Wall Street has caused around the world.  What seems to be missing in this is any discussion of ethics.  What is the morality of profit?  Where is the discussion of the ethics of global free market thinking?   The only ethics seems to be that profit is always the highest good and can therefore never be doubted let alone questioned.  There seems to be no ethics involved, at least according to the politicians who advocate the free market, regarding how much wealth the few CEOs carry away even when everyone else experiences financial failure and crisis.  Third World development will come to the grinding halt of poverty, and millions will suffer not because of the bad decisions they made, but because a few Wall Street executives were not guided by any morality except greed.  To steal a phrase:  if it weren’t for bad morality, they’d have no morality at all.

Millions will suffer because of the greedy decisions of the few; no matter what happens these few will walk away with millions.   And no one will hold them or their cheerleading investors accountable.  It is the free market after all, and accountability would put regulation on it – put on cost on those who profit most from the free market.  And that, in this theory, is unthinkable, as are the consequences of said greed.

And why do political parties, especially those which love to make character and ethics a major issue, never want to address the ethics of the economy?  Why is it that when it comes to money – to greed aka “profits” – Americans do not want to hear about morality?

Are we to believe that there is no correction to the free market system and that we must simply all enjoy prosperity when it comes and then bail out the wealthy when they fail the rest of us?   Are we to believe that regulation is always bad, and bailout is the only response to failure?  Between unregulated and totally regulated, there sure seems to be plenty of gradations to be used.

And strangest of all, how is the American government going to pay for this huge bail out?   By borrowing more money.   By vastly increasing the national debt we will bail out Wall Street – we will pay for the billions they supposedly were creating for the country’s wealth but were not in reality.  Especially we will be paying for the incredibly greedy salaries of CEOs and those who caused the debacle in the first place.  We will borrow hundreds of millions of dollars so that a few can continue to get wealthier, and we will ask nothing of them.  I suppose one could say that the US government indeed is Christian – they are going to give expecting nothing in return

Maybe the “free” in the Free Market is going to be the hundreds of millions the US government will have to give to keep the system afloat.  Fortunately, all they have to do is print more – nobody has to pay for that, right?  If ethics don’t apply, you can do anything you want in economics, can’t you?  The free market won’t cost anybody anything, it is all about profit.  What could go wrong when profit is your guiding virtue?

Besides, its an election year, they won’t let anything really bad happen.  Or are there forces we really don’t control?  Perhaps the free in “free market” has really become “free” of our control – we attained what we had never imagined!

See also my The Profit of War“In God we Trust”: Especially When Money is our God, If Greed is Profit, the Cause of Problems Disappears.

Why did God make insects?

I began reading E.O. Wilson‘s THE CREATION: AN APPEAL TO SAVE LIFE ON EARTH.   Wilson, a Harvard Professor who has stirred up plenty of controversy in the scientific community with his ideas in sociobiology, is a secular humanist who addresses his book to fundamentalist Christians in an appeal that they cooperate with scientists in taking a passionate concern for the environment. 

“Some postmodern philosophers, convinced that truth is relative and dependent only on a person’s worldview, argue that there is no such objective entity as Nature.  It is, they say, a false dichotomy that has arisen in some cultures and not in other cultures.  I am willing to entertain such a belief, for a few minutes anyway, but I have crossed too many sharp boundaries between natural and humanized ecosystems to doubt the objectivity of Nature.”

In this statement Wilson, a former Baptist himself, gets as philosophically close to the world view of believers as he is going to get – he believes in objective truth and opposes the notions of postmodernism. Wilson probably would not accept the prediction of some that science and Buddhism have a future together but that more doctrinal religions like Christianity will disappear over time, unable to compete in the world of intellectual discourse (see my Science vs Religion or Truth is truth?).  Wilson takes a fairly dogmatic stand that there is such a thing as objectivity when it comes to truth.  However, he does not accept a theological truth or objectivity, but believes the only truth worth pursuing is that which is empirical.  He is not very sympathetic to religion:

“There are still thinkers around the world, some in commanding political and religious  positions, who wish to base moral law on the sacred scripture of Iron Age desert kingdoms while using high technology to conduct tribal wars-of course with the presumed blessing of their respective tribal gods.”

Ouch!  While I would say to have such a low opinion of Christians he seems unfamiliar with the ideals and spiritual writings of the best in Christian history, nevertheless he certainly has witnessed plenty of examples of modern American leaders who seem to fit his description and whose opinions prove his point.

Wilson is somewhat famous for claiming that eventually genes will be found which determine much of human behavior, including genes that govern whether a person is a believer in God or not.  Despite his thoughts about genetics, science and secular humanism, he offers some warnings about where genetic research is headed.

“Beyond the curing of obvious hereditary diseases such as multiple sclerosis and sickle-cell anemia, by gene substitution, the human genome will be modified only at risk.  It is far better to work with human nature as it is, by changing our social institutions and moral precepts to get a more nearly optimal fit to our genes, than it would be to tinker with something that took eons of trial and error to create.”

In other words, in his thinking humans should pay a lot more attention to the human impact on the world  environment rather than trying genetically to change humans to better survive in the world we are creating by our lifestyles and environmental disregard.  This is a main theme of his book.  He is hoping to interest religious people in environmental issues – to be concerned about the things we intentionally do that have unintended consequences on the environment.   As Wilson sees it, we should be concerned about the tiniest insect populations which are part of this earth.

“People need insects to survive, but insects do not need us.  If all humankind were to disappear tomorrow, it is unlikely that a single insect species would go extinct, except three forms of human body and head lice…. But if insects were to vanish, the terrestrial environment would soon collapse into chaos.”

He describes why this is so as the ecosystem of planet earth relies on insects for pollination, for food, for giving us flowering plants as food, for renewing the soil, for decomposing dying things.  Humans surviving in a world without insects, so Wilson says, “would offer prayers for the return of weeds and bugs.”

Those very pesky pests – weeds and bugs – which we wonder why God ever created, Wilson says would be sorely missed in a world in which humans manage to damage the environment to the point it cannot sustain insect life.  The smallest creatures play a significant role for the existence of Christians and for the world we know.   That idea was not lost in the screenplay of H. G. Wells’ THE WAR OF THE WORLDS and what finally defeated the invading Martians.

“The end came swiftly all over the world, their machines stopped and fell.  After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity saved – by the littlest things which God in His wisdom had put upon this earth.”

What is truth?

“Light does not fail because men have blinded themselves; it remains, with its own properties, while the blinded are plunged in darkness through their own fault… Therefore, all who revolt from the Father’s light, and who transgress the law of liberty, have removed themselves through their own fault, since they were created free and self-determining.”   (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)

The sun continues to shine even if all people have blinded themselves.  The sun continues to shine even when dark storm clouds cover the earth.  Neither human blindness nor the darkest storm clouds change the nature of or the properties of the sun.  

This applies to spiritual truth, to the light of Christ as well.  The Light does not fail even if everyone chooses blindness.   It is possible to have eyes and not see as the scriptures warn.  Truth is not diminished because people will not see it, embrace it and proclaim it.  It is no less true just because no one wishes to know it.

Reading the Bible as a Dialogue with the Inspired Author

A hermeneutic – the interpretative method one uses to understand scripture.

I much appreciate the modern biblical scholars who emphasize that the interpretation of scripture involves a dialogue with the composer of the text more than a mere dissection of the text, where the scripture is treated as a frog in freshman biology which must be dissected to view all its parts.  The problem with viewing scriptural interpretation in this way is it takes the text and treats it as the body of work, or more to the point as a corpse – dead words to be parsed and flayed as if their meaning can be uncovered in the same fashion that crime scene investigators discover clues on a corpse.  And biblical interpretation becomes the work of a coroner examining a dead body.  In contrast to this, biblical scholar James Dunn wrote in his masterpiece, THE THEOLOGY OF PAUL THE APOSTLE:

“The hermeneutical model, in other words, needs to be more that of the dialogue with a living respondent than the clinical analysis of a dead corpse.” 

Dunn’s hermeneutic is much in line with St. Peter’s claim that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God (or men inspired by God spoke) as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”  (2 Peter 1:21).   Though some want it to be the case that in the written word of the Bible we have a direct encounter with God not mediated by anyone, in fact God inspired different men and women to speak on His behalf – all scriptures are humanly mediated through the specific people God inspired to speak and write.  The only unmediated Word of God is Jesus Christ Himself.  Even the Gospels written about Him come through the hand of men.  Thus true biblical reading, study, interpretation, if it is live, is a dialogue and a relationship with those who were inspired by God.  We are not left merely reliant on the written word, we can encounter those through whom the Holy Spirit spoke.  God by His own will and plan speaks to us through His chosen servants.  And though sometimes God dictates to them what to say (“thus says the Lord”!), more often God inspires them to write and they write His revelation in human words, symbols and metaphors.

The hermeneutic – the biblical form of interpretation which has us dialoguing with the inspired author rather than focusing on a lifeless text is much in line with St. Paul’s thinking in  Romans 7:6 and 2 Corinthians 3:3 –

“But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6).

“And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).

When we read scripture with the idea of dialoguing with those inspired by God to write the scripture, we experience the text as living, engaging, active, spiritual, challenging, inspiring, life giving, piercing heart and soul – unlike the lifeless code written in ink, permanently affixed to a page  (or a hardened stone) which one can look at and even admire.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.   And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

The last quote from Hebrews is most interesting of all for it has the word of God piercing and cutting through, for not only are we trying to interpret the Word, the Word is reading us and discerning our thoughts, intentions and our heart.  The Word sees us!  We are not hidden from HIS sight, for the Word of God truly in Jesus Christ and not the printed book we call the Bible.  Only when we pick up the Bible and read it, engage it, and dialogue with it, does that printed word become the life giving Word of God.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn expressed a similar idea in his GULAG ARCHIPELAGO:

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of hearts, there remains… an un-uprooted small corner of evil.”

That which separates good from evil is found in our hearts, not in a book.

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).