Lesson 02- God, Jesus And Social Institutions
Last week I began by explaining that I was deviating from my normal practice of returning to my regular sequence of programs after broadcasting special talks for Christmas and New Years. However, because of the economic crises that we are facing, I decided to delay returning to my regular sequence so that I could comment on current conditions.
Let me begin by summarizing some of the major points that I made in last week’s talk.
First: We should not be surprised by what is happening because it is the logical consequences of the foolish decisions that we have made as a people in the past.
Next: Jesus, the Incarnate Wisdom of God, who speaks to us throughout the Bible, warned us that
we would always reap what we have sown and Mary, through many visionaries, said that dire consequences would come if we did not repent and reform.
Next: in Proverb 1, Wisdom, who is Jesus, says that, after having ignored His advice and help prior to these consequences, it is useless to come pleading to Him now to save us from them. Having ignored Him when there was time to turn around, we must now learn the “hard way” by suffering the consequences.
Next: these consequences are not a punishment, although many of us will interpret it that way, instead they are merely the natural and logical correctives built into reality designed to turn us away from foolish behavior.
Next: The current concept of God as Unconditional Love has led many to believe that God is the “Big
Marshmellow in the Sky” who overlooks all our faults and makes little or no demands upon us. However, the scriptures are clear that He always chastises those that He loves just as any good parents discipline their children.
Next: we have watered-down the awesomeness of God to the point that we no longer experience “the fear of the Lord” which the Bible says is the beginning of Wisdom.
Next: God’s ways are not our ways. We value the flesh and judge according to its needs. God values the spirit and judges accordingly. We value this life; God values the eternal life that is to follow and often the needs of one are contrary to the needs of the other. What we call tragedies are often blessings in disguise for God is able to draw good even from our evil.
Next: God’s Love is tough and objective, while ours is often soft and subjective. Because of our need for the approval of others and the need to feel good about ourselves, we avoid the tough decisions involving others and ourselves. Yet, Jesus said that if we wanted the fullness of life we had to pick up our crosses and follow Him, the Truth.
Next: Often, instead of changing the circumstances, God changes our attitude towards them. In other words, we must learn to praise God not only in the midst of our difficulties and sufferings but for them because we believe that He is using them for our benefit.
Next: God is using and has used history and our circumstances to teach us valuable lessons, if we have the “eyes to see and the ears to hear.”
Next: Those who fail to learn from history and circumstances are destined to repeat the same mistakes. Our problem is that we keep on repeating the same behavior while expecting different results.
Next: The only way for evil to triumph is for enough good people to do nothing. Thus, God is waiting for the response of His followers to lead the rest of the world out of our present circumstances.
Next: From Mankind’s point of view these are the worst of times but from God’s point of view these are the best of times because we have become humbled and sickened by our sins and are in the proper mode to be taught by the Wisdom of God.
Finally: The worst mistake we could make is to try to reinstitute the same foolish practices that caused the current economic collapse. This is a time for deep soul searching as individuals and as a nation. God is ready to make “new wine” that cannot be contained by the “old wine skins.”
And that pretty much summarizes the major points of my previous talk so let’s now turn to the soul searching that is necessary before we can begin to emerge from our present circumstances. All positive change must begin with “repentance” for the practices that brought us to these circumstances, followed by a willingness to “reform” our behavior to correct them. But we can’t do that until we understand how we came to be where we are.
Recently, the newscasters on CNN ran a series in which they identified the ten people who were most responsible for our worldwide economic collapse. Each day they would fill in one of the ten empty spaces with a picture of someone who through their actions or policies contributed to it. Finally, when they had reached the tenth spot, to their credit, they mentioned the unmentionable: the one person who both candidates during the Presidential race refused to mention even though this person contributed to a lion’s share of the fault. The tenth person, according to the CNN report, was the American people themselves. What a refreshing shock. Someone finally dared to tell us the truth. Instead of leaving us “off the hook” by focusing our attention on bankers, businessmen, politicians, political parties etc… they turned our attention to the only person on whom we have any direct control: ourselves. In fact, the most constructive attitude that we could take is that it was totally our fault. Wait! You might say. What about all those other people they identified? What share did they play? Well, each one of them was also 100% responsible for what happened. But that’s impossible, you might object. How can each of them be 100% responsible? Well, mathematically, that can’t be true but practically it is. Let me explain.
Last summer I was visited by my nephew from Portland, Oregon whom I have seen only a few times in his forty-some years. We spent hours talking and sharing and I came away very impressed with his wisdom and understanding. And, like most wisdom he acquired it through some devastating events in his life.
Years ago, he and his wife went through a troubling time in their marriage and they sought counseling in hopes of saving it. After going through three disappointing experiences with counselors, they finally found an organization that had exactly what they needed. The first step, he said, was to counsel them separately. His wife was in one room and he was in another. Before his session began he informed his counselor that he was willing to admit that 70% of the problem was his fault. “No!”, his counselor objected, “It was not 70% your fault… It was 100% your fault.” He was initially shocked because he thought that he was being magnanimous by admitting to 70% and here was this counselor telling he had underestimated his share. How could this counselor, without hearing any of the background, conclude that he was 100% at fault? Then, later, when he talked with his wife, he learned that her counselor had told her the same thing. It was 100% her fault. Mathematically it was impossible but practically it was true.
What the counselors were trying to do was to focus each of them on the only thing that they had any control over: the part that they played. When we divide up responsibility, it allows us to place part of the solution on the behavior of the others, over which we have no control, and to lose our focus on the only part over which we do have control, our own behavior. By doing this, it removes the temptations of waiting for the other person to change before we act ourselves. The fact that his marriage remains intact, is proof of the success of the techniques that he and his wife learned in these counseling sessions.
So let us begin in like manner by assigning 100% of the fault to ourselves both individually and corporately. As the old Latin phrase used to put it… “Mea Culpa… mea culpa… mea maxima culpa: through my (our) fault…. Through my (our) fault… through my (our) most grievious fault…”
If there is one word that covers the multitude of mistakes and sins of which we are guilty, it is GREED: the attitude that we are entitled to more and more of everything without any consideration of its impact upon other people or things. It’s an attitude that Michael Dougles expressed in the movie, “Wallstreet”, when, at a stockholders meeting, he declared “Greed is good!” Of course in the minds of many of Capitalism’s opponents and supporter, that is what it is all about. Communists and Socialists want to replace it because they say it is based on personal greed while, some supporters of Capitalism, justify their personal greed, as Michael Douglas did, by declaring that blind market forces will somehow turn their personal greed into a benefit for everyone else. I tend to agree with Hegel who said that the truth, which is a union of opposites, is somewhere in-between and that any good idea taken too far becomes a bad idea.
In previous programs I have already analyzed and listed my objections to Communism and Socialism based on the Church’s Principle of Subsidiarity which holds that the smallest unit in society that is capable of handling a problem should assume responsibility for it. In this way, not only is the solution more effective and efficient, but it also keeps power limited and divided. The recent collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union revealed the cracks in that system and now this worldwide depression is showing the cracks in our Capitalistic system. So, like the Church, I am neither totally Communistic, with its focus on the group and cooperation, nor Capitalistic, with its focus on the individual and competition. Rather, as a Christian, I follow St. Paul advice in , Philippians4:8 where he writes:
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
There are no perfect systems. All human systems are mixed-bags and one should not commit wholeheartedly to any one system but rather mix-and-match solutions to human problems according to their compatibility with our human nature as God created us. Based on what we know of His “modus operandi”, or method of operating, it would appear that there are two major ingredients in all of His works: order and freedom. Communism, like the logical left hemisphere of the brain, emphasizes order and control from the top while Capitalism, like the creative right hemisphere of the brain, emphasizes freedom and creativity from the bottom. The Church, emphasizes the balance between the two.
It supports aspects of Capitalism because it recognizes our Natural Law right to private property and emphasizes decentralization and individual personal responsibility. It supports aspects of Communism and Socialism because it recognizes the need for social responsibility and that some problem are too large for individuals or smaller agencies and thus must be handled by larger central bodies. However, it leans more towards the principles of Capitalism and decentralization than of Communism or Socialism and centralization because ultimately the flow of history is towards personal responsibility and freedom.
But isn’t the Church itself one of the least decentralized and most centralized organization on the planet? No! It has that undeserved reputation from its critics but the facts don’t support it. Like any organization, policy is set at the top but the day-to-day operation takes place mainly at the parish level where, as they say, “the rubber hits the road.” There is very little micro-management from the bishops, cardinals, or the Pope himself. A case in point is the Catholic school system in Philadelphia. When I first started teaching in the 1960’s the entire administrative team for the Catholic school system consisted of about five administrators located in a small office while nearby the Philadelphia Board of Education was located in a block long multi-story building housing over 2000 employees who were constantly initiating new theories, programs, and curriculums to impose upon the classroom teachers. Thus, both in theory and practice the Church leans towards decentralized systems, like Capitalism, over centralized ones, like Communism and Socialism. Of course, another reason that it opposes them is that Marx’s theory of Communism has cloaked itself in atheism, while Socialism tends to emphasize the satisfaction of the needs of the flesh over the spirit.
But, we might wonder, how does the Church become more closely identified with a Capitalistic system that both its critics and supporter often identify with greed? Well, in truth, in the beginning, the Church didn’t support it since the whole idea of a profit-driven economic system ran counter to some of the basic teachings of the Church.
In order to understand this we have to understand the historical development of Capitalism as the economic system that came to dominant the Western world and how it began as a system that was at first incompatible with the principles of the Catholic Church and eventually won a qualified support from it. But before we can understand how Capitalism developed we must first take a brief overview of how human societies developed and the role, from a Christian perspective, that God played in it.
In Proverbs 8:15-16 Wisdom states,
“By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles govern the earth and all the judges of the earth.”
Obviously, this Proverb is stating that God’s Wisdom, who is Jesus, is intimately connected with law and order in the development of human society. We, on the other hand, are inclined to limit God and Jesus to things that we consider religious. Thus, when Jesus says “Seek and ye shall find; knock and it will be opened unto you” it rarely occurs to us that He might also be referring to all that natural laws of the universe upon which science and technology are based and the social institutions that we create in response to social problems. For example, when humans sought to understand how birds were able to fly, was it Jesus, the Logos of God, that revealed to them the Laws of Aerodynamics? Was it Jesus, God’s Wisdom, who led Einstein to create the equation E=mc2? Was it Jesus who led us to create governments, laws, and social institutions such as schools, police forces, fire departments and economic systems? Obviously, if God’s Wisdom is the craftsmen who, according to the Bible, created everything in the universe and is the source of all knowledge and understanding, the answer must be “Yes!” What this means is that Jesus, God’s Wisdom, has been involved in our search for the perfect government, the perfect economy, in short, the perfect society or, to use Eric Fromm’s term, the Sane Society. And how does He do this? Again, Proverbs 8 says that Wisdom speaks to us through experience which is the consequences that Reality or the Truth reflects back to us for only in this manner can it can set us free from the consequences of our stupidity if we have the “eyes to see and the ears to hear.”
Thus, history, from a Christian perspective, is the unfolding of God’s plan for Mankind as we discover through experience how best to manage our affairs according to Wisdom and understanding. If this is true, then all of the social institutions, such as governments, laws, courts, penal systems, and even economic systems are the result of our interaction with the Logos of God who is found in every person through the logical powers of the left hemisphere of our brains. And through the refining process of experience, we have gradually been moving towards more perfects systems by holding on to what was best in the past while integrating it with what is better in the future. Such was the way that Capitalism developed in the Western world. So let us now turn our attention to the development of economic systems of which Capitalism is a part.
Since the beginning of Mankind, groups of people have struggle to survive by living in some type of cooperative society. According to anthropologist, our first ancestors were “hunter/gathers” who lived in small nomadic bands that wandered about looking for plants and animals found in nature. Once the logical left brain discovered the connection between seeds and plants and sexual intercourse and reproduction, they were able to settle down in permanent village where they survived by producing their own food through agriculture and herding. Through the Law of Complexification, the simple villages grew into the towns, then cities, then states, and nations. With the growth of population came another law, the Law of Organization and Specialization, whereby individuals in the social body started to assume specialized jobs and functions much as stem cells in the biological body transform themselves into different organs of the body. Instead of everybody farming and herding, others chose to become lawyers, doctors, teachers, carpenters, soldiers etc…
Different social institutions were created to deal with the problems that arose from living in complex societies. Governments were created to make, judge, and enforce laws that were necessary for social order and justice. Schools were created for the educations and training of children. Courts and prisons were created to judge and enforce the laws. Each time a social problem arose, the logical left hemisphere of our brains analyze it and sought a logical solution for it. If experience proved it to be successful, it became institutionalized as a permanent part of the society.
One of the major problems facing all societies was the issue of how to produce and distribute the goods and services that a society needed and/or wanted. Who would produce them? How would they be produced? And how should these goods and services be distributed among the people after they are produced? In other words, what would be the share of each person in the community? The answer to these questions is called the societies’ economic system. Like all social issues, different societies tried different solutions. Some proved to be better than others and were transmitted through history. Others proved insufficient and were left behind.
Anthropologists tell us that during the hunting/gathering stage of human development, things were pretty much shared as a community. The hunters and vegetable gathers would return with their find and the whole community would share in it. However, as societies grew and became more complex, new ways had to be developed for determining each person’s share of the society’s wealth. Through the Law of Organization and Specialization there were many people, such as teacher, lawyers, soldiers etc…, who didn’t hunt or grow food anymore but provided other valuable goods and services for the community. How were their contributions to be measured and rewarded? The concept of private property began to replace the idea of communal property since each person had a natural right to share proportionately according to his contribution to the common good. Those that worked harder or made a more important contribution expected to receive a larger share.
One of the first methods used was the “Barter System” in which individuals traded off their goods or services in return for goods and services produced by others. Thus, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc…, were often paid off in chickens, vegetables, flour or some skill, such as carpentry, by the person who received their services. Obviously, this method had many problems since the person providing the goods or services didn’t always need what the other person had to give. Also, often there was an inequality in value between the things exchanged. How much corn or tomatoes were equal to the value of a cow? How many chickens were equal to a life-saving operation by a doctor who might not even want them? And, how could you save up things of little value, like tomatoes, so that you could eventually acquire something of greater value, like a house? Clearly, some better way of exchanging goods and services was needed. What was needed was a “medium of exchange” that would allow people to acquire what they really needed or wanted and, at the same time, could be stored until they had enough to acquire things of greater value. What they needed was “money.”
If you have been following my analysis, then it might occur to you that “money” is one of those logical solutions to a problem initiated by the logical left hemisphere of the brain. And, if, as St. John says at the beginning of his Gospel, that Jesus, the Word or Logic of God, is found in every person, then this Logos or Jesus is the one who taught us the concept of money. But isn’t money the root of all evil? No! It is the love of money not the use of it. Like anything else, money, when used properly according to the purpose it was designed to serve is a benefit to Mankind. But what were the purposes that it was designed to serve?
The problem was that something was needed that would allow people in complex societies to measure their contribution to the total welfare and to be able to share in the total wealth through the exchange of goods and services. In other words, how much was a teacher or carpenter, or policeman’s contribution worth and how could this be measured so that they could claim some portion of the goods and services that others were contributing.
So, somewhere back in human history somebody “asked” the logos or logic within his mind for a solution to this problem and the concept of money was born. What was needed was something that everyone would view as valuable that they would be willing to accept in exchange for their goods or services. It took different forms in different cultures. Among the Spartans it was large stones; among the American Indians it was wampum or shells; among the Romans it was salt; among others it became precious stones or metals. Eventually, for much of the world, it became gold and silver, both of which, although they had ornamental value, were pretty useless for anything else. Therefore, we could afford to allow them sit around idly in banks and vaults, such as in Fort Knox, Kentucky, serving a symbolic purpose of value and wealth. Eventually, we began to invent paper claim checks which served the same purpose so long as people believed that they could cash them in for the gold or silver they represented.
Thus, in Europe, prior to Capitalism, there developed an economic system known as Mercantilism in which the “wealth of a nation” was measured by the amount of gold and silver that it acquired. The Europeans forgot that “gold and silver” were arbitrary symbols of wealth and value that remained valuable only so long as people agreed to it. In fact, St. Thomas More in his book Utopia, imagined a perfect society in which the children were taught that both represented stupidity and mental illness and, whenever visiting dignitaries from outside of Utopia arrived displaying their importance through their gold and silver, they were laughed at and jeered.
Like Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, St. Thomas was criticizing the European societies of his time for their foolish obsession with the acquisition of gold and silver which led many European nations, during the Age of Exploration, to roam about the earth plundering and killing native populations in their quest to find “Cities of Gold.” The Aztec Indians of Mexico were equally confused by this European obsession which the Spanish Conquistadors explained resulted from a disease they had that only gold and silver could cure. History recounts that when the Aztecs finally turned on the Conquistadors, they would pour molten gold down the throats of captured soldiers to cure them of this disease, which, of course, was greed.
This obsession with gold and silver connected to the economic system of Mercantilism played an important part in our own nation’s history. The British government, like other European nations of the time, sought to increase the amount of gold flowing into its vaults while decreasing the amount flowing out. Thus, the idea developed that a nation should try to sell things to other nations to acquire their gold, but refuse to diminish their own supply by buying anything back. To accomplish this, Mercantilism became a highly controlled economy in which the government tried to enhance and protect its gold supply by regulating what and where its citizens could buy and sell.
Thus, colonies became an important source of raw materials for the Mother country and a market for the goods that it produced. The idea was to keep the gold and silver in the family by having the colonists make what the Mother country needed and by requiring them to buy what they needed from the Mother country. This led to many restrictive laws that hampered what the American colonists could make, where they could buy, and to whom they could sell. The result was a great deal of resentment by the colonists which came to a head when the British Crown tried to force them to buy tea from the British East India Company. When they protested by dumping it into Boston Harbor it touched off a series of events that led to Thomas Jefferson writing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 demanding the right of people to be free and listing the grievance that led up to their rebellion against the English Crown.
However, this was more than just a revolution against the English Crown. It was part of a growing movement throughout Europe against the privileges of kings and nobles and the poverty of the masses. Since the Crusades, when trade increased with the East, there was a growing middle class of merchants and businessmen who, although they were growing in wealth, had no direct access to political power because of the theory known as The Divine Right of Kings. This theory held that kings derived their power directly from God and thus only God could remove them. It also held that political power was hereditary and thus only a direct heir of the king could rule a country. Thus, the merchants and businessmen had to be content with being the “power behind the throne” who used their wealth to influence the kings by financing their wars and projects. Eventually, they tired of this and began to chant, “No taxation- which was how they supplied the money for the kings- without representation.”
A new theory of how power was acquired was developing known as the Social Contract Theory. This theory, which Thomas Jefferson expressed in the Declaration of Independence, held that God granted power to the people who, in turn, made a contract with a leader to rule over their affairs. If, at any time, he failed to rule properly, they could remove and replace him with someone who would do a better job. Obviously, this theory was related to the business concept of contractual work and it opened the door for businessmen and others to acquire the political power that was commensurate with their economic power. No longer did they have to be the “power behind the throne”. They could sit on the thrones themselves.
This was the beginning of the collapse of the monarchies throughout Europe and the rise of the modern day Democratic/Republican states in which elected representatives of the people made, judged, and enforced laws that were necessary for social order and justice.
Thus 1776 was an eventful year when Mankind took its first step towards political freedom. However, it was also an eventful year because it marks the time when Mankind took its first step towards economic freedom. But that will have to wait until my next program because I see that my time is up.