Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Way of Aporia



I belong to a FB group called Celebrating Creation by Natural Selection. It welcomes believers, agnostics, and atheists. I can't always follow the particulars of the scientific discussions, but I do enjoy the discussions about faith and reason. Many members of the group have left the Way of Fundamentalism, and embraced the Way of Separation. While I see how that route can be attractive, I have rejected it and follow the Way of Aporia, for the same reasons Sullivan gives.

Uneasy grace: by Meghan Sullivan
in First Things: April, 2014

Sullivan is the Rev. John A. O'Brien Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.

The great crisis of faith for me came--as it does for so many--when I was in college. I arrived at the University of Virginia in 2001 as a bored atheist. I neither believed in God nor particularly cared about religion. I was, however, a very enthusiastic pre-law student, certain that I would major in political science, attend a great law school, and presumably get rich suing people.
Two events early in college changed the course of my life. First, I accidentally took an ethics course in my freshman year. It was love at first argument. I took some more classes, and soon found out that other branches of philosophy were even more interesting. By my sophomore year, I had declared a second major in philosophy. After a particularly awful pre-law summer program, I switched to philosophy as my primary major. Then my academic advisor told me that if I really liked philosophy, I could go to graduate school and eventually make a living writing and teaching it. That settled it. 1 never looked back.

That was the first big decision; then came the second. While in college, I became Catholic. I went to church for the first time on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks. I didn't have much of an idea what a weekday Catholic Mass entailed, but there was a church near my dorm, and for some reason I had it in my head that since it was the anniversary of the attacks, they would do some kind of special memorial. I was feeling very down thinking about all of the senseless death at the World Trade Center, and I wanted to talk to someone with moral gravitas about it. Church seemed liked a place where this would happen.

So I went to Mass, and it was very much an ordinary weekday Mass--no speeches, or 9/11 memorials, or anything. Instead it was me, the priest, four old ladies, one short reading, a lot of prayers I didn't understand, and a Communion that I happily had the inner wherewithal not to participate in. When I left, I remember thinking, "Well, that wasn't what I expected." But something about the experience felt absolutely right. I started going back during the week. Then I started going on Sundays. I began to pray. During my third year of college, I was received into the Church. At each step it felt exactly right--like God was leading me, like I could trust the people sharing the faith with me, like worshipping God was something I was meant to do.

At the time, the decisions to become a philosopher and to become Catholic had absolutely nothing to do with each other, other than the fact that they were major life decisions I was making behind my parents' backs. But as time passed, the two parts of my life--the philosophical part and the faith part--began to conflict. While I was in the process of joining the Church, I was very secretive about my Catholicism. I was a philosopher, to be sure, and I loved to argue. But I was very worried about having to defend my newfound faith to others.

And you have to admit, there are some hard questions for Christianity. You really believe that there is a being in heaven who knows all of our innermost thoughts and sees the future? You think his son (who happens also to be him) came to earth, turned water into wine, died, and then came back from the dead--and somehow his death and coming back is centrally important to repairing all of the evils in the world? If you take a step back, some of this sounds a little crazy. It gets much worse when you consider the problem of evil: If God really exists, and he is really all powerful, and really morally perfect, then why do so many horrible, senseless things happen? The magnitude of evil in the world seems like excellent evidence against God's existence. Matters get still more difficult when you add in some of the more striking Catholic elements of the Christian faith--transubstantiation, Mariology, papal infallibility ... Faith just did not seem philosophically respectable to me. So I treated it like my bad Sunday habit and worried that, when it came to what mattered most in my life, I was in fact a very unreasonable person.

I think this was the wrong conclusion to draw, and I want to talk about why. First we should ask: Why does there seem to be a struggle between faith and reason? Here is where I think the struggle originates. Many faiths are thick-, that is, having the faith means not only loving and trusting in God but also believing a complex and rich set of historical, theological, philosophical, and moral claims. Catholics like myself believe historical claims, such as that Jesus died and was resurrected. We believe theological claims, such as that Jesus is God and so is the Holy Spirit. We believe philosophical claims, such as that it is possible for God to be three persons but just one God. And we believe moral claims, such as that we owe extraordinary allegiance to God.

Thick faiths like Catholicism are in tension with reason because of their complexity; other evidence might conflict with claims from the faith. For example, we might have a difficult time finding appropriate historical evidence for claims about Jesus's life. Our best logic might seem to show that doctrines like the Trinity are contradictory, because nothing can be both one and three simultaneously. Our best moral theories might seem to entail that nothing could justify God's having created a world with so much evil in it.

Suppose you find yourself with such a thick faith. What should you do when an important teaching of your faith conflicts with a historical, philosophical, or moral fact that you also feel very confident in? That's the struggle. And it is a struggle anyone with a sufficiently thick faith must be prepared for.
There are at least four approaches you might take to resolve such struggles when they arise. First, you might take what I call the Way of Dilution and give up those parts of your faith that conflict with the other evidence. Second, you might take the Way of Fundamentalism and give up belief in any facts that conflict with components of your faith. Third, you might take the Way of Separation and insist that faith and reason are fundamentally different kinds of belief with different roles in our lives. They do not need to agree, and in fact we should keep them separate. Finally, you might take what I call the Way of Aporia, that is, insist that there is a tension between some claims of faith and reason, that the two cannot be separated, but that nevertheless there is not enough reason to give up beliefs on either end.

According to the Way of Dilution, when reason conflicts with something you took to be an article of faith, you should rethink the supposed article of faith. And sometimes this is advisable. We make mistakes. We misunderstand. There is evidence of this in the stories of Jesus's early disciples. At the Ascension, they thought Christ would return quickly. It turned out they were wrong. The early Church struggled to understand what God meant when he said he would return, and over time they were forced to adjust their assumptions. This kind of thinking is surely appropriate, and we should all be open-minded and scrupulous about the best way to interpret difficult parts of our faith in light of new evidence.

But it is also very easy to take this strategy too far. A colleague of mine, Gary Gutting, published an article in the New York Times this past Easter arguing that the core of the Catholic faith is a commitment to an ethics of love, and that the historical teachings of the faith are best taken as useful parables. Gutting does not think it incumbent on a Catholic to believe anything in particular about history or metaphysics. He writes:
   The ethics of love I revere as the inspiration for
   so many (Catholics and others) who have led exemplary
   moral lives.... As to the theistic metaphysics,
   I'm agnostic about it taken literally, but
   see it as a superb intellectual construction that
   provides a fruitful context for understanding how
   our religious and moral experiences are tied to the
   ethics of love. The historical stories, I maintain,
   are best taken as parables illustrating moral and
   metaphysical teachings.
 
But if Catholicism is nothing more than one manifestation of an "ethics of love," then there is no non-arbitrary reason to be Catholic (rather than, say, a secular humanist). It is also not obvious that we can preserve the Christian sense of love while kicking away the metaphysical and theological ladder. Love, in the Christian faith at least, is not just love for one's fellow man. It is, most centrally, about love for God. But how can you love someone unless you know about him? And how could you possibly love God without having beliefs about what he is like, what he has done in history, and why he is worthy of love?

John Updike has a beautiful poem called "Seven Stanzas at Easter" where he chides Christians who want to treat Jesus's death and Resurrection mostly as a moral parable rather than as an actual historical event. He writes:
   The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
   not a stone in a story,
   but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
      grinding of
      time will eclipse for each of us
   the wide light of day....
 
   Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
   for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
   lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
      embarrassed
      by the miracle,
   and crushed by remonstrance.
Truly grasping the uncontroversial parts of our faith (such as God's love) often means struggling to grip the more complicated and controversial parts (like the historical Resurrection). Dilute too much, and you are likely to find you've also lost the core of the teachings you originally valued.

So much for the Way of Dilution. Another option is to go the Way of Fundamentalism--if important doctrines of your faith conflict with reason, dismiss or radically reinterpret the evidence from reason. This, I submit, is a horrible idea. The main problem with the Way of Fundamentalism is that if you decide carte blanche that there are doctrines of faith that cannot be scrutinized by reason, you risk making huge mistakes about your faith.

Venerable systems of belief tell us that reason is a very good faculty. St. Paul gives us deeply moving arguments in defense of our need for reason in the life of faith. In the first chapter of Romans, he diagnoses why so many of his contemporaries had fallen into the grip of myths and cults. Their trouble, he says, is that God gave them reason to guide them to the complex truths of faith, but they abused and disregarded this gift. In his characteristically poetic style, he tells us, "Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles." Cults ask you to accept their teachings either without reason or despite reason. And Paul reminds us that cultic faith, like diluted faith, is just not faith worth having. Indeed, the same faculty that enables us to distinguish between good and bad science helps us in the complicated task of distinguishing between trustworthy and dubious religious teachings.

So as we have seen, when faith and reason struggle, it is a bad policy always to favor one side over the other. What else, then, should we do? A third option--one I call the Way of Separation--insists that matters of faith and matters of reason should be kept separate. According to this strategy, evidence from history, moral philosophy, logic, and so on simply has nothing to do with whether or not certain doctrines of faith are true. Faith and reason are separate magisteria, any apparent contradiction is merely apparent, and we shouldn't feel pressure to resolve our views one way or the other. For example, logic can show that the doctrine of the Trinity is inconsistent, while it remains a central teaching of our faith. The Way of Separation advises us to accept both while maintaining that the two beliefs are not genuinely contradictory. On the Way of Separation, we treat faith and reason the same way that parents treat warring siblings on long road trips: You sit on this side, and you sit on that side, and please--for the love of God--try not to hit each other!

Teaching philosophy at Notre Dame, I often hear from my students that they favor this approach. And perhaps in some sense it is better than the Ways of Dilution or Fundamentalism, because at least it tries to preserve the core commitments of a thick faith alongside our best evidence from history, logic, ethics, and so on. Still, I think the Way of Separation fails.
For one thing, as we saw in the case of the early disciples, it is important that reason and faith communicate so we don't make grave mistakes when it comes to understanding the requirements of our faith. For another, the Way of Separation assumes we can sharply distinguish the reasons for our religious faith from other, more ordinary sorts of reasons. But it isn't at all clear that we can. According to one way of understanding faith, it is just belief in something without any evidence. If this is what faith is, then obviously faith is distinct from reason. The New Atheists, thinkers like Richard Dawkins, insist that this is how we should define faith. Dawkins uses this definition to argue that a Christian worldview is inherently unscientific, since the core of a scientific worldview is an insistence on reasons.

But as someone with a thick faith, 1 think this is wrong. For every complex religious, scientific, moral, or philosophical belief that I have, there seems to be some reason or other that partially supports it. And these reasons come from a variety of sources. I believe that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow, because, given all the data about previous sunrises, it is the prediction with the most inductive support. I believe that kicking puppies for fun is morally wrong because I believe that puppies feel pain and that it is wrong to cause sentient creatures pain for fun. I believe God exists, because I think he is one part of the best explanation for the order in the universe, because I have considered and trust the testimony of other believers, and because I think there are times in my life when I have perceived God's presence.

These are all reasons, if not perfectly decisive ones. Are all of the reasons purely "from faith"? It is hard to say--some come from perception, some come from philosophical and scientific observation, some come just from believing observations others have made. Even the mysteries of faith are mysteries not because they are believed with no reason whatsoever, but rather because we depend on God to reveal the evidence of these mysteries to us. In other words, there is reason for mysteries, just not the kind of reasons we can get to under our own epistemic steam. Religious faith, like every other part of our cognitive lives, always looks for reasons, and reasons come from many sources. Doubt can be so crippling because we are ruthless reason seekers.

If, as I would argue, the above three ways of resolving struggles between faith and reason are dead ends, is there any other option? I think there is, and I will call it, borrowing the term from Aristotle, the Way of Aporia. Aporia is an intractable philosophical puzzle--a puzzle in which you believe every premise of an argument, but there is no way they could all be true. Aporia is also a state that you get yourself into when you face a seeming paradox. Aristotle and many philosophers since have been deeply interested in the question of what you should rationally do if you find yourself facing such a puzzle.

Aporetic problems come up in mathematics and physics. For example, currently our best formal logic (the foundation for our best mathematics) is provably incomplete. In short, this means that we know we will never be able to make several components of our best mathematical logic agree with each other. This was one of the earth-shattering discoveries in philosophy of the last century, arrived at primarily by a logician named Kurt Godel. But though we know our logic is incomplete, we don't know which assumption is causing the problem. All of the assumptions appear to be truths of logic--individually they look impeccable.

So what should we do? It would be crazy to stop using logic and mathematics just because we discovered this deep bug. And it would also be irrational just to arbitrarily pick one assumption in our logic and reject it. Rather, the rational thing to do is to admit that some part of our understanding of logic is flawed, keep looking for a good reason to reinterpret one or another part of the system, remain worried (deeply worried!) about the conflict, but also--and here is the crucial part--keep using logic. After all, logic and mathematics are very good. We need them. And we still don't have any clue as to what a better system would be. The only way to repair logic is from the inside--to keep expanding our understanding until we find the source of conflict.
And we see a similar case in physics. Our best theory of space and time--general relativity--seems inconsistent with quantum mechanics. It would be deeply foolish at this juncture to declare one branch of physics correct and the other mistaken. Both are well supported. The only way out of the puzzle is to do more physics.

The Way of Aporia in faith is, I suggest, very similar. A faithful person finds himself in a situation where some part of his thick faith seems to conflict with other evidence. He really believes the core teachings of his faith are true, and with good reason: Perhaps he trusts authoritative texts, the teachings are the best explanation of his religious experience, or the teachings help him to make sense of some important aspect of the world. He also really believes some conflicting claim from history, ethics, science, or logic. Something has gone wrong. He should not just arbitrarily pick which claim to believe and which one to reject. The best thing to do is admit that some part of his understanding is flawed (he doesn't know which), that he needs to keep working to resolve the conflict, and that it is rationally acceptable to go on believing both until he finds a way to break the stalemate.
Sometimes we do figure out where we made a wrong turn. And there are some conflicts that we never get to resolve in this life. At the heart of the Way of Aporia is a conviction that you shouldn't ignore conflicts between faith and reason. They are bound to happen, especially if you have a valuable, thick faith. But you also should not give up important beliefs too quickly or too flippantly in the face of conflict. This is a perfectly respectable stance in other branches of inquiry. And it is perfectly respectable for Christians to assume.

We get a strong suggestion from the Gospel about the right way to handle struggles between faith and reason. Just think about Mary. When Mary was told she would give birth to Jesus, she thought it made no sense given her circumstances. Luke reports that even after Jesus was born and the shepherds came to worship him, Mary was astonished at what was happening. But rather than rashly conclude that either her understanding of biology was wrong or her understanding of theology was wrong, the Bible tells us that she "treasured up all of these things and pondered them in her heart." That is to say, she didn't back away from her astonishment, and she didn't rashly settle on one conclusion or another; she held them all together and pondered them. For this reason she is rightly called the Seat of Wisdom. I think we could do worse than emulate Mary when we try to tackle the very real conflicts between faith and reason in our own lives.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stakeholder capitalism vs. shareholder capitalism


 I often hear that corporations are not culpable for various activities "because they exist to maximize shareholder profit." When I protest their behavior, I am called a "socialist,"and accused of being against capitalism. Robert Reich reminds us of a time when stakeholder capitalism was the norm.
http://www.alternet.org/economy/robert-reich-world-needs-saner-approach-capitalism

Robert Reich: The World Needs This Saner Approach to Capitalism

Shareholder capitalism wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Jeff Wasserman
In recent weeks, the managers, employees, and customers of a New England chain of supermarkets called "Market Basket" have joined together to oppose the board of director's decision earlier in the year to oust the chain's popular chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas.
Their demonstrations and boycotts have emptied most of the chain's seventy stores.
What was so special about Arthur T., as he's known? Mainly, his business model. He kept prices lower than his competitors, paid his employees more, and gave them and his managers more authority.
Late last year he offered customers an additional 4 percent discount, arguing they could use the money more than the shareholders.
In other words, Arthur T. viewed the company as a joint enterprise from which everyone should benefit, not just shareholders. Which is why the board fired him.
It's far from clear who will win this battle. But, interestingly, we're beginning to see the Arthur T. business model pop up all over the place.
Patagonia, a large apparel manufacturer based in Ventura, California, has organized itself as a "B-corporation." That's a for-profit company whose articles of incorporation require it to take into account the interests of workers, the community, and the environment, as well as shareholders.
The performance of B-corporations according to this measure is regularly reviewed and certified by a nonprofit entity called B Lab.
To date, over 500 companies in sixty industries have been certified as B-corporations, including the household products firm "Seventh Generation."
In addition, 27 states have passed laws allowing companies to incorporate as "benefit corporations." This gives directors legal protection to consider the interests of all stakeholders rather than just the shareholders who elected them.
We may be witnessing the beginning of a return to a form of capitalism that was taken for granted in America sixty years ago.
Then, most CEOs assumed they were responsible for all their stakeholders.
"The job of management," proclaimed Frank Abrams, chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey, in 1951, "is to maintain an equitable and working balance among the claims of the various directly interested groups ... stockholders, employees, customers, and the public at large."
Johnson & Johnson publicly stated that its "first responsibility" was to patients, doctors, and nurses, and not to investors.
What changed? In the 1980s, corporate raiders began mounting unfriendly takeovers of companies that could deliver higher returns to their shareholders - if they abandoned their other stakeholders.
The raiders figured profits would be higher if the companies fought unions, cut workers' pay or fired them, automated as many jobs as possible or moved jobs abroad, shuttered factories, abandoned their communities, and squeezed their customers.
Although the law didn't require companies to maximize shareholder value, shareholders had the legal right to replace directors. The raiders pushed them to vote out directors who wouldn't make these changes and vote in directors who would (or else sell their shares to the raiders, who'd do the dirty work).
Since then, shareholder capitalism has replaced stakeholder capitalism. Corporate raiders have morphed into private equity managers, and unfriendly takeovers are rare. But it's now assumed corporations exist only to maximize shareholder returns.
Are we better off? Some argue shareholder capitalism has proven more efficient. It has moved economic resources to where they're most productive, and thereby enabled the economy to grow faster.
By this view, stakeholder capitalism locked up resources in unproductive ways. CEOs were too complacent. Companies were too fat. They employed workers they didn't need, and paid them too much. They were too tied to their communities.
But maybe, in retrospect, shareholder capitalism wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Look at the flat or declining wages of most Americans, their growing economic insecurity, and the abandoned communities that litter the nation.
Then look at the record corporate profits, CEO pay that's soared into the stratosphere, and Wall Street's financial casino (along with its near meltdown in 2008 that imposed collateral damage on most Americans).
You might conclude we went a bit overboard with shareholder capitalism.
The directors of "Market Basket" are now considering selling the company. Arthur T. has made a bid, but other bidders have offered more.
Reportedly, some prospective bidders think they can squeeze more profits out of the company than Arthur T. did.
But Arthur T. knew may have known something about how to run a business that made it successful in a larger sense.
Only some of us are corporate shareholders, and shareholders have won big in America over the last three decades.
But we're all stakeholders in the American economy, and many stakeholders have done miserably.
Maybe a bit more stakeholder capitalism is in order.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Pitchforks are Coming...

I have long maintained that we are experiencing a new feudalism, and that the increasing inequality cataloged by the Gini coefficient portends future political instability. Nick Hanauer confirms my ideas.

The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats

Memo: From Nick Hanauer
To: My Fellow Zillionaires

You probably don’t know me, but like you I am one of those .01%ers, a proud and unapologetic capitalist. I have founded, co-founded and funded more than 30 companies across a range of industries—from itsy-bitsy ones like the night club I started in my 20s to giant ones like Amazon.com, for which I was the first nonfamily investor. Then I founded aQuantive, an Internet advertising company that was sold to Microsoft in 2007 for $6.4 billion. In cash. My friends and I own a bank. I tell you all this to demonstrate that in many ways I’m no different from you. Like you, I have a broad perspective on business and capitalism. And also like you, I have been rewarded obscenely for my success, with a life that the other 99.99 percent of Americans can’t even imagine. Multiple homes, my own plane, etc., etc. You know what I’m talking about. In 1992, I was selling pillows made by my family’s business, Pacific Coast Feather Co., to retail stores across the country, and the Internet was a clunky novelty to which one hooked up with a loud squawk at 300 baud. But I saw pretty quickly, even back then, that many of my customers, the big department store chains, were already doomed. I knew that as soon as the Internet became fast and trustworthy enough—and that time wasn’t far off—people were going to shop online like crazy. Goodbye, Caldor. And Filene’s. And Borders. And on and on.

Realizing that, seeing over the horizon a little faster than the next guy, was the strategic part of my success. The lucky part was that I had two friends, both immensely talented, who also saw a lot of potential in the web. One was a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Jeff Tauber, and the other was a fellow named Jeff Bezos. I was so excited by the potential of the web that I told both Jeffs that I wanted to invest in whatever they launched, big time. It just happened that the second Jeff—Bezos—called me back first to take up my investment offer. So I helped underwrite his tiny start-up bookseller. The other Jeff started a web department store called Cybershop, but at a time when trust in Internet sales was still low, it was too early for his high-end online idea; people just weren’t yet ready to buy expensive goods without personally checking them out (unlike a basic commodity like books, which don’t vary in quality—Bezos’ great insight). Cybershop didn’t make it, just another dot-com bust. Amazon did somewhat better. Now I own a very large yacht.

But let’s speak frankly to each other. I’m not the smartest guy you’ve ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I’m not technical at all—I can’t write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?
I see pitchforks.

At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind. The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.
Many of us think we’re special because “this is America.” We think we’re immune to the same forces that started the Arab Spring—or the French and Russian revolutions, for that matter. I know you fellow .01%ers tend to dismiss this kind of argument; I’ve had many of you tell me to my face I’m completely bonkers. And yes, I know there are many of you who are convinced that because you saw a poor kid with an iPhone that one time, inequality is a fiction.
Here’s what I say to you: You’re living in a dream world. What everyone wants to believe is that when things reach a tipping point and go from being merely crappy for the masses to dangerous and socially destabilizing, that we’re somehow going to know about that shift ahead of time. Any student of history knows that’s not the way it happens. Revolutions, like bankruptcies, come gradually, and then suddenly. One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there’s no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand. That’s the way it always happens. If inequality keeps rising as it has been, eventually it will happen. We will not be able to predict when, and it will be terrible—for everybody. But especially for us.
***
The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.
Nick Hanauer is a Seattle-based entrepreneur. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Room for Debate: Christianity, Capitalism and Libertarianism

How ironic to be told this by a  Calvinist. But Smith is absolutely correct. This article is from a New York Times series, God and Mammon, which debates the question, Is contemporary capitalism compatible with Christian values? http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/06/25/has-capitalism-become-incompatible-with-christianity

Steadfast Principles in a Changing World
James K.A. Smith
James K.A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, holding the Gary & Henrietta Byker chair in applied reformed theology and worldview. He is also an editor of Comment magazine and and a senior fellow at Cardus.
Updated June 25, 2014, 6:52 PM
Beware “Jesuology.” That is how British theologian Oliver O’Donovan describes those Christian public theologies that claim to privilege the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Ask a Jesuologist our question and you can guess the answer: “Blessed are the poor” and “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.”
Christianity isn't incompatible with free markets. But it may be incompatible with modern capitalism and its growing inequality and exploitation.
All true. But Jesus also tells parables about servants who are punished for their terrible return on investment. From which Jesus-sayings should we deduce an economic theory?
A Christian social vision is never a simple enactment of Jesus-sayings, both because the Gospels are embedded within a wider canon of Scripture and because Christian social thought is conditioned by an eschatology — a sense of what is yet to come, and that we’re not there yet. Every Christian social vision is forged in this “not yet.”
In light of that, Christianity is certainly not incompatible with free markets. Indeed, in many ways, the emergence of such markets — and the prosperity produced by them — depends on the capital of a Christian worldview that prizes both flourishing and freedom.
But Christianity may have become incompatible with “contemporary” capitalism — with what seems to be increasing inequality in society. (Things might not be as bad as Thomas Piketty suggests, by the way.)
Christianity is incompatible with libertarianism — an ideology rooted in social atomism that pits all against all in a war of wills. Capitalism is not inherently libertarian, so the more it is wed to such a distorted social ontology, the more it becomes inconsistent with Christianity, which is fundamentally communitarian. When capitalism ceases to be an engine of the common good, it is inconsistent with Christianity.
Christianity is also consistently critical of greed. So the grab-all-you-can approach to executive compensation is a concern. In 1982, the chief executive-to-worker pay ratio was 42:1; in 2012 it was 354:1. What should concern Christians today is a selective inheritance of Adam Smith: we’ve prized the "Wealth of Nations' and ignored his "Theory of Moral Sentiments." We’ve seized upon the magic of self-interest and forgotten his counsels about virtue.
Finally, Christianity is deeply concerned with the plight of the poor. And, in fact, in many ways — tenured radical tirades notwithstanding — capitalism has been good for the poor. But Christianity is equally concerned about justice for workers. Figures like Pope Leo XIII and Protestant statesman Abraham Kuyper have affirmed both the good of markets and the need for unions. They didn’t equate capitalism with exploitation, but they did see the need to protect the dignity and value of work and workers — a concern that remains equally valid today.

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Sunday, June 08, 2014

Pentecost Meditations

Pentecost reminds us that Christians are not autonomous individuals, but rather persons participating in the body of Christ, and ultimately, in the community of the Trinity.

"Therefore if somebody should say to one of us, “You have received the Holy Spirit, why do you not speak in tongues?” his reply should be, “I do indeed speak in the tongues of all men, because I belong to the body of Christ, that is, the Church, and she speaks all languages. What else did the presence of the Holy Spirit indicate at Pentecost, except that God’s Church was to speak in the language of every people?” "
--An exposition of Ecclesiastes by St Gregory of Agrigentum

http://universalis.com/20140607/readings.htm

The Central Role of the Church in God’s Work in the World

 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/what-is-pentecost-why-does-it-matter/

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on individual followers of Jesus as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. This gathering became the first Christian church. New believers in Jesus were baptized as they joined this church. They, along with the first followers of Jesus, shared life together, focusing on teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They shared their belongings so that no one was hungry or needy. As these first Christians lived out their new faith together, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Thus we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church.

In theory, the Spirit could have been poured out on the followers of Jesus when they were not gathered together. There are surely times when the Holy Spirit touches an individual who is alone in prayer, worship, or ministry to others. But the fact that the Spirit was given to a gathering of believers is not incidental. It underscores the centrality of the church in God’s work in the world. The actions of the earliest Christians put all of this in boldface. The Holy Spirit is not only given to individuals, but also, in a sense to the gathered people of God. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul observes that the church is God’s temple and that the Spirit dwells in the midst of the church (3:16-17; in 1 Cor 6:19-20 we find a complementary emphasis on the dwelling of the Spirit in individual Christians).

Personal Implications: Many Christians, especially those of us who have been influenced by the individualism of American culture, live as if the church is useful but unnecessary. We seem to believe that as long as we have a personal relationship with God, everything else is secondary. But Pentecost is a vivid illustration of the truth that is found throughout Scripture: the community of God’s people is central to God’s work in the world. Thus, Pentecost invites us to consider our own participation in the fellowship, worship, and mission of the church. It is a time to renew our commitment to live as an essential member of the body of Christ, using our gifts to build the church and share the love and justice of Christ with the world.

Pentecost Icon as an Icon of the Church

Pentecost Icon, Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery (c.1497)
Pentecost Icon, Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery (c.1497)
The Icon for the feast of Pentecost is also called the Descent of the Holy Spirit, as it is a depiction of the event described in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:1-4) when the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire upon the Apostles gathered together and enabled them to preach in different languages. However, the Feast of Pentecost is not only the commemoration of an historical event, but a celebration of a present reality: the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Likewise, the Icon for Pentecost is much more than the depiction of a past event.
Ss Peter and Paul, Pentecost Icon
St Peter (left) and St Paul (right)
The presence of the Apostle Paul in the icon, even though at that time he had not yet converted on the road to Damascus, hints that this icon is more than a purely historical picture. Sometimes, the evangelists Luke and Mark are also shown, despite also not having been present in the upper chamber at Pentecost. The gathering, then, is a representation of the Church. The Apostles are seated in a semi-circle, representing a unity and harmony similar to that found in Icons of the Holy Trinity. As in icons of the Holy Trinity, a semi-circle, rather than a full circle, is used so that we as observers are drawn into the unity.
Descent of the Holy Spirit
Descent of the Holy Spirit
The source of their unity is in another semi-circle at the top of the icon, showing the descent of the Holy Spirit. From the blue semi-circle (c.a. mandorlas) a single ray of light for each of those gathered shines down to illumine them. Sometimes the “tongues of fire” described in Acts are shown at the tips of the rays, ready to descend upon the Apostles. Other times, the tongues of fire are shown already within the halos of each of the seated Saints. Some icons of Pentecost show a dove, either within the mandorla at the top of the icon, or even descending upon those gathered in the upper chamber. Given the appearance of the Holy Spirit as a dove during Christ’s Baptism, it is understandable that this physical image of the Spirit is also used in Pentecost icons. However, the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of flame at Pentecost, and a dove at Christ’s Baptism, being – in reality – neither of these things. Therefore it is inappropriate to depict the Holy Spirit as a dove at Pentecost, or indeed in any icon except those for the Theophany feast.
King Kosmos, Pentecost
The Cosmos, holding the promise of Apostolic teaching
At the bottom of the Icon is another semi-circle, showing an old king against a dark background. He is often named as Kosmos and represents the world. He is crowned as a symbol of earthly authority – i.e. he represents all the peoples of the world, rather than the whole of creation. He is sat “in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79), and is aged to show the corruptibility of the world. Yet he also holds a blanket containing scrolls representing Apostolic teaching (compare with the scrolls held by the Apostles in the Icon itself and “the meaning of objects held by saints in icons“). Though in darkness, the descent of the Holy Spirit has not only reached the Apostles, but also all corners of the world into which the Apostles will preach the Gospel. The Empty Seat A striking aspect of the Pentecost Icon is the empty space at the centre, between the Apostles Peter and Paul. This central seat is a place of honour, the “Teacher’s Seat” around which the Apostles are gathered. Why is it empty? Because it is the seat Christ should be sitting in, Who has ascended physically into Heaven. Yet Jesus promised many times that though He would leave them physically, He would instead give to them the Holy Spirit as a comforter, advocate, and guide. This promise was first realized at Pentecost, and is still true today. Therefore, the Icon, which is also an Icon of the Church, shows the Apostles gathered in unity, sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit, surrounding Christ Who is invisibly present. The world, Cosmos, is at their feet, ready and waiting to be harvested through the passing on of Christ’s teaching.
Assumption Cathedral, Kem, Russia (17th Century)
Pentecost Icon with Mary at the centre (17th Century)
Some icons of Pentecost show Mary the Mother of God in the centre, occupying the “Teacher’s Seat”. Surviving icons of this sort are usually western (the above comes from the border between Finland and Russia). Mary was present at Pentecost, though as already mentioned, the icon is not primarily a historical snapshot of the event. The Theotokos’ presence in the centre is not problematic though, as she is the ultimate exemplar of a Christian. With Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven, the Holy Spirit acts within people, and through the Saints Christ is manifested in the world. Mary is therefore shown in the “teacher’s seat” as the best example we have, and the person on earth who most resembled Jesus Christ (both physically, as His mother, and spiritually as His disciple). Nevertheless, the “empty” seat is a more widespread and, I believe, more impressive image of both Pentecost and the Church. The Apostles are seated as equals, with no individual among them taking the central seat of authority. They don’t need to. Their unity as the Body of Christ is sustained through the real “Vicar of Christ”: the Holy Spirit.
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Pentecost

Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who made fisherman all-wise, by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them, drawing all the world into Your net. O Loving One, glory be to You.
(Apolytikion for Pentecost) More About the Feast of Pentecost>>

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Can you be Catholic and libertarian?

If they keep this up, I may need to convert.


Can you be Catholic and libertarian?

By Melinda Henneberger, Published: June 6 

 http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/can-you-be-catholic-and-libertarian/2014/06/06/92e602d4-ed00-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html


For years, American Catholics have been under pressure to vote Republican. Though no church leader ever put it quite that baldly, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke came close when he said the Democratic Party was in danger of becoming a “party of death.” Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs has repeatedly suggested that Catholics shouldn’t be able to receive Communion if they vote for politicians who differ from church teaching on a few “non-negotiable” matters: abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, same-sex marriage — and more recently, the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. 
The most intense call to the ballot box came from Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, a Holy Cross priest who referred to the “calculated disdain of the president of the United States” in a homily ahead of the 2012 presidential election. “Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments,’’ Jenky said, “would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care. In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama — with his radical pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda — now seems intent on following a similar path.”
None of the protests that followed claimed that Jenky hadn’t made himself clear.
Now, though, the red papal loafer may be on the other foot, with economic conservatives being called out.
In Washington this week, the cardinal some consider the pontiff’s “vice-pope’’ mocked them outright at a conference called “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case against Libertarianism.” The Religion News Service story on the smackdown of trickle-down ran under the headline, “Catholic and libertarian? Pope’s top adviser says they’re incompatible.”
That adviser, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, was introduced by AFL-CIO president Richard L. Trumka, and preached against deregulation and “worshipping idols, even if that idol is called ‘market economy.’ ’’ Rodríguez also called trickle-down economics a “deception,’’ and said the “invisible hand” of the market steals from and strangles the poor: “We are no longer to trust the blind forces and the invisible hand of the market. This economy kills. This is what the pope is saying.”
Some libertarians have described the pope’s economic views as naive and uninformed — and Rodríguez returned the favor. “Many of these libertarianists do not read the social doctrine of the church, but now they are trembling before the book of Picketty,’’ he said, referring to French economist Thomas Piketty’s best-seller, “Capital in the Twenty-first Century,” on the wealth disparities that have us headed into a new Gilded Age.
In some ways, the fight is over competing interpretations of the American story, said Meghan J. Clark, a moral theologian from St. John’s University. The libertarian telling of that story stars a frontiersman who carves the American West out of nothing, in radical autonomy, with only a hunting knife. Only, doesn’t that self-made man creating something out of nothing sound a lot like God? “That’s the [Catholic] problem with libertarianism,’’ Clark said. “It depends upon a human person who creates himself, and there’s no way to make that harmonious with Christ.”
The economy created by all those frontiersfolk is the unfettered free market, and Pope Francis himself recently reiterated his view that it is “an inhumane system. I didn’t hesitate to write in . . . “Evangelii Gaudium’ (“The Joy of the Gospel”) that this economic system kills,’’ Francis told reporters on his plane en route to Rome from Jerusalem. “And I repeat this.”
Of course, Pope Benedict XVI, too, spoke out against “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.” Pope Francis may or may not even know who the budget-cutting Catholic Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is.
It’s Francis’s constant refrain, however, that we walk with Christ by staying close to the poor. And Tuesday’s “Erroneous Autonomy” conference was without any doubt an attack on the politics of Ryan and other potential Republican presidential candidates, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who describes himself as “libertarianish,” and his fellow tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
The Rev. Robert A. Sirico, of the Michigan-based libertarian Acton Institute, said the conference seemed designed to “create a straw man, shoot it down, and make political hay,” but did not accurately define or reflect views held by any but the most “extreme Randians or anarchists.” Not only is the market far from unfettered, he said, but there’s evidence that its expansion lifts people up rather than leaving them behind.
He was invited to come and sit in the audience and be instructed, he said, but no libertarian Catholic was asked to speak or sit on a panel at the day-long event.
One of the conference organizers, Michael Sean Winters, whose anti-libertarian workthe cardinal quoted extensively at the top of his remarks, said the event was very consciously not a debate, in the same way that during the Cold War, “the objective wasn’t to dialogue with communism; it was to defeat it.”
The meeting wasn’t partisan, he said, since majorities in both parties hold some libertarian, “leave-me-alone” beliefs, with Democrats shooing government out of the bedroom and Republicans out of every other sphere of life. And “the Catholic critique isn’t based on economics; we think they’re wrong about what it means to be a human person.”
Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, which sponsored the conference, argued that like Christianity, libertarianism “offers a comprehensive worldview that informs ethics and art, lifestyles and culture, and even relationships and psychologies. Surely it’s as evident in a NARAL woman’s claim that ‘It’s my body,’ in the art of the ‘selfie,’ and in the doomsday prepper’s fantasy of self-reliance, as it is in rancher Cliven Bundy’s claim that common grazing land is ‘my property.’ ”
Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., argued that libertarianism is a direct threat to faith: “Our ability to call people to believe in a gracious God” is compromised, he said in an interview, if “the cards are stacked against” the poor.
Such gentle, theological warnings against both the excesses of autonomy and of the free market are a far cry from Bishop Jenky’s Hitler references.
Yet on the political front, it’s worth remembering that recent attempts to herd Catholic voters haven’t gone well, and may even have backfired; despite the efforts of a number of American bishops to cast President Obama as “pro-abortion” and anti-Catholic, he won the Catholic vote in 2008 and 2012.
And at election time, it’s unclear that the “you can’t be Catholic and libertarian” argument would work any better than “you can’t be Catholic and pro-choice’’ has.




Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Six Ways that Capitalism Fails the Church


http://morganguyton.us/2014/04/22/six-ways-that-capitalism-fails-the-church/
1) Capitalism fails the church when discipleship becomes an industrial complex
Discipleship is supposed to be the bread and butter of Christian community. What it’s supposed to mean is each Christian’s journey of spiritual growth under the mentorship of more seasoned Christians. This is supposed to happen in local communities in ways that are developed organically in their unique contexts. But in recent years, a monster Christian publishing industry has emerged which desperately needs to sell its books and videos in order to grow, thus constituting what I would call a “discipleship industrial complex.” In order to keep growing, the discipleship industrial complex manipulates pastors and church leaders into thinking that their own intuitions and guidance from the Holy Spirit in their local contexts aren’t good enough. They need to use trusted resources like Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life if they want to get results. Pretty soon, these trusted resources are depended upon for everything from children’s Christmas pageants to stewardship campaigns. It’s kind of similar to farmers who buy the security of Monsanto’s patented, genetically modified seeds. The FDA has officially declared that there’s nothing wrong with genetically modified corn. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with genetically modified discipleship either. There’s just nothing personal about it.
2) Capitalism fails the church when consumerism becomes a moralistic obligation
It really hit me recently how the greatest competitor, at least among middle-class people, to the kind of kingdom living that church is supposed to instill is not greed or gluttony or laziness, but moralistic consumerism. The reason that so few Christians tithe is not because they’re spending their money on booze and bon-bons. It’s because they’ve been indoctrinated with the sense that “responsible” people save all that they can for retirement and their children’s college education. It feels like a reckless indulgence to throw a bunch of money at God when there are so many things that could happen to you that would leave your family destitute. The same principle applies to the Sunday travel soccer leagues. Middle-class churchgoers who only make church once a month because of travel soccer or Boy Scout campouts or other children’s obligations are not playing hookey as an act of liberating mischief; they’re doing what they feel obligated to do as “responsible” parents, and church simply doesn’t feel as obligatory as their children’s other activities. All of this is part of a middle-class existence that is defined by a guilt-ridden moralistic consumerism. We are guilt-tripped into “doing our homework” for all our purchasing decisions, such as buying bread that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup or switching over to almond milk because of the latest research on the impact of dairy milk on children’s development. Nothing is wrong with any particular purchasing decision, but they all add up and create a monstrous system of worship that competes with our ability to rest in Christ.
3) Capitalism fails the church when churches with bling build their membership on transfer growth from churches without bling
I don’t deny the fact that there are churches which grow explosively because the Holy Spirit is creating genuine synergy in their midst. There are also churches that have managed to image success with their bling (such as state of the art audiovisual equipment), and in that way poach their members from churches that have dated furniture in their foyers. It’s similar to the way that Walmart put all the mom and pop general stores out of business in the eighties and nineties. This one hits close to home for me because we’ve lost several members to the local “community” church. One of our ex-members said that at her new megachurch, they don’t really have to volunteer for anything since the staff does everything for them. Yup.
- See more at: http://morganguyton.us/2014/04/22/six-ways-that-capitalism-fails-the-church/#sthash.H7V0B86o.dpuf
1) Capitalism fails the church when discipleship becomes an industrial complex
Discipleship is supposed to be the bread and butter of Christian community. What it’s supposed to mean is each Christian’s journey of spiritual growth under the mentorship of more seasoned Christians. This is supposed to happen in local communities in ways that are developed organically in their unique contexts. But in recent years, a monster Christian publishing industry has emerged which desperately needs to sell its books and videos in order to grow, thus constituting what I would call a “discipleship industrial complex.” In order to keep growing, the discipleship industrial complex manipulates pastors and church leaders into thinking that their own intuitions and guidance from the Holy Spirit in their local contexts aren’t good enough. They need to use trusted resources like Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life if they want to get results. Pretty soon, these trusted resources are depended upon for everything from children’s Christmas pageants to stewardship campaigns. It’s kind of similar to farmers who buy the security of Monsanto’s patented, genetically modified seeds. The FDA has officially declared that there’s nothing wrong with genetically modified corn. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with genetically modified discipleship either. There’s just nothing personal about it.
2) Capitalism fails the church when consumerism becomes a moralistic obligation
It really hit me recently how the greatest competitor, at least among middle-class people, to the kind of kingdom living that church is supposed to instill is not greed or gluttony or laziness, but moralistic consumerism. The reason that so few Christians tithe is not because they’re spending their money on booze and bon-bons. It’s because they’ve been indoctrinated with the sense that “responsible” people save all that they can for retirement and their children’s college education. It feels like a reckless indulgence to throw a bunch of money at God when there are so many things that could happen to you that would leave your family destitute. The same principle applies to the Sunday travel soccer leagues. Middle-class churchgoers who only make church once a month because of travel soccer or Boy Scout campouts or other children’s obligations are not playing hookey as an act of liberating mischief; they’re doing what they feel obligated to do as “responsible” parents, and church simply doesn’t feel as obligatory as their children’s other activities. All of this is part of a middle-class existence that is defined by a guilt-ridden moralistic consumerism. We are guilt-tripped into “doing our homework” for all our purchasing decisions, such as buying bread that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup or switching over to almond milk because of the latest research on the impact of dairy milk on children’s development. Nothing is wrong with any particular purchasing decision, but they all add up and create a monstrous system of worship that competes with our ability to rest in Christ.
3) Capitalism fails the church when churches with bling build their membership on transfer growth from churches without bling
I don’t deny the fact that there are churches which grow explosively because the Holy Spirit is creating genuine synergy in their midst. There are also churches that have managed to image success with their bling (such as state of the art audiovisual equipment), and in that way poach their members from churches that have dated furniture in their foyers. It’s similar to the way that Walmart put all the mom and pop general stores out of business in the eighties and nineties. This one hits close to home for me because we’ve lost several members to the local “community” church. One of our ex-members said that at her new megachurch, they don’t really have to volunteer for anything since the staff does everything for them. Yup.
- See more at: http://morganguyton.us/2014/04/22/six-ways-that-capitalism-fails-the-church/#sthash.H7V0B86o.dpuf