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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What A Coincidence!

One of the tenets of Muslim belief is that non-Muslims living within Muslim society must feel themselves oppressed. The infidel must be made to understand that he is a second-class citizen, inferior to the infinitely superior Muslim who is his overloard.

When the infidel pays the jizya tax, the Muslim who collects that tax is supposed to strike him on the back of the neck, to remind him that he is paying ransom for his life - he could very well be killed for refusing to convert to Islam.

All of this comes to mind every time I hear another story about the TSA and the way that new, Obama-ready organization intimidates and humiliates American air travellers.

In Muslim countries, external signs of other religions are forbidden.
Recently, of course, Obama tried to impose a 15-cent "Christmas tree tax" on every Christmas tree sale. When that didn't fly, Obama flew instead.

That's right, he flew into New York City on the same day that the Rockefeller Center did its annual tree-lighting ceremony. Obama's visit shut down the NYC traffic grid, making it impossible to get into or out of Rockefeller Center. It was, in the words of many New Yorkers, a nightmare.

Now, I'm sure this is also just a coincidence.
Just like the time back in September when Obama tried to stage an address to Congress at the same time  a televised Republican debate was planned to take place.

I'm sure no one named Hussein has any intention of humiliating Christians.

It's just that the man is so incidental to so many important things, that he's become coincidental to everything.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Occupy Monasteries!

You know, that would have been the title of the occupy movement 500 years ago.

Monasteries were immensely wealthy, they created, disseminated and advanced technology throughout the Middle Ages and right through into the Renaissance. They were the entrepreneurs of the ancients.

The Romans may have known about the water wheel, but they simply never employed it on the scale that Benedictine monasteries did. The horse collar, the three-field system, the iron plow, the mechanical clock, corned gunpowder and the gun, and a host of other inventions were developed or spread by monastic communities across Europe.

By the late middle ages, those same monastic communities were also incredibly wealthy by dint of generations of renting out the land that the monks had cleared. Today's modern corporations, the ones we complain about for their unparalleled greed, are matched in medieval times by the monastic orders, as no less a wag than Chaucer readily attests.

What Marx never understood is today accepted as a simple fact. The top 1% of any culture owns between 40% and 50% of the wealth of the culture they occupy. This was true during pagan Roman times, it was true during medieval European times and it is true today.

It is a constant of human history, not because the secret cabal of conspirators would have it so, but because that's how any human culture based on a monetary system seems to arrange itself.

Furthermore, as the total wealth of a culture increases, the possibility of greater wealth inequality expands.

Let us assume I have two dollars and you have ten dollars. The total system has only twelve dollars in it, and you have a wealth five times greater than mine.

But let us assume that we both work hard during the year and manage to expand our wealth so that I now have twenty dollars while you have 200 dollars. Now you have ten times as much wealth as I have, but I am not the worse off for it. Indeed, I am better off.

That's exactly what happens to the poor in any industrial society. They may not have much cash in hand. Perhaps their percentage share of the cash in hand has actually dropped as dramatically as my share did in the previous example. But these poor now have access to goods they didn't have before. They have access to automobiles, air conditioning, penicillin, laparoscopy, and really cheap computers. And, even as a poor person in that society, they have more money now than they did a generation previously.

So, even if their cash in hand cannot purchase them all the goods that are available, they now have a much wider choice of goods than their fathers did, and they definitely benefit from the fact that these goods exist. Food can be transported to them even if they don't personally own cars. A hospital may accept and treat them with new techniques even if they have not sufficient money to pay.

What was extraordinary luxury yesterday is simply to the lifestyle to be expected for even the poorest among us tomorrow. The prisoners we punish in our jails arguably live more richly than Henry VIII did at the height of his syphilitic reign.

And Henry, remember, was the one who crushed the English monastic system, giving away the lands and killing or exiling all the monks. By so doing, he killed the technological powerhouses of England.

In other words, Henry was the first Occupy protester.

The major difference is, he actually managed to make the Occupy movement permanent, at least in regard to the wealthy monastic communities of his age.

And England was the worse for it.

So, Occupiers, be careful what you wish for.
Like any good father, God often finds it useful to punish us by giving us exactly what we ask.

The Economics of Scripture

Are the rich oppressing the poor in America?
The answer is not quite so clear as some people would have it.

Now, Scripture is quite clear-cut on the need to have a "preferential option for the poor". The problem, of course, is determining exactly what that phrase means. To people without a decent understanding of basic economics, things get pretty confused pretty quickly.

Interpreting Scripture is Tricky
To see why Scripture is being twisted today in the realm of economics, we should study another clear example of misinterpreted Scripture - the flat geocentric earth.  As Templeton Prize winner Father Stanley Jaki liked to point out, Scripture literally describes a flat earth beneath a whirling firmament of planets and stars, complete with supporting pillars, a hemispherical sky with waters above, and doors that opened and closed to produce rain and drought.

Around 1611 AD, a man named Galileo used his improved telescope, along with work by a Polish canon lawyer (and probable priest) Copernicus, to point out that the Bible could not be taken literally in its description. Jesuit priests who had long studied astronomy greeted Galileo's evidence with tremendous enthusiasm, throwing parties for Galileo and heaping accolades on him.

But, secular university professors who envied Galileo's new-found fame, and who feared that his work would overthrow their own importance, conspired against him. Professor Columbe formed the League of the Dove and in 1614 paid off a priest, Tommaso Caccini to begin preaching against Galileo's theories at Mass. The priest essentially accused Galileo of perverting Scripture. This began the long conflict between the university professors and Galileo which ended in two different trials and Galileo being found "vehemently suspect of heresy."

Scripture says a lot of things, but we must recognize that when it comes to reconciling science with faith, there can be no contradiction between the two. If there appears to be a contradiction, we must interpret Scripture in such a way that it does not contradict the facts described by the other sciences. We must also recognize that dividing men and women up into the evil rich and the good poor is an essentially false view of the world:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr I. SolzhenitsynThe Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956
When it comes to economics, Catholics might need to double-check their interpretations of Scripture against economic realities, and think about how best to interpret the Scriptures in light of our new knowledge. Wealth is no longer measured in gold coins. Money is now an electronic cipher, a twist of electrons in the bowels of a computer. Work and the fruits of honest work can now be disseminated in ways that simply weren't possible before.

Just as our understanding of what usury is has changed because money has changed, we have to understand the Scriptural commands about the poor in light of what wealth has morphed into.

Capitalism: Problem and Solution
Now, I have written endlessly against the problems entailed in capitalism. There's no question that pure capitalism, the mindless accumulation of wealth, necessarily directs itself to destroying families and human life in general.

But, that having been said, we must also recognize that capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system on earth. And this isn't just a bromide on my part, but a cold, hard fact.

We can wail about the way corporations dispose of people, but we must recognize that corporations don't do any of that.

People do.

Corporations don't exist in any moral sense, corporations aren't morally responsible for anything. Only individual people exist in a moral sense, only individual people are morally responsible.

After World War II, the Catholic Church formally condemned the idea that any people, Germans, Jews, anyone, can carry a corporate guilt. The only corporate guilt that men carry is original sin. We carry that lack of grace only because our first father, Adam, incurred that debt of grace and passed that impoverishment onto us, his children.

There is no other corporate guilt.
There can be no other corporate guilt.

We can't hold "corporations" responsible for mis-treating the poor. If the poor aren't treated well, that's my fault. It's the fault of the Church of which I am a member. But I can't assign blame to a group of people, of whom, coincidentally, I never happen to be a part.

Christ commanded Christians to care for the poor - he didn't tell Caesar to do it, nor did he assign the task to the local fish-mongers' guild. Care for the poor is the Church's responsibility - the only morally existent corporation. Care for the poor is the Christian's concern - the individual's.  Attacking the government for something we are supposed to be doing is the height of hypocrisy.

Caring for the Poor
Now, what constitutes caring for the poor?

That's where things get sticky.

Take the example of Norman Borlaug.

Norman Borlaug fed more poor people than any Christian denomination ever did. It is literally possible that he fed more poor people than even the Catholic Church ever did. But I'm unaware of him entering into any protests against the government or giving a lot of money to charity. From what I understand, for most of his life, he didn't have very much money to give. He just worked. But that was enough.

"Greedy" corporations, like ConAgra, Monsanto, and Dupont, took his work and made it economically feasible to disseminate throughout the world. If those corporations hadn't been rich, and if the shareholders and directors hadn't been elated at the increased wealth Borlaug's work promised, Borlaug's work would have withered and died on the vine, unheralded, unadvertised, unused.

Millions, possibly billions, would have either never been born, or having been born, would have died a terrible death of disease and starvation.

Now, did all those corporations and Borlaug himself - did they become wealthier as a result?
Why, yes.
Yes they did.
And doesn't Scripture tell us that a workman is worth his wage?

I didn't agree with the bank bailouts then and I don't now.
I think it prudentially a bad decision that prolongs a necessary agony.
But that's a prudential decision.
And the prudentials of economics, what constitutes a good economic decision that will benefit millions (while also, perhaps, massively benefitting a few), is not outlined in Scripture.

Scripture tells us only what the final outcome should be, it doesn't describe the methods in any great detail.

We can quote Scripture and attack the nasty corporations, and some of things employees of corporations do are quite nasty. For instance, chopping up babies to grab their stem cells will not win anyone awards for moral action on this blog. But we have to recognize that helping the poor in the long-term might mean that certain sectors of the economy (corporations, for instance) must accumulate massive amounts of wealth in order to have the bankroll necessary to disseminate and popularize truly deserving work.

Now, will those same wells of wealth also bankroll the dissemination of schlock, or really evil work?Why, sure.

After all, the line between good and evil runs through the middle of every human heart.
Capitalism is designed to satisfy every heart's desire.
Whether that desire is good or bad, capitalism will try to slake the desire.

That's why we can look at capitalism, corporations, governments and find so much evil.
That's also why we can look at exactly the same troika and find so much good.

So, when we take righteous indignation at the corporations, even at corporations whose stock we don't happen to own, we should remember that we are really railing against our own inadequacies.
And it would help us realize this if we pointed this out in the essay somewhere.

You see, the problem lies not in the corporations, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mexican Standoff

This story is interesting.

It appears that the Obama administration is knowingly shipping a lot more guns to Mexico than previously reported in any Fast and Furious scandal.
From 2008 to 2009, when President Obama entered office, Defense Department expenditures to Mexicohave increased from $12 million to $34,000,000 and State Department expenditures increased from $7.2 million to $356 million.
As the article points out, a lot of this support is in the form of arms to the Mexican military and government. This despite the fact that soldiers and government officials are exiting into drug cartel ranks en masse, and taking their guns with them.

It's almost as if the Obama administration were trying to destabilize the Mexican government.

Of course, if that were to happen, as social conditions broke down, hundreds of thousands of Mexican citizens would flee Mexico, headed for safer locations. 

Now, as the US economy has melted down, the number of illegals entering the country has dropped off.
Obama can't seem to get the economy going again - or, rather, seems interested in making sure the economy stays down for the count.

If you know the economy is in dire straits, why would you work to destabilize your neighbor's government?

So many questions, so few answers

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Catholic Barnum and Bailey

It appears that the Legionaries of Christ - a popular Catholic cult based on the work of a remarkably twisted, evil man - has a new contender for spiritual leader: Chris West.

The Legionaries of Christ is, of course, famous for being founded by Marcel Maciel, the man whose spirituality turned out to be based on having sex with anything that moved, and a few things that didn't.

Maciel is also notable for being one of only a handful of people who have been seriously reprimanded by the Pope himself, when Pope Benedict sent Maciel to perpetual occupation of a monastery cell. This allowed him to meditate on his sins and kept him away from other people's genitals. Blessed John Paul II would have done the same thing if only he hadn't been completely hoodwinked by Maciel and supporters. But even saints make mistakes sometimes.

And the idea that saints sometimes make mistakes is quite convenient for the members of the Legion, who still prefer to think of Maciel as a saint, rather than a monster.

Maciel was... well.... maybe not a saint, but at least saint-like, except for all those romps with all those girls and boys. Well, and the pregnancies. And the secret child support for the resulting progeny. And the larceny. Which we can overlook all of that, because he was just a wounded man, you see.

So Maciel is really a saint, just like Blessed John Paul II, because Blessed JP II liked Maciel right up until the end and you can always trust a saint, except when you can't. That should be proof enough for anyone!

Thus, it's no real surprise to see a Legionary priest compare Blessed Pope John Paul II to Maciel.

And it's no real surprise to see Chris West, who loves comparing John Paul II to Hugh Hefner, double down on the Legionary comparision. Chris generously points out that the LC cult could now hitch its wagon to his star, and help him promote the "theology of the body."

Now, sure, the LC wouldn't be promoting JP II's version, it would actually be promoting Chris West's version, and Chris's version is essentially heretical because it denies that Catholic virtue IS virtue.

But all of these persnickety details should slip right by the members of the Legion because they aren't really well-known for critical thinking when it comes to leadership.

Yep, that's EXACTLY who we want teaching Catholic theology, especially the theology of human love: untrained lay cult members who were spiritually formed by a sex maniac.

Of course, Chris was himself formed in a cult, a cult that had ALSO been suppressed (albeit, only by the local church), Chris has promoted other cult leaders in the past, Chris is surrounded by people who started or participated in other Catholic cults that the Church has expressed concern about, so it is hardly surprising that Chris now apparently wants to hitch his star to the Legion's cult.

Or vice versa.
Doesn't matter, really.
What matters is this.

Cults make TONS of money for the leaders.

Men like Chris West and his publisher, Matt Pinto.

So, if West can successfully promote himself into the leadership, or at least into a starring role in the Legion, everyone will make out like a bandit.

And John Paul II's minor work will be turned into a major spectacle.
Think Barnum and Bailey.

Monday, November 07, 2011

We Need New Rope

So, now a white woman is accusing a powerful black man of sexual assault.

That's SUCH a shocker.

You know, if you're going to perform a hi-tech lynching, couldn't you at least use new rope?

Not that it matters.
Cain has this nomination just about sewed up.

Romney can't get off 25%, and when Santorum, Bachman and Perry throw in the towel, all those voters are going to Cain, not Romney.