30 December 2008

There's No Pain-Free Cure for Recession

"Dr. Doom" used to be the laughingstock of the financial networks. His accurate recession predictions have now made him a desired "talking head" on the financial networks. Even the Wall Street Journal is now on board. You can read the article by clicking the link in the posting title above.

29 December 2008

Take a Little Quiz

Click the link above to take a neat little quiz that contrasts Austrian economic theory (the Militant Pacifist's position) with other schools of economic thought (e.g., Keynesian, Chicago-school, Marxian, Classical, etc.).

It'll make you think!

16 December 2008

Juvenile Humor...

Why is this funny?
I'm not sure, maybe it reminds me of playing dodgeball in elementary school. One thing I'm sure of. You should never laugh really hard with food in your mouth.

13 December 2008

The Subversion of Christianity (Jacques Ellul)

The Subversion of Christianity; by Jacques Ellul

Ever since reading his Anarchy and Christianity a couple of years ago, I’ve been wanting to read The Subversion of Christianity. I finally did. Ellul is an interesting, persuasive and depthful thinker.

Ellul believes that true Christianity (the Christianity of Jesus) is necessarily subversive of power (I agree with him), but that Christianity has become so subverted that it is no longer subversive. He reviews many of the trends, ideas and movements that have subverted Christianity in his book.

Links to a couple of online reviews are here, and here. Read together, the reviews are very informative, so I’ll not write a complete review, but I will post some quotations that I found interesting. My hope is that by sampling the quotes, you’ll get a feel for Ellul’s writing - and that you may decide to read this (or similar works) yourself. There are things to disagree with in the book (and many things to upset conservatives and fundamentalists) but for the thinker with an interest in Christian Anarchy and the ethics of Jesus, The Subversion of Christianity is definitely a worthwhile read.

On the effects of the fall - “From the beginning of Genesis we learn a stupefying fact whose implications have seldom been grasped. What Adam and Eve acquire when they take the fruit is the knowledge of good and evil, that is, knowledge in the sense of the ability to state, as God does, that this is good and that is bad. There is no good and evil above God that even God is bound to apply. There is no transcendent good and evil as we constantly think when we judge that the Old Testament God is wrong when, for example, he orders Abraham to sacrifice his son. To be like God is to be able to declare that this is good and that is bad. This is what Adam and Eve acquired, and this was the cause of the break, for there is absolutely nothing to guarantee that our declaration will correspond to God’s. Thus to establish morality is necessarily to do wrong (15).”

On Christian freedom – “Perfect freedom, spiritual as well as political or social, freedom because liberation by God from new bondage is the supreme mutation that was not just proclaimed or ideologized but achieved, is accomplished in us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; in him fate ceases to exist and we are radically free. All this is contained already in the first act of liberation from Egypt. It is the constant promise of the God of Abraham. It is effected in the incarnation. But it is strictly intolerable in the fullness of its implications. It is psychologically unbearable. It carries frightening social risks and is politically insulting to every form of power. It was not possible. On every social level and in every culture, people have found it impossible to take up this freedom and accept its implications. This is the basic impossibility, the unanimous refusal of all people, which has resulted in the rejection of Christian freedom.
A risk with no cover, a joyful and perilous acrobatic feat with no net! It was not what we wanted. This is the pure and simple reason for the rejection of freedom. But since it is at the same time acquired, a tragic conflict develops between effective freedom (transformed into an ideal or formula or so-called need) and the refusal to accept the risk of it. This is the conflict that gives rise to the incoherences of the Western world with its oscillation between dictatorship and revolution. And it was found in the very reality of God’s revelation itself (43).”

On the origin of “just war” – “The famous story of Charlemagne forcing the Saxons to be converted on pain of death simply presents us with an imitation of what Islam had been doing for two centuries. But if war now has conversions to Christianity as its goal, we can see that very quickly it takes on the aspect of a holy war. It is a war waged against unbelievers and heretics (we know how pitiless was the was the war that Islam waged against heretics in its midst). But the idea of a holy war is a direct product of the Muslim jihad. If the latter is a holy war, then obviously the fight against Muslims to defend or save Christianity has also to be a holy war. The ideal of a holy war is not of Christian origin. Emperors never advanced the idea prior to the appearance of Islam.
For half a century historians have been studying the Crusades to find explanations other than the silly theory that was previously held and conforms to addresses and sermons, that claims their intention was to secure the holy places. It has been shown that the Crusades had economic objectives, or that they were stirred up by the popes for various political motives such as that of securing papal preeminence by exhausting the kingdoms, or reforging the weakening unity of the church, or again that they were a means whereby the kings ruined the barons who were challenging their power, or again that the bankers of Genoa, Florence, and Barcelona instigated them so as to be able to lend money to the Crusaders and make fabulous profits, etc. One fact, however, is a radical one, namely, that the Crusade is an imitation of the jihad. Thus the Crusade includes a guarantee of salvation. The one who dies in a holy war goes straight to Paradise, and the same applies to one who takes part in a Crusade. This is no coincidence; it is an exact equivalent.
The Crusades, which were once admired as an expression of absolute faith, and which are now the subject of accusations against the church and Christianity, are of Muslim, not Christian, origin. We find here a terrible consequence and confirmation of a vice that was eating into Christianity already, namely, that of violence and the desire for power and domination. To fight against a wicked foe with the same means and arms is unavoidably to be identified with this foe. Evil means inevitably corrupt a just cause. The nonviolence of Jesus Christ changes into a war in conflict with that waged by the foe. Like that war, this is now a holy war. Here we have one of the chief perversions of faith in Jesus Christ and of the Christian life.
But we must take this a step further. Once the king is the representative of God on earth and a war is holy, another question necessarily arises. If a war is not holy, what is it? It seems that the Christian emperors of Rome did not ask this question. They had to defend the empire. That was all. Naturally it did not arise in the period of the invasions and the Germanic kingdoms either. War was then a fact, a permanent state. No one tried to justify it. But with the Muslim idea of a holy war the idea is born that a war may be good even if it is not motivated by religious intentions so long as it is waged by a legitimate king. Gradually the view is accepted that political power has to engage in war, and if this power is Christian, then a ruler has to obey certain precepts, orientations, and criteria if he is to act as a Christian ruler and to wage a just war. We thus embark on an endless debate as to the conditions of a just war, from Gratian’s decree to St. Thomas. All this derives from the first impulse toward a holy war, and it was the Muslim example that finally inspired this dreadful denial of which all Christendom becomes guilty (102-104).”

On the Islamic origin of infant baptism - “We have still to examine a very different subversion. It concerns piety, the relation to God. We see in it an influence that we have already mentioned in passing. Every infant is supposedly born a Muslim, for Islam is perfect conformity to nature. Scholars, then, argue that it is through a bad influence of the “cultural” setting that this baby, who is by nature a Muslim, deviates from the truth and becomes a Jew or a Christian or a pagan. Evangelical thinking takes exactly the opposite view. One becomes a Christian only by conversion. Our old being, which is by nature corrupt, is changed by the action of the Holy Spirit, who makes of us new beings. Conversion alone, conscious and recognized, so that there is confession with the lips as well as faith in the heart, produces the Christian. This new birth, the opposite of natural birth, is confirmed by the outward sign of baptism, which seems to imply an express acknowledgement of faith. But progressively this strict view weakens. The church fathers analyze the sacraments, and the tendency toward an opus operatum understanding develops. The sacrament is intrinsically efficacious. Baptism ceases to be a sign of converting grace and becomes in itself an instrument of salvation. Hence, if we desire that infants, who are naturally damned due to the transmission of original sin, should be saved, we must baptize them immediately at birth so as to avoid the risk of their dying first. Salvation, then, comes almost at the moment of birth. At the same time that we reevaluate nature, which is now not radically bad, the conviction gains ground that the soul is “naturally” good and saved, that there is only a hindrance, a flaw, and that original sin is merely an obstacle that baptism overcomes.
Very quickly the formula spreads that the soul is by nature Christian, which is the counterpart of the Muslim view. Now the idea that faith is natural, that one is put in a Christian state by heredity, that being a Christian is indeed a kind of status in society, that it involves at the same time membership in both the church and society (just as excommunication is exclusion from both church and society), is the very opposite of the work of Jesus Christ. We have to insist that Christendom in this sense is superimposed upon the church and that it duplicates exactly what is taught by Islam. Once the theory of “the soul by nature Christian” is accepted, society has to be made up of Christians. There is no alternative. Already with the Christian emperors there was a thrust in this direction. But it was the Muslim example that proved decisive. Each time we find the same refrain. There is a need to outdo Islam, and that means imitating it (104-105).”

On the Christian embrace of “weakness” - “And what about another concept that seems to be essential in the life of Jesus Christ, that of weakness, which is linked with antipolitics? What can be more the opposite of what we are? Is not the spirit of power at the heart of all our actions? I concede that it nay not exist among some so-called primitive peoples in tribes that know no violence and seek no domination, But these are such an exception that we certainly cannot take them as a natural example of what humanity is in general – if there is such a thing as “humanity in general.”
If we look only at historical peoples, what do we see? Wars, conquests, aggrandizement, the crushing of the vanquished, the magnifying of power, the quest for greatness. Let us not say that this applies only to the West! That is all comes from Rome! For what did Egypt do for two thousand years but conquer and dominate and assert its power? And the Assyrians and the Chaldeans? Is the flower of Greek civilization held up against us (apart from Lacedaemon)? But at Athens what were games in the arena but glorifications of competitive force? And who but the Greeks founded colonies, and gradually invaded the eastern Mediterranean, often by devious paths? And what about Alexander?
It might be objected that I am speaking about the spirit of violence and power only with reference to the Mediterranean basin. Let us look further afield. The Aztecs? Were they not inspired by fear? The Eastern world? Where did those terrible successive waves come from, the Huns, Hungarians, Genghis Khan, Tamburlaine, the Turks who periodically overwhelmed Europe? Did they not come from the very same Asia that many people want to depict today as wise and devoid of any spirit of violence? And within this continent frightful wars ravaged India periodically for two thousand years, not to speak of the Manchurian and Mongolian invasions that spilled across China. China itself until the thirteenth century was a colonizing and imperialistic power. I have already spoken already about the Arab and the Moslem world. Let no one say that Europe alone was characterized by the spirit of power.
Within all societies without exception has there not been equally a split between a small number of rich people and a large number of poor people? Does this not include Buddhist society, which is said to be pacifistic and nonviolent? The domination of the rich is everywhere the same. It expresses everywhere the same spirit of violence and repression. Capitalism did not engender it. Everywhere it has been institutionalized, and particularly in Indian society, where the hierarchical caste system consecrates and solidifies this supremacy of the powerful. In the same way, we find slavery almost everywhere. I admit again that in a small “primitive” group there has not been any slavery, although sometimes this was only because they ate prisoners. In any case, a group of this kind is not of great significance for “humanity” at large, seeing that we find various forms of slavery, of the absolute exploitation of some people by others, in all historical societies. One might truly say that the desire to dominate, to crush, to use others, is a general on and admits of hardly any exceptions. One might refer to the Greek glorification of conquering Eros which enslaves and possesses for its own satisfaction. One might quote also the way in which conquerors called themselves the “scourge of God.” Truly the spirit of power lies deep in the human heart.
How truly intolerable, then, is a message, and even more so a life, that centers on weakness. Not sacrifice on behalf of a cause that one wants to bring to success, but in all truth love for nothing, faith for nothing, giving for nothing, service for nothing. Putting others above oneself. In all things seeking the interests of others. When dragged before the courts, not attempting any defense but leaving it to the Holy Spirit. The renunciation of power is infinitely broader and harder than nonviolence (which it includes). For nonviolence allows of a social theory, and in general it has an objective. The same is not true of nonpower (164-166).”

On Christian action - “Revealed truth spiritualizes all conditions and situations. By this fact it makes everything more radical, bringing it before a final court. Everything, and hence all political, social, economic, and philosophical questions, and all the means that we use – everything becomes more radical. At the same time, however, this radicalness demands that we leave what we claim to have, including political instruments and collective means. (Go, sell all that you have…not just real estate and jewels!) We can then begin to be and to act in a new way, to recognize another form of efficacy….Renounce everything in order to be everything. Trust in no human means, for God will provide (we cannot say where, when, or how). Have confidence in his Word and not in a rational program. Enter on a way on which you will gradually find answers but with no guaranteed substance. All this is difficult, much more so than recruiting guerillas, instigating terrorism, or stirring up the masses. And this is why the gospel is so intolerable, intolerable for myself as I speak, as I say all this to myself and others, intolerable for readers, who can only shrug their shoulders.
Grace is intolerable, the Father is unbearable, weakness is discouraging, freedom is unlivable, spiritualization is deceptive. This is our judgment, and humanly speaking it is well founded and inevitable. This is one of the first reasons for the rejection of the proclamation of God in Jesus Christ. And because we do not want to seem to reject it, perversion and subversion take place. All these judgments and actions are based on good sense, reason, experience, and science, that is, on our ordinary means of judgment, on what all people think and believe. But it is precisely here that we fall down. Jesus tells us plainly that if we simply do as the world does, we can expect no thanks, for we are doing nothing out of the ordinary. What we are summoned to do is something out of the ordinary. We are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. No less. All else is perversion (172-173).”

05 December 2008

04 December 2008

Great Steaks!

A few nights ago (while the progeny were all away for the evening) I acquired a couple of USDA Prime beef tenderloins (I had to go to a special store to find these) to enjoy with my bride.

It was misty and windy, and I didn’t want to cook outside. I decided to try Alton Brown’s technique (which I had seen on the Food Network).

We both enjoy a good flame-grilled steak, but these turned out as close to perfect as any I’ve ever cooked. Alton’s technique facilitates total control of temperature and doneness. Check out the video clip below…

Of course with great steaks, you really need a really big Zin!

03 December 2008

More on the Christian's Relationship with the State

I've been a regular "commenter" over at Spurgeon's Cigar for a while now, but I just made my first posting over there. You can check it out by clicking the link in the posting title above.

The Persecution of Plaxico Burress

What he says...