Turning Our Heart to God

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
(Psalms 146:3-7)

That which a man loves, to which he turns, that he will find. If he loves earthly things, he will find earthly things, and these earthly things will abide in his heart, will communicate their earthliness to him and will find him; if he loves heavenly things, he will find heavenly things, and they will abide in his heart and give him life. We must not set our hearts upon anything earthly, for the spirit of evil is incorporated in all earthly things when we use them immoderately and in excess, this spirit having become earthly by excessive opposition to God.

When God is present in all a man’s thoughts, desires, intentions, words, and works, then it means that the kingdom of God has come to him; then he sees God in everything—in the world of thought, in the world of action, and in the material world; then the omnipresence of God is most clearly revealed to him, and a genuine fear of God dwells in his heart: he seeks every moment to please God, and fears every moment lest he may sin against God, present at his right hand. “Thy kingdom come!

Examine yourself oftener; where the eyes of your heart are looking. Are they turned towards God and the life to come, towards the most peaceful, blessed, resplendent, heavenly, holy powers dwelling in heaven? Or are they turned towards the world, towards earthly blessings; to food, drink, dress, abode, to sinful vain men and their occupations? O that the eyes of our heart were always fixed upon God! But it is only in need or misfortune that we turn our eyes to the Lord, whilst in the time of prosperity our eyes are turned towards the world and its vain works. But what, you would ask, will this looking to God bring me? It will bring the deepest peace and tranquillity to your heart, light to your mind, holy zeal to your will, and deliverance from the snares of the enemy.

(St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pp. 76-77)

 Then Jesus said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away.  (Matthew 22:21-22)

Advertisements

Caesar, Jesus and the Constitution

“In a world where mainstream religion was emphatically a branch of the state, emperors took the senior priestly roles. He became pontifex maximus (‘chief priest’ in Latin) and passed that role too his successors. Meanwhile, Augustus’s court poets and historians did a great job with their propaganda. They told the thousand-year old story of Rome as a long and winding narrative that had reached its great climax at last; the golden age had begun with the birth of the new child through whom peace and prosperity would spread to the whole world. The whole world is now being renewed, sang Virgil in a passage that some later Christians saw as a pagan prophecy of the Messiah.

Constitution Detail(The fathers of the American Constitution borrowed a key phrase from this poem, novus ordo seclorum, ‘a new order of the ages’, not only for the Great Seal of the United States, but also for the dollar bill. They were thereby making the striking claim that history turned its vital corner not with Augustus Caesar, nor even with Jesus of Nazareth, but with the birth and Constitution of the United States.”(N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus, pp 29-30)

 

 

St Paul & the Kingdom of Heaven

When people say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.  (1 Thessalonians 5:3)

“Paul understood that God’s messiah was not to be the exclusive king of the Israelites, but he was meant to be the world’s king, a light to the Gentiles, and as such his kingdom must include Gentiles from throughout the empire.  […]  In 1 Thessalonians 5:3 Paul seems to be making a scathing critique of those whose hope is in the peace (pax, eirene) and security (securitas, asphaleia) of Roman rule.” (Aristotle Panaikolaou, Thinking Through Faith, pp 33 & 35)

 Interesting that at a time when Christians were an insignificant minority in the Roman Empire that they might have been relying on the stability of the Empire to give them peace and security.  It was this very Empire that had crucified the Lord Jesus and would eventually turn its imperial power against the Christians.

But through the centuries Christians have often relied on worldly power to be the sign of God’s Kingdom on earth and to insure that there would be stability on earth.  The Byzantine Orthodox certainly did it with their Byzantine Empire.  Russian Orthodox in the old Russian Empire had a similar hope.  Some think Russian Orthodox today are looking to Putin and the Russian state to again provide stability to the world for Christians.  Even a few American Evangelicals have apparently thought modern Russia might be the last defender of Christian family values.  Certainly some American Christians have believed the United States, up to this point in history, has been the guarantor of peace, prosperity and stability in the world for Christians.  They fear that changes in American culture will mean God will no longer protect America or Christians.

St. Paul would probably still have the same message for us today as he had for Christians in the first century – beware of putting your trust in worldly rulers, empires and powers for providing you peace and security.

Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4)

For no worldly power is defending the Kingdom of God and none can prevent the Kingdom from coming.

Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”  (John 18:36)

Jesus apparently wasn’t a proponent of God and country.   All worldly empires and nations belong to the world which is passing away and which will be replaced by God’s kingdom.

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.”  (Matthew 25:31-33)

All of this is why we pray at our services for our nation, our president, all civil authority and the armed forces.  It is our nation which needs the protection of the Kingom of God not the Kingdom which needs the nation to protect it.

How Important is Religion to the People of the World?

I saw this chart and just found it interesting, so decided to share it as well.

religimport

Chart originally in How Strongly Different Countries Feel About Religion

A lot of strong feelings about religion in the world’s Southern Hemisphere and in the so called “Third World.”  Sadly, it is the formerly “Christian” Europe including nations thought of as being traditionally Orthodox where religious fervor has dwindled greatly.  In this survey at least, the United States, which considers itself as being quite religious (at least in comparison to Europe) is only midway in the pack.

 

Thoughts on a Refugee Crisis But No Solution

The great human tragedy and resulting human suffering of mass migration out of the Mideast has been caused by the actions of certain adherents of Islam.  These people bear full responsibility for what has happened to all these displaced people including all the deaths that have occurred.    They should be held accountable by the world community for the evil they have done which certainly are crimes against humanity.

The mass migration has put many European countries to the test, and have challenged the moral values of Christians throughout the world.  How should Christians respond to these aliens and strangers who come knocking at our borders?   How do we treat migrants who themselves are related to people who have inflicted oppression and suffering on Christians?

Syrian internally displaced people walk in the Atme camp, along the Turkish border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on March 19, 2013. The conflict in Syria between rebel forces and pro-government troops has killed at least 70,000 people, and forced more than one million Syrians to seek refuge abroad. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC        (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo credit  BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

In the past few months as I survived my chemotherapy, my heart and mind were often with these refugees.  My suffering seemed small compared to theirs.  Mine was limited, but for them, there is no end to the suffering in sight.  Nevertheless my own suffering made me more acutely aware of theirs and far more compassionate toward them.

I don’t have any easy solutions to the issue, but some words from our scripture come to my mind.  These words challenge my thinking as much as the presence of the suffering migrants who are fleeing war and violence.   First words from the Torah:

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I command you this day for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it; yet the LORD set his heart in love upon your fathers and chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as at this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.  (Deuteronomy 10:12-19)

God is a lover of these sojourners who are fleeing persecution.  God so loved Israel in bringing them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  God, according to Deuteronomy, provides for such sojourners and expects us to treat them as He Himself treats them.

God is love.

In the New Testament we see how difficult it is to have sympathy for strangers and sojourners, especially when we see them as a threat or as enemies, not people.

Prophet Elijah

And Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away.  (Luke 4:24-30)

Jesus reminds his fellow Jews of a simple truth in history.  There were times when God did not bless or favor the Jews, but rather chose a foreigner, stranger or sojourner upon whom to shower His grace.  That truth so enraged the Jews listening to Jesus that they wanted to kill Him.   They were the chosen people who enjoyed divine exceptionalism.  They had no intention of letting Jesus point out to them how God acted with mercy and love toward a suffering Syrian.

We Christians need to remember these stories from our scriptures. We Orthodox just this past weekend read the Gospel lesson found in Luke 10:25-37 of the Good Samaritan in which the hero, the moral person in the story, is a foreigner and it is this stranger, even enemy, who acts like God in displaying mercy toward a fellow human being.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Icon of the parable of the Good Samaritan

In July, 1938, a poll of Americans asked whether Americans should accept refugees from Europe who were escaping political events there specifically the rise of fascism and the oppression it represented.  At that time,  67% of Americans opposed allowing these refugees into America.   Then following the events of Kristallnacht when it became clear that the oppression of Jews had already begun in Europe, Americans were polled by Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion in January 1939.   Two-thirds of Americans still opposed bringing refugee children to America.   Americans were overwhelmingly against bringing 10,000 German Jewish refugee children into our country to help them escape persecution and the impending holocaust.  We know the result of our unwillingness to take such Jewish refugees in at that time.

Jewish cemetery in Prague

We can not afford to take the Syrian refugees into our countries and we cannot afford not to.  This situation has been seen in the world before.  As Christians, we have God’s Word to guide out thinking.  Clearly there are risks to follow and enact the teachings of Christ.  On the other hand, there are eternal consequences for not following His teachings as well.  We need to feel the pressure of this issue.

A few final thoughts:

This humanitarian crisis is the result of policies by Muslim leaders in Muslim countries.   Many argue that these leaders and countries are not “truly” Islamic.  But they certainly aren’t Christian or Jewish or Buddhist.   They are countries and leaders shaped by Islam.   Muslims need to consider what is it in Islam that brings this situation into existence and allows it to continue to exist?    It is people claiming to follow Islam who have created this humanitarians crisis.

Note also that the Muslims fleeing the suffering are not in general seeking admission to Islamic countries.  Nor do we see Islamic countries doing everything possible to welcome their fellow Muslims.  Muslims are fleeing traditionally Muslim countries and trying to find their way to non-Islamic countries.  Why?   Again, Muslims need to ask themselves what is it in Islam that allows and causes this to happen?  It may be true that some leaders and countries are distorting Islam, but what in Islam lends itself so readily to such distortion?

Even though Europe and most of the West are considered to be “post-Christian”, we see it is Christian morality which causes people to welcome refugees in.  It is Christian morality which Muslim refugees are seeking.  Even when Christians and “post-“Christians are conflicted about how to deal with these refugees, still it is Christian values which causes people to agonize over how to treat these refugees.

Christians cannot claim a perfectly pristine moral history when it comes to dealing with strangers and sojourners and Jews or Muslims.  But the crisis the world faces now is born in Islamic civilization, even if it is a distortion of Islam.

I would say for my fellow Christians, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is not Christian morality.   Neither is an attitude that we should kill others for wounding us.  Or that we should kill seventy fold for everyone of us who dies at the hands of terrorists (this idea belongs to Lamech in Genesis 4, not to those following the Lord).

As Americans, we might remember the ideal we find enshrined on our own Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

 

Do We have the Brains to Deal with Ourselves? (I)

This is the 16th blog in the series which began with The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self and is exploring ideas about free will, the mind, the brain and the self. The previous blog is A Test Case – Applying Neuroscience to Law.   This blog series is based on the recent books of two scientists who are considering some claims from neuroscience about consciousness and free will:  Michael S. Gazzaniga’s  WHO’S IN CHARGE?:  FREE WILL AND THE SCIENCE OF THE BRAIN and Raymond Tallis’  APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY.

As we have seen, even some scientists have reservations about the claims being made promoting scientism rather than science based in the newly unfolding neuroscientific studies. Because science does command a fair respect in the U.S. population as a whole invoking science in support of one’s ideas often is seen as proving one’s ideas.   In a recent essay in THE WILSON QUARTERLY (Spring 2012),  “Left, Right, and Science,” Christopher Clausen explores how “Liberals and conservatives alike wrap groupthink in the cloak of science whenever convenient.”  He concludes, “The results are seldom good.”

Science is being used to prove or support ideas that are not scientific at all but rather are philosophical, moral and political.  Additionally, a vocal number of those committed to philosophical scientism intentionally use science to promote their own ideology and political agenda which is far beyond what science itself is able to deal with by the scientific method which it claims is the only way to measure truth.   Tallis especially warns of the dangers inherent in scientism as a political ideology.

Clausen in TWQ writes in the debates that occur regarding abortion questions are raised as to when life begins:

“Nobody disputes that both sperm and ovum are as alive and human as their hosts. The moral question of the stage at which a fetus becomes entitled to the legal protections accorded human beings has no possible scientific answer.

These examples betray a common instinct to use science as an assault weapon in political combat even when it really has little or nothing to say.”

Science cannot answer the question regarding to whom civil rights should be extended nor at what age this should happen.  Science alone cannot answer moral questions to which society demands an ethical answer.  It is the dilemma to which Einstein once referred when he said that science tells us what can be done (what is scientifically, mechanically, technically possible) but it is not able to tell us what should be done (what is morally good and right).   We again come to the limits of science even when society has further questions about an issue which it needs answered.   In another example, Clausen notes:

“…when Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius overruled a Food and Drug Administration recommendation last December that the ‘morning-after’ pill be made available without prescription to girls younger than 17, both she and the FDA couched their disagreement in scientific terms, though the issues were really moral and political. Scientists are no more qualified to pronounce on these matters than anyone else, and to believe otherwise is to confuse different realms of thought.”

Science studies questions related to the material universe, but it can cause in the human community questions of ethics which can only be answered in philosophical discussions.  They need to be answered, but science itself cannot provide the answers.  The answers of the neo-atheists are coming from scientism not from science.  The very fact that these ethical questions exist tell us that in fact humans, individually and collectively are faced with choices, AND they must make decisions which effect all of humanity. Thus the philosophical questions and the debate then engender would seem to indicate the existence of consciousness and choice.   Those who are committed to scientific materialism may in fact have little to offer to debates about moral issues.  Ethical issues go far beyond the limits of materialism.  The desire of the neo-atheists to use neuroscience as a basis to disprove the existence of free will, should also lead them to remain silent on moral issues for which they have no moral authority, especially since they claim only the material world really exists.  Clausen points out:

“… while science as an ideal is detached and self-correcting, actual scientists can be as fallible and ideological as anyone else.”

Thus the claims by the neo-atheists that ‘free will does not exist’ resides in their ideology, not in science but in scientism.  And these folk have a big agenda they are attempting to foist on society in the name of their materialist beliefs.  For example in the debates regarding public schools and teaching evolution or intelligent design, Clausen writes:

“The Scopes trial began as a contest not just over the rights or wrongs of Darwinism but whether majority rule should determine what a public school teacher might or might not teach on a sensitive subject. According to Scopes’s liberal defenders, by banning evolution from the classroom the state of Tennessee had put itself in the position of the Catholic Church with Galileo. More than that, it was practicing thought control by overriding individual conscience, the very organ that both Protestantism and the First Amendment to the Constitution supposedly held sacred.   …   Today the shoe is on the other foot.   …   Public school teachers are now forbidden to discuss “creation science,” “intelligent design,” or related doctrines as alternatives to Darwin’s theory. …  The justification usually given by scientists and others who defend what looks like a double standard is that creationism in whatever guise is religion, not science. No question, but the corollary that all mention of such a widely shared view should therefore be excluded is less obvious. It can hardly be considered either socially marginal or irrelevant to the subject of human origins”.

What the neo-atheists claim to want to do is to create a society which is based solely in reason (science) and not based in nebulous belief systems.  What they do is to intentionally replace science  with scientism and thus work to impose an ideological belief system on everyone.  It is mind control games from people who deny the existence of the mind claiming it is nothing more than biochemical reactions taking place in the brain.

Clausen points out another instance where one can see how the ideological purposes of  scientism are endeavoring to control people: in the climate change debates.

 “Beyond the immensely complicated evidence and computer models that predict the future climate of the entire world, however, lie familiar political factors, such as a vast increase in government power over the economy and everyday life that advocates say is immediately necessary to avert calamity. “

Goddess Minerva

Thus the issue becomes not science but creating a government power capable of controlling the course of human events.  This, these ideologues would say is simply governing the world by reason.  But one wonders why those who ardently believe in determinism and deny free will are so determined to create institutions which govern everyone and everything.  If free will is an illusion created by the brain as they claim, why the need to create institutions to govern and channel free will?  The claims are not as based in reason alone as they claim but are ideologically driven based in their own assumptions to achieve their own non-scientific agendas.

Next:  Do We have the Brains to Deal with Ourselves? (II)

Ethics and Economics

I’ve been slowly reading through John Medaille’s TOWARD A TRULY FREE MARKET: A DISTRIBUTIST PERSPECTIVE ON THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT, TAXES, HEALTH CARE, DEFICITS, AND MORE.    As I’ve acknowledged in previous blogs I have no formal education in economics, so it often is incomprehensible to me, and I will not here defend or critique the book.

Medaille offers a rather somber evaluation of modern economics and thinks the ongoing economic crisis worldwide is not an aberration but really the end result of modern economic, capitalistic policies.  One thesis of the book is that in an effort to make economics a hard science (rather than a mere social science) economists jettisoned ideas of morality.  Economics void of morality becomes a strange animal indeed creating many of the problems we see all around the world.  Some people defend as the greatest good whatever is “good for the economy.”   But of course exactly what constitutes the economy is not completely accounted for (is it people or businesses?  citizens or corporations?), nor is “good” defined especially in a system of thinking which wants to avoid moral judgments.  Medaille for example points out that while current economic thinking assumes the existence of labor, it cannot account for the existence of labor because it totally ignores the existence of families.

Modern economics does not account at all for what it costs to produce a labor force, thus families are left to scramble on their own to earn enough to survive meanwhile “the economy”  (economic leaders and forces) feel no responsibility for the survival let alone thriving of families.  So economic policies often ignore what is good for the family.    Additionally the labor force is also the consumer force – the rich get richer off the labor and consumption of these people.   But those leaders of economic ideas see no connection between the cost of producing a labor force and their own profitability.    Medaille offers many ideas about how to correct some of the problems that beset the world economy today, ideas based in distributist economics.  Some of his ideas would resonate with conservatives (especially he advocates a significantly smaller federal government) but his arguments on the moral issues of economics might not make conservatives feel so comfortable.  The keystone to his ideas is the notion of the just wage (you can read more on distributist ideas at http://distributistreview.com/mag/)

I suppose because I’ve been thinking about Medaille’s ideas connecting ethics to economics, I paid attention to a 20 December 2011 NY Times Op-Ed piece by Charles Blow, Deep Pockets, Deeply Political.   Blow is sounding a recently familiar alarm:

 A tiny number of wealthy Americans are playing an ever-increasing role in financing our politics. This is not a good thing for a democracy.

Last week, the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to making government “transparent and accountable,” issued a report, which said:

In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That’s 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. …

The report also pointed out that “overwhelmingly, they are corporate executives, investors, lobbyists and lawyers” and that “a good number appear to be highly ideological.” In the 2010 election cycle, the report revealed, “the average one percent of one percenter spent $28,913, more than the median invdividual income of $26,364.”

But perhaps even more disturbing was this:

The community of donors giving more than $10,000 (in 2010 dollars) has more than quadrupled, from 6,456 in 1990 to 26,783 in 2010. In 1990, they accounted for 28.1% of all itemized (over $200) donations. By 2010, that number had risen to 44.1%. These donors are also accounting for an increasing number of all donations. And they’re giving more, too. In 1990, the average donation was $13,443. By 2010, it was more than double: $28,913.

James Madison

That the top  1% of  the well-to-do are financially more influential in politics than the rest of the country is not new.  Certainly Jefferson’s call that “all men are created equal” was not really a declaration of the equality of every human being but rather a demand that the limited number of landed gentry should be considered equals with the king.  The founding fathers envisioned some sense of the upper class ruling the country (as I recall James Madison even made mention at one point that the wealthy actually constitute a minority in the country and they had to be protected under minority rights against majority rule!).   There seems to have been in fact some notion among America’s creators that the well-to-do get to retire from work early and then can nobly serve the country in political office (This was an idea entertained by Ben Franklin).   So the wealthy being more influential in government than the majority of people is part of our democracy by and for the people from the beginnings of these United States!

I find myself connecting the statistics which Blow mentions to the ideas of morality in economics raised by Medaille.  People who are willing to drop nearly $30,000 down to influence politics are the ones who are fighting against paying taxes.  They would rather give $30,000 to political parties to promote their own interests (though this political donation is a form of a tax – the price to prosper in America) than to give that same amount of money to the government for the common good.  And they will give that same amount of money year after to year to political causes to avoid paying even less than that amount in taxes.

In the ancient Roman republic the imperial family and their slaves staffed the government at no public expense.  Senators and the equestrian class did the same out of a sense of duty – it was they who paid out of their own wealth for public buildings and services.  The landed elites of the provincial cities in turn paid for public services out of a sense of their own responsibility for the public good.

Is this civic sense, the sense of the common good,  what is so lacking in the current process of the wealthy paying for the politics of America?  Now, sadly people are willing to pay only for their own self interest – which often means exactly avoiding contributing to the common good.  A civic pride seems to be lacking.  The Romans thought patriotism meant working for the common good of all citizens which entailed spending their own money to build up (=edify) society.   Belonging to the wealthy class and owning property was considered a privilege which carried great responsibility for the common good of every citizen.  They believed all citizens should benefit from prosperity of the empire and of the wealthy.

Americans love to criticize entitlements – generally of any subgroup of Americans to which they don’t belong.  But entitlement thinking exists in the upper echelons of wealth too – it is entitlement which says the wealth is mine alone and no part of it is to be used for the common good.   It is entitlement thinking which fails to see the land on which we stand as a natural resource which is a shared good which profits all Americans.

George Washington

The common good does not mean socialism.  Medaille certainly opposes socialism which he actually thinks is really a necessary offshoot of capitalism because  current capitalism fails to consider that all economic issues are ethical issues as well.  Patriotism as valuing all citizens and working for the common good is in short supply in America these days.   Patriotism which values civic duty  is not a nationalistic exclusivism or exceptionalism.  It is a virtue which the founding fathers did embrace as they imagined citizen statesmen and citizen soldiers.   These same founding fathers thought the wealthiest Americans would come forward and support the common good for all citizens – such were their ethical beliefs.

None of this means we cannot question the size of the federal government, or work to reduce its size.  Certainly the size of the government is a question worth debating – and for Medaille this is part of the ethical discussion which needs to take place.  The issue I raise is whether our extreme individualism doesn’t in the end hurt the very basis of civil society as we cease to have any sense of responsibility for others.

ECOnomics

Whenever I blog on economics or statistics, I know I make some folk uneasy with my comments.  But the joy of blogging is commenting on things I read or think about for which I don’t have to be right.  That appears to be the job of the rest of the world, who lets me know where my economic thinking goes astray.

Super Committee inaction

First a comment on the failure of the “Super Committee” to come up with a budget reduction plan which supposedly now will trigger mandatory cuts in government spending, including mandatory cuts for the military (this last phrase,  I think, is always thrown in to make conservatives nervous).

In our pluralistic society, the “consent of the governed” is going to mean that those who govern have to come up with compromises so that they can form majority coalitions to approve of legislation.  But in America this also has come under criticism as “business as usual” and Americans politically are perpetually in favor of change.    So the legislators can’t compromise and they can’t get anything done (which means they can’t govern reasonably either).  So  mandatory cuts in government spending are the only kind of cuts that are going to be agreed upon.  Americans are fed up with this political gridlock as well, at least based upon polls rating Congress (I heard one commentator note that communism gets a higher approval rating in America than Congress – 11% to 9%).

Cutting both the annual deficit and the national debt seem like proper goals to me.  The deficit can be cut/eliminated by cuts in spending, but to reduce the national debt, I believe, is going to require some tax increases (even if temporary).   Since I favor a balanced budget for the government and a reduction in the national debt, I believe we have to talk both spending cuts and tax increases.     I think that means talking about how to make Medicare and Social Security solvent as well.  Apparently none of these ideas is very popular with our national legislators and so they cannot come up with a reasoned planned and only seem to be able to acquiesce to a mandated reduction in spending (and even at that some are not comfortable with the mandatory reductions and seem to want to avoid them as well).    It seems obvious enough that continuing on the current path is not going to reduce the national debt, so the legislators decided to take those decisions out of their own hands and allow mandatory cuts to do their work for them.  But it is also true if we send our elected congressional leaders to Washington and tell them not to compromise to resolve the deficit and debt we are going to get what we got: an inability to govern reasonably.   In a democracy, compromise is not always a bad word as it means bi-partisan.   We might remember that ‘partisans’ from one point of view are ‘terrorists’ from another point of view.  Governments are said not to negotiate with terrorists.

What isn’t needed is more blame, but there always seems plenty of that around; a super  abundance of blame will not reduce the national debt or deficit one penny.  We waste our money when we send to congress people who have nothing to offer but blame.

My intent in this blog is not to belabor our government (“we the people”) and our inability to reasonably solve problems because of our ideological rigidities.

Instead, I want to comment on was a graph I saw in the 14 November issue of TIME with an article by Stephen Gandel titled “The Deregulation Myth.”   The gist of the graph is that despite a popular notion in the US that government regulations are hurting economic growth, worldwide the statistics show a different picture.  For the five years ending in 2010, the US is ranked 4th out of 183 countries as being the most business friendly (Singapore is 1st, Hong Kong 2nd, New Zealand 3rd).   In that time period the US had an increase in GDP of 15%.   But in that same time period China had a GDP increase of 160%, Russia of 94%, Brazil  135%, and Indonesia 147%.   These are countries in which businesses  are more regulated than US businesses.   Being more business friendly and government deregulation of business do not automatically create jobs or economic growth.  Capitalism moves money to where capitalism believes there is money to be made.   It is an oversimplification for politicians to promise Americans significant economic growth by further reducing government regulations.  America is already one of the most business friendly nations on earth.

The reality is America cannot control all of the economic factors in the world.   Politicians have limited powers as to what they are able to do to improve the economy.

If America cannot control world economics, what is our best strategy for living with, in and as part of the family of nations (which maybe we can influence even when we can’t control them)?   If politicians really have limited power to change the American economy, what are our best domestic strategies for creating sustainable economic growth?

Things to ponder.

For me there are also ethical questions regarding the relationship between profit and greed and the balance between sustainable economic growth and environmental stewardship.  We are after all not merely consumers on earth, but stewards of the earth.   God so loved the world, we believe, and we too are to love His creation, not just greedily use it for profit but for the benefit of all.   We Americans certainly believe that no tyrant anywhere on earth should control its resources.  So too, we have to abide on earth in peace with the rest of the world sharing the earth’s resources following that same principle as well.

See also my blog America and Capitalism: Dr. Frankenstein’s Demonic Lesson

Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State

In a previous blog, Taking a Page from the Old Coach’s Book, I mentioned a couple of postings from a sportscaster regarding the ongoing turmoil at Penn State involving a coach accused of sexual misconduct with some young boys.  I felt the Church can learn some lessons from that case on the risks of child sexual abuse and also a need to openly, transparently, immediately and without fail to deal with these types of allegations.  Whereas some may have anesthetized  themselves by believing that these type of problems only happen in the Roman Catholic Church, the allegations at Penn State show that they can happen anywhere and that any institution can fail to deal properly with the allegations.   Institutions can be more interested in defending the interests of the institution than in dealing with the personal crimes of rogue employees.  Institutions might assume that if they can avoid public entanglement with scandal that is better than having to deal with the crimes individual employees might commit.  That strategy in recent times has often backfired to the tenfold detriment of institutions.

I will note again that for me the issue of greatest concern is not that the allegations happened at a college or were allegedly done by a football coach.  My interest is the implication for the Church, and also parallels the Penn State situation might have with cases that have happened in other churches and could happen in the Orthodox Church.

I also mention again, I am not a great sport fan, so it is not that this issues involves a sports program that interests me.   Like in my previous blog, I had never even heard of the commentator I am going to quote below.  The significance to me is that some sportscasters are getting exactly right what a number of church leaders miss completely in dealing with sexual misconduct.

I accidentally heard Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN interviewed on the radio on Saturday afternoon and he made some very strong comments about Joe Paterno’s actions beginning with when Coach Paterno first learned of the allegations.   A lot of what he said is also in an article he wrote for ESPN (The Tragedy of Joe Paterno)  which I quote extensively below.    I quote it because in it are important lessons and reminders for Church leadership in dealing with clergy or any church sexual misconduct.

The first words I heard when I turned my car radio on (and what kept me listening) was Wojciechowski taking Paterno to task for trying to control the terms of how he (Paterno) would be dealt with by the university – Joe offered to retire at the season’s end and told the Board of Trustees not to worry about him or waste even a minute talking about him.  The Board to their credit decided Joe doesn’t get to dictate the terms of how he is handled.    Gene W. was adamant that Joe PA was in the wrong from how he handled the case on the day he learned about it, and so now he doesn’t deserve the right to dictate how he should be dealt with.  The Board of Trustees of  Penn State knew what had to be done and they did it swiftly and unapologetically.  Below is what is for me the relevant portion of Gene W’s article:

Paterno had equity at Penn State, the kind of equity that gave him the power to essentially stiff-arm the school’s efforts to coax him into retirement in 2004. He tried the same audacious tactic earlier this week when he announced his decision to retire at season’s end and added, almost as a warning it seemed, that the PSU board of trustees had more pressing matters to deal with than his job status.

It was the final, tone-deaf act of a man who failed to realize his own power base had eroded. Wednesday night the trustees informed him by phone of their decision to fire him, effective immediately.

A statement released that night from Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany included a six-word sentence that was perfect in its simplicity. The entire situation is so sad.

Profoundly sad because of the victims affected by the alleged acts of Sandusky.

Sad because a great university has been kneecapped by its very own.

Sad because there are so many questions involving Paterno’s role in the chain of events that led to his forced departure.

For example:

Why didn’t Paterno contact the police when first informed in 2002 by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary of an alleged locker room incident involving Sandusky and a young boy?

Why did Paterno heir apparent Sandusky unexpectedly resign from Penn State in 1999?

Why was Sandusky granted special access to the Penn State athletic facilities even after the 2002 incident?

Why did all of this remain secret for so long?

“Joe doesn’t know why [Sandusky] resigned?” says a former athletic director at a rival institution. “Bull—-. That was the first cover-up. … In ’99, when Sandusky resigns, you think this coaching staff didn’t know what was going on?

“In 2002, this could have been a two-day story: ‘Ex-Penn State assistant coach is arrested.’ I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been a painful story, but it would have been dealt with. But there’s so much arrogance to think they can keep it a secret. And it starts with Joe … Monumental ego and arrogance.”

These are the kind of opinions and statements you had better get used to. That Paterno had better get used to.

As a promised comprehensive and exhaustive Penn State in-house investigation begins, as the Sandusky trial hearings approach, as the expected civil lawsuits are filed, there are likely to be revelations that test the faith of even Paterno’s most vocal supporters. This is what happens when more than a decade’s worth of dirt is swept under a blue and white Penn State rug.

A list of other blogs I’ve posted on church sexual misconduct with links to them can be found at Blogs on Church Sexual Misconduct.

The Internet for the Non-teetotalers

The recent comments by the OCA bishops on social networking and the Internet as well as a few criticisms they proffered of the Internet at the All American Council give us all reason to consider the value of the Internet.   Today Mark Stokoe announced he was suspending publication of OCAnews.org, something he had been privately talking about for a very long time.

Perhaps the bishops will rest easy now; we will see how the antagonists of OCAnews.org react themselves since they justified their own publications as needed to counter OCAnews.   Will the end of OCAnews bring an end to Orthodox Internet wars as all parties declare the cessation of publication?  Or will some ideologically driven folk carry on with their ad hominem attacks?  Time will tell.

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.”   (Proverbs 10:19)

Disagreement in the Church is nothing new – we can read about disagreements among the apostles while Jesus was still with them (which one of us is greatest?).    Disagreement is not always bad as it can help to clarify issues as certainly was done through the great theological debates which culminated in the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

The Internet itself has become a jousting point for the Orthodox – an issue arguing over the means by which we can communicate.   Certainly part of the issue, which many would say is the very goodness of the Internet in dealing with despotic dictators, is the inability of the few to control the Internet (as well as who speaks, or how many speak, or what they speak about).  The Internet’s threat to democracy is also there as we can see in the presidential campaigns where lies, fabrications, disinformation and distortions about various candidates abound.  The Internet can challenge the despot’s control of information, but it can also flood people’s email boxes and minds with useless, wrong and harmful ideas.  So the good and the bad of  using the Internet are not readily separable.

Abraham Lincoln in a speech in 1842 dealing with temperance waxed eloquently about whether drunkenness arose “from the use of a bad thing” or rather “from the abuse of a very good thing.”

The same question is being asked about the use of the Internet by Orthodox Christians.   Some seem to want to make the Internet a bad thing from which ‘others’ should abstain.   After all, the Internet seems to be as addicting to some as alcohol is, and certainly it can lead to verbally abusive behaviors.    Yet Orthodoxy has not forbidden the use of alcohol to its members, even though its negative effects have been well known since the time of Noah.

The Internet itself is nothing more than a powerful tool for conveying information (or disinformation) to a large number of people, quickly, efficiently and often over great distances instantly.  Tools can build up the world or destroy it; they can be used to create beauty or make a mess of things.

Lots of people are killed in automobile accidents and yet our society is so structured that we can hardly survive without cars.   The Internet itself is often imaged as another highway, one which conveys information.  Highways are not without danger.  Parents warn their children about the danger even of crossing the street.  Yet we do not ban autos or highways or streets, for they all also are tools serving a purpose.

Perhaps the development of the Internet is something like  the discovery of the new world’s tobacco as described in the recent book by Charles Mann,  1493: UNCOVERING THE NEW WORLD COLUMBUS CREATED.  Tobacco was hailed as something marvelous, enriching, and even healthy by Europeans and Chinese, leading to the addiction to the plant of millions and also to their early deaths.  It took many centuries for humans to come to a belief that the drug effect of tobacco was dangerous to our health.

Tobacco’s stimulent effect was at first largely thought of as quite useful, especially for soldiers.     The Internet is not quite the same as tobacco, it is a far more powerful tool that remains outside of our bodies.   In the hands of a carpenter, a hammer can be effectively used to build beauty.  In the hands of a murderer it can bash someone’s brains.  So too with other tools, the whittler’s knife, the doctor’s scalpel or the laborer’s shovel which can dig a well or a grave.

But the Internet remains a tool in itself neither good nor evil, but capable of being used for both and either.  Some might think it both the use of a bad thing or at best the abuse of a good thing.    God in His own wisdom endowed humans with free will and has put into our hands, hearts and minds the ability to create beauty, to co-create the world with Him, and to procreate life.   We also have the ability to choose rather to destroy and to bring about death.   The Internet does not change humanity.  We invented it and we are the ones who will use it for good or ill or both.  As Christ taught us:

 “The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (Matthew 12:35-37)

The Internet is a tool, it is humans who choose good and evil.  The good among us will make good use of the Internet.   The evil will make use of the Internet as well.   We will know them by their fruit.  And we will see as with tools, sometimes swords are made into plowshares and sometimes the reverse happens.  The same material can be used for helping bring forth life and for taking life away.  In this world we also are aware that sometimes swords are needed.

There is still much for us to learn about the Internet.   It is obvious that Internet etiquette has not been embraced by some Orthodox.   Some find it easy to hide behind anonymity in order to attack others, accuse falsely, and abuse people.

It is also true that the wrong reading of Scripture can lead to heresy, yet we do not ban Bibles nor their study.

Unfortunately, as some of the Patristic Fathers noted about commentaries on the Scriptures, sometimes writers demonstrate exacting precision (Greek = akrebeia) about how they interpret the text, but their conclusions are purely wrong despite their interpretive precision.    So too on the Internet people can be inaccurate in what they write even when they are saying precisely what they intend.

“My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.

For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  (Ecclesiastes 12:12-14)

The Internet’s use requires much wisdom and discernment not to mention humility and love.  In the hands of the fool and of the wicked it will wreck sin and evil.  But it also can convey beauty and truth to the many.