An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
There aren't two sides to the story of a real rape. One side has all the technological might on its side, the other has nothing but its suffering to offer. How can the RN continue its "equality" coverage? Can't it see through the illusion?
How many news reports inform the audience that Hamas was the democratically elected government of Gaza? No one disputes that this government was the result of a free and fair election. How often do we hear this on the RN?
By running the report on Sderot, the RN is supporting the Israeli line that its butchery is saving lives of its citizens from rocket attacks.
"That is not its aim. If that were its aim, Israel would achieve it immediately by embracing the solution to the Palestinian problem, in no way complex. It would give up neo-Zionism. It would withdraw, without negotiation, from the remaining homeland of another people." - Ted Honderich, "The First Casualty of Israel's War", CounterPunch, Dec. 31, 2008.
This is not war. For a war you need two sides comparable in power. What is happening in Gaza is the slaughter of the innocents. From a Christian perspective this is what Herod was doing in Bethlehem, murdering those whose existence was inconvenient to his imperial ambitions.
The Israelis hate the Palestinians because they represent Israel's "shadow", the dark side of their noble Zionist cause. It is not Palestinian rockets that Israel fears, it is the abhorrent, inconvenient existence of a people who originally lived in what Israel wants to claim as its own.
It is the Palestinians who have a moral right to defend themselves since they are being attacked by unjust force.
Let them learn well the lesson of the Palestinians of the United States, known as Native Americans, or Indians. They believed in treaties, they accepted the white man's hand in friendship. Today, they are a tiny remnant of a once great people. But they didn't believe in the right of ethnic cleansing. They were decent human beings. So are the Palestinians.
like unto him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in
his own conceit."
- Prov. 26:5-6
Why does the dominant elite seem to consider the prospect of global warming to be a minor nuisance rather than the threat of overwhelming catastrophe as scientists portray it?
Could it be that the dominant elite has become the victim of its own propaganda system, the most effective and scientifically designed system of illusion the world has ever known?
Sunday, December 28, 2008
"Beyond the pyrotechnics, however, there has been another kind of conflagration: what started as concentrated rage at the police has assumed the dimensions of a social rebellion, moving beyond the actions of a 'violent fringe' to involve large numbers of young people." - "Greek fire: from riot to social rebellion - Collective Reinventions", Dec. 20, 2008
What the corporate owned media portrays as a chaotic "youth rebellion", fueled by economic frustration is forming into a conscious social rebellion with a specific program. Though their action springs from the outrage of the moment, the growing movement is guided by intuitions of human commodification, as when they wore large bar codes to symbolize their rejection of being treated as commodities. The awareness of objectification is the first step to the renewal of humanity.
If what the mainstream media were saying about the rebellion were true, then it would have burned itself out after a few days. If it were only nihilistic youth and "criminals" as they portray it, then it would not have resonated with larger Greek society, as it clearly has.
First, the leaders of the rebellion have framed the murder of the 15 year old boy as an act of social repression, class warfare: "It was the choice of the state to violently impose submission and order to the milieus and movements that resist its decisions. A choice that meant to threaten everybody who wants to resist the new arrangements made by the bosses in work, social security, public health, education, etc" Indeed, one can see it in a more inclusive sense as the opening in the new wave of repression that the financial crisis has made necessary.
"The bullet that pierces Alexis’s heart was a bullet to the heart of exploitation and repression for an important part of this society who knows that it has nothing to lose apart from the illusion that things might get better."
War, poverty, crime, famine and environmental destruction - these are all signs that capitalism is working perfectly - because these are what the market needs to maximize profit. Let us cry out in our imperfect humanity to break that perfection.
Friday, December 26, 2008
What the ruling elite most fears is the conscious human being. The one conscious of the great inner power which each person possesses as soon as he or she becomes aware of the constant molding to which we are compelled to submit. Every media transmission converges to reinforce the message that we are powerless, that our actions are meaningless, that only the experts have the knowledge required to guide our lives. On the contrary, we grow as human beings by changing ourselves through our own conscious and self-directed activity.
The Greek anarchists represent conscious human life, life that wants to seize hold of itself and the temples of consumption where our humanity has been incarcerated, "The destruction of the temples of consumption, the reappropriation of goods, the ‘looting’ that is, of all these things that are taken from us, while they bombard us with advertisements, is the deep realization that all this wealth is ours, because we produce it. ‘We’ in this case means all working people as a whole. This wealth does not belong to the shop-owners, or the bankers, this wealth is our sweat and blood. It is the time that bosses steal from us every day. It is our sickness when we start our pension. It is the arguments inside the bedroom and the inability to meet a couple of friends on a weekend night. It is the boredom and loneliness of Sunday afternoon and the choking feeling every Monday morning. As exploited and oppressed, immigrants or greek, as working people, as jobless, students or pupils, we are called now to answer back to the false dilemma posed by the media and the state: are we with the ‘hoodies’ or are we with the shop-owners. This is dilemma is only a decoy." - "Nothing will ever be the same again", The Movements for the Generalisation of Revolt, Greece, December, 2008
"We are the ‘hoodies'. Not because we want to hide our face, but because we want to make ourselves visible. We exist. We wear hoods not for the love of destruction but for the desire to take our life in our hands. To build upon the grave of commodities and powers a different society. A society where everybody will decide collectively in general meetings of schools, universities, workplaces and neighbourhoods, about everything that concerns us, without the need of political representatives, leaders or comissars. A society where we will all together guide our fortunes and where our needs and desires will be in our hands, and not those of every MP, mayor, boss, priest or cop."
"The hope for this life was put back on the table by the barricades that were set up everywhere in Greece and in solidarity abroad. It remains to make this hope a reality. The possibility of such a life is now put to the test by public assemblies in occupied municipal buildings, trade union buildings and universities in Athens and elsewhere in Greece, where everybody can freely express her opinions and shape her action collectively, based on her desires and needs. The dream of this life has started taking shape....
Everything begins now. Everything is possible." - Nothing will ever be the same again", The Movements for the Generalisation of Revolt, Greece, December, 2008
Listen to the voice that is there for the moment for it will soon be drowned in the corrupting blare of the media.
Everything is possible, even freedom.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
"The Kingdom of Heaven is not a kingdom or life in the clouds. Either it exists here or else it exists nowhere," - Hugo Chávez
The Christ child was born on earth, poor and human, to fight to make this planet the kingdom of heaven. He fought for equality and justice, had no reverence for metaphysical poverty, but strove to eliminate real poverty, poverty of soul and body.
"Christ was born to call on us to create, here on earth, the Kingdom of Love," Chávez explained, adding that this kingdom has no other name than socialism." - Chávez: Capitalists Have Manipulated the Message of Christ to Exploit the Poor
"Socialism is the doctrine, science, of development of what is social. Capitalism is the immoral art, science, and technology of development of capital or growth of capital -- (for capitalism) what matters is that even while people die of hunger capitalists accumulate capital."
"The president stressed that therein lies the key to understanding the confrontation that began again, in which Venezuela has become the center of the battle between socialists and capitalists, 'between people becoming more politically conscious every day and those who exploited them forever.' He said that that is why the issue of the constitutional amendment is of vital importance as it will allow Venezuela to go farther on the socialist path, the truly human and democratic path, for the happiness of the Venezuelan people." - Chávez: Capitalists Have Manipulated the Message of Christ to Exploit the Poor
Christianity and Marxism are brothers of the same Father - Yahweh, the true God. The Christian message is that a new earth is achievable - the Kingdom of Heaven has blossomed among us. We have only to seize it by our faith and it will live in our hearts and in our societies because the God who guarantees it is trustworthy. The resurrection shows us the path beyond death. Christian faith is the missing key to socialist praxis. We can only achieve socialism through faith in God, not through economic determinism, which is an expression of the very dehumanization which socialism seeks to overcome.
"The Marxist critique of anti-Utopian Christianity remains completely relevant and the image of God to which Marxist analysis now leads is no longer that of the supreme being but rather the God of the Christian message. This is a God within the human praxis of liberation, one who can provide Utopian praxis with a justification that goes beyond what is humanly achievable. From this perspective, something that is not humanly achievable can be declared achievable: the realm of freedom. This does not mean, however, that it is to be achieved by human effort, but rather that the coming of the kingdom can be hastened. The praxis of advancing and overcoming obstacles is Christian praxis insofar as hope in a kingdom to come is part of that praxis and its successes are related to that kingdom. From this viewpoint, such praxis is not hindered by being unachievable: God is committed to it. The success of this praxis is linked to the hastening of the coming of the kingdom." - Franz Hinkelammert, The Ideological Weapons of Death, p. 230.
The Christian God forms the missing link in socialist practice. If we deeply study the motivations and moral standards of the great Marxists, we find that the fire of justice burns within their theories and revolutionary practice. But Marxism in itself is not adequate to the justice toward which it points. Only by integrating the practice of Christian spirituality with revolutionary action can Marxism achieve the goal of human freedom.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
But like many other patients in Gaza he had been made to leave an overcrowded hospital to make way for the dying. Yesterday his house was a pile of rubble: collapsed walls and the occasional piece of furniture exposed to the sky. He spoke bitterly of his daughters' deaths. "We are civilians. I don't belong to any faction, I don't support Fatah or Hamas, I'm just a Palestinian. They are punishing us all, civilians and militants. What is the guilt of the civilian?" Like many men in Gaza, Anwar has no job, and like all in the camp he relies on food handouts from the UN and other charity support to survive. "If the dead here were Israelis, you would see the whole world condemning and responding. But why is no one condemning this action? Aren't we human beings?" he said. "We are living in our land, we didn't take it from the Israelis. We are fighting for our rights. One day we will get them back."
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The nature of capitalism was well-described by St. Thomas Aquinas, "The other kind of exchange is either that of money for money, or of any commodity for money, not on account of the necessities of life, but for profit, and this kind of exchange, properly speaking, regards tradesmen, according to the Philosopher (Polit. i, 3). The former kind of exchange is commendable because it supplies a natural need: but the latter is justly deserving of blame, because, considered in itself, it satisfies the greed for gain, which knows no limit and tends to infinity. Hence trading, considered in itself, has a certain debasement attaching thereto, in so far as, by its very nature, it does not imply a virtuous or necessary end." - St. Thomas Aquinas, ST II-II, a. 77, a.4
Note first what Aquinas condemns - not greed in itself, an abstract tendency to sin independent of time, place or circumstance, but exchange for the sake of profit. He specifically condemns profit-making because "it is satisfies the greed for gain, which knows no limit and tends to infinity." Here the saint of wisdom sees and foresees something that we are experiencing the final fruits of.
More scientifically stated, this practice, which most people recognize as the foundation of our economic system, leads by necessity, not choice, to blind expansion of the use of the earth's resources. Capitalists pursue their own interests to maximize profit. If that maximization happens to coincide with another interest, such as eradicating disease, that is no more than a happy accident, to be brushed aside if it interferes with profits, as we see clearly in the case of big pharma denying AIDS medicines to Africans unless they pay the full price. In saying this I'm not morally condemning the individuals who run these companies. They are usually decent, even Christian, people, but the nature of the system in which they operate forces them to do things which are inherently immoral. Therefore a whole industry of justification has grown up to salve our consciences, in which the Church plays its role.
In our system, all natural and social relationships are subsumed under the drive to accumulate capital. To support this, natural processes must be subjected to the whims of the economic cycle. Natural ecologies are governed by complex relationships of interchange with cycles and rhythms that cannot be subsumed under the demands for maximum profit without destroying them. Thus, capitalism always tends to violate the natural conditions that ensure nature's vitality and ability to right itself, expelling the poisons which weaken it. Essentially, the demand for increasing growth and profit margins must collide with the interests of ecological balance and the winner of this struggle will always be capital.
More deeply, what is at stake is the nature of human happiness. which can never be found in the coercive relationships produced by money, but only in the free (utterly free) action of human beings living out the full potentialities of their nature. That is the positive side of the socialist revolution that must take place if humanity and the planet they depend on are to survive. The negative prod is the more than 2 billion people around the world live on less than $2 a day, while 6 million children starve to death or die from easily preventable diseases each year. That Holocaust should shock the Christian conscience as much as Hilter's, but due to its hidden nature, it does not.
Apologists for the current system ignore its systemic nature. The reason capital cannot solve the ecological crisis which it has caused is that it is propelled constantly to expand. This is not an accidental tendency which could be counteracted by firm management, but a feature without which the system would collapse. To understand why this is the case, we notice first that capitalism always privileges short term gains, often provided by technological fixes, over long term planning, even when such planning might lead to more sustainable profits in the long term. The capitalist cannot concern himself with such planning because his focus must be on the immediate opportunity. If the soil becomes depleted due to exploitative agricultural practices, the solution is not end those practices in favor of sustainable agriculture, but to genetically modify crops so that they can grow in depleted conditions. Thereby the rate of profit can be sustained, while ignoring the long term effects of genetically modified crops. Not to sustain the rate of profit is to be liquidated by the market. No other consideration can be allowed to interfere. The price for ignoring this principle is economic suicide.
"The constant drive to renew the capital accumulation process intensifies its destructive social metabolism, imposing the needs of capital on nature, regardless of the consequences to natural systems. Capitalism continues to play out the same failed strategy again and again. The solution to each environmental problem generates new environment problems( while of ten not curtailing the old ones). One crisis follows another, in an endless success of failure, stemming from the internal contradictions of the system. If we are to solve out environment crises, we need to go to the root of the problem: the social relation of capital itself, given that this social metabolic order undermines the "vital conditions of existence." - Brett Clark and Richard York, Rifts and Shifts: Getting to the Root of Environmental Crises, Monthly Review, November, 2008.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Capitalism is not an abstraction, it is a concrete fact that we live with every day. It has a nature that we can describe by observing what it actually acts like in the real world. That nature does not lend itself to increasing contributions to provide more and more of life's necessities first. It never has done that and it never will because the engine of capitalism is profit, not reasonable opportunities for self-actualization. As long as profit directs economic action, rather than the common good, then it will always tend to centralize wealth in the hands of the few. It does this not from malice, but because it's nature is to seek accumulation of exchange value - that is the engine that results in both its productivity and its destruction.
What I'm saying is that it is not a "neutral" economic system that has been tragically distorted by sin, but that it is the direct product of sin. I say this as a Catholic, basing my thought on the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, and I would treasure a Catholic reply to my points which so far none has made to any of my postings.
It is self-evident that capitalism is based on avarice, on the lust for ever-expanding accumulation. St. Thomas Aquinas said the following about the motivating engine of capitalism, "Avarice gives rise to insensibility to compassion, because one's heart is not softened by compassion to assist the needy with one's riches...It also give rise to restlessness, by hindering one with excessive anxiety and care, for ' an avaricious man shall not be satisfied with money (Ecclesiastes 5:9)." - St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 118, a. 6 ad. 1
Every Christian knows in his or her heart that "... spiritual sins are consummated in pleasures of the spirit without pleasure of the flesh. Such is covetousness: for the covetous man takes pleasure in the consideration of himself as a possessor of riches. Therefore covetousness is a spiritual sin." - St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 118, a. 6
As we experience every day in the current economic crisis, inhumanity is the same as insensibility to compassion - indeed the capitalist mentality is a form of possession: "Chrysostom compares a covetous man to the man who was possessed by the devil, not that the former is troubled in the flesh in the same way as the latter, but by way of contrast, since while the possessed man, of whom we read in Mark 5, stripped himself, the covetous man loads himself with an excess of riches." - St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 118, a. 6
The words of Sirach were the common coin of wisdom in St. Thomas' time: "'Nothing is more wicked than a covetous man,' and the text continues: 'There is not a more wicked thing than to love money: for such a one setteth even his own soul to sale.' Tully also says (De Offic. i, under the heading, 'True magnanimity is based chiefly on two things'): 'Nothing is so narrow or little minded as to love money.'" - St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 118, a. 6
Apropos of the Bank of America scandal, "When someone lends money...on the understanding that he will receive his money back and in addition demands a charge for the use of it, it is clear that he is selling separately the substance of the money and the use of it. In consequence he is selling something that does not exist, or he is selling the same thing twice, which is manifestly against the notion of natural justice." - St. Thomas Aquinas, De Malo, 4.
The nature of capitalism has been well-described by St. Thomas: "The other kind of exchange is either that of money for money, or of any commodity for money, not on account of the necessities of life, but for profit, and this kind of exchange, properly speaking, regards tradesmen, according to the Philosopher (Polit. i, 3). The former kind of exchange is commendable because it supplies a natural need: but the latter is justly deserving of blame, because, considered in itself, it satisfies the greed for gain, which knows no limit and tends to infinity. Hence trading, considered in itself, has a certain debasement attaching thereto, in so far as, by its very nature, it does not imply a virtuous or necessary end." - St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 77
The events at Republic Windows and Doors highlight the true nature of the current economic system, and the nature of De malo, which does not brutalize accidentally, distorted through avarice, but by its nature, which is derived from sin.
"It is so bad that people are only buying what they need." - The Betrayal of the Commons, Richard Thieme, Dec. 19, 2008. Thus ends the endless cultivation of depraved, inhuman, artificial needs so obsessively cultivated over so many decades, all ending with an ugly, swollen face in the mirror.
"The world that collapsed was built on people buying things they didn't need. Then throwing them away and buying more." - The Betrayal of the Commons, Richard Thieme, Dec. 19, 2008.
Throwing away and buying more. Throwing away and buying more. Thus do our dreams reach their final emptiness. Throwing away the earth, but alas, there is no more earth to buy.
The delusion of infinite wealth is shredded into tatters and blows away in the wind, but we are too befuddled to realize that it is lost. Mechanically, we continue our marketing campaigns, too hypnotized to realize we are speaking to black space.
Each of our frames has broken, but our minds have yet to encompass the fractures. The screen goes blank, but the reboot button is dead.
Monday, December 15, 2008
The next morning, he was found dead. The body had 'bloodshot' eyes, lacerations on his wrists from the plastic ties, unexplained bruises on his abdomen, and a fresh, bruised laceration on the back of his head. US Army investigators noted that the body did not have defensive bruises on his arms, an odd notation given that a man cannot raise bound arms in defense. No autopsy was performed. The death certificate lists the cause of death as unknown. It seems likely that Mr. Kenami died of positional asphyxia because of how he was restrained, hooded, and positioned. Positional asphyxia looks just like death by a natural heart attack except for those telltale conjunctival hemorrhages in his eyes." - Glenn Greenwald, "Senate Report Links Bush to Detainee Homicides; Media Yawns", Dec. 15, 2008.
As readers of this website already know all too well, we are living in a time when even the expectation of media outrage at such murders is dead as the idols that once haunted Israel. But we Christians still hold out hope that our bishops, pastors, and spiritual leaders might at last awaken to Jesus' message of
Sunday, December 14, 2008
As Catholics, our hearts swell in solidarity with the triumph of the Republic Windows and Doors workers. Thus the pregnant principle of John Paul II has come to fulfillment: “…the principle of the substantial and real priority of labor, of the subjectivity of human labor and its effective participation in the whole production process...” Laborem Exercens, 13.
In this encyclical, the moral opposition between being and having is established as the guiding principle between labor and capital. Labor becomes the value of “being-in-solidarity”, while capital embodies the anti-value of “having more” as the absolute value of human life. As the Catechism puts it, “The principle of solidarity … is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood.”, Catechism, 1939. It is in this encyclical, which should be studied in parishes to help guide our understanding and action as we are engulfed by economic crisis, that the priority of labor is definitively established.
The Christian principle of the priority of the human over the demands of capital can only be fulfilled by socializing the means of production, “We can speak of socializing only when the subject character of society is ensured, that is to say, when on the basis of his work each person is fully entitled to consider himself a part-owner of the great workbench at which he is working with everyone else. A way towards that goal could be found by associating labour with the ownership of capital, as far as possible, and by producing a wide range of intermediate bodies with economic, social and cultural purposes; they would be bodies enjoying real autonomy with regard to the public powers, pursuing their specific aims in honest collaboration with each other and in subordination to the demands of the common good, and they would be living communities both in form and in substance, in the sense that the members of each body would be looked upon and treated as persons and encouraged to take an active part in the life of the body.” Laborem Exercens, 14.
Each worker receives his Christian dignity at the great workbench of the kingdom of God where his place is assured because the human always takes priority over the “efficiency” of capital and the anti-value of endless accumulation. Capital represents the priority of having over the being embodied in labor. In the Pope’s vision, capital receives moral value only when it is held for the benefit of labor, thus establishing right relation in the hierarchy of values. The sole title that capital has to the possession of the means of production is for the service of labor, not the other way around, which is condemned by the priority of the person over the object.
St. Thomas Aquinas, quoted by John Paul II in this encyclical, illustrates the necessary distinctions in Summa Theologica II-II, q. 65, art. 2. Here he describes the relation between the practical value of possession and the social value of using property, which should be guided by the universal destination of goods. First, he brings out the fundamental principle of natural law that must guide Christians, “Objection 1. It would seem unlawful for a man to possess a thing as his own. For whatever is contrary to the natural law is unlawful. Now according to the natural law all things are common property: and the possession of property is contrary to this community of goods. Therefore it is unlawful for any man to appropriate any external thing to himself.” Though utterly forgotten by most modern Catholics, the principle he is referring to still stands at the forefront of Catholic teaching on the seventh commandment – the universal destination of goods, the idea that the goods of this earth are the property of all humanity in common, the truth lived openly in the Acts of the Apostles.
Next, he describes why property is necessary, “Two things are competent to man in respect of exterior things. One is the power to procure and dispense them, and in this regard it is lawful for man to possess property. Moreover this is necessary to human life for three reasons. First because every man is more careful to procure what is for himself alone than that which is common to many or to all: since each one would shirk the labor and leave to another that which concerns the community, as happens where there is a great number of servants. Secondly, because human affairs are conducted in more orderly fashion if each man is charged with taking care of some particular thing himself, whereas there would be confusion if everyone had to look after any one thing indeterminately. Thirdly, because a more peaceful state is ensured to man if each one is contented with his own. Hence it is to be observed that quarrels arise more frequently where there is no division of the things possessed. The second thing that is competent to man with regard to external things is their use. On this respect man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need. Hence the Apostle says (1 Timothy 6:17-18): "Charge the rich of this world . . . to give easily, to communicate to others," etc.” St. Thomas Aquinas, II-II, q. 65, a.2.
In the first part, St. Thomas is arguing for the need to institutionalize property, not establishing private property as an absolute value, as much so-called Catholic social teaching strives to propose. A careful reading demonstrates that St. Thomas is presenting the pragmatic value of a system of allocating property, not establishing the priority of private property. Clearly, Christian tradition has long established the universal destination of goods as the guiding principle for all decisions regarding economics. Note carefully the values which he promotes in this passage. First of all, care for the things of this world. We are more careful when we have responsibility for a particular object of value to the community than if the care is assigned to no one in particular. When no one is given charge over an item, that item is treated as of little value. Efficiency in the use of material things is next emphasized. These material values can be more efficiently protected if each one has his or her assigned tasks. The final value is the peace of the community. An effective division in the allocation of duties toward the material objects of community ownership leads to less struggle over possession. Thus, a system of property attains moral validity by mitigating greed and promoting the caring use of the natural world.
The basic attitude that St. Thomas advocates is care, evoked beautifully by Leonardo Boff in his recent book, Essential Care, An Ethics of Human Nature, “Through care, the relation is not subject-object, but subject-subject. We experience entities as subjects, as values, as symbols that bear a relationship to a foundational Reality… To take care of things implies having intimacy, feeling these things inside, welcoming and sheltering them, and giving these things rest and peace. To take care is to enter into synchronicity with them; it is to listen to their rhythm and to tune oneself into this rhythm. Analytic-instrumental reasoning gives way to cordial reasoning, to the esprit de finesse, the spirit of kindness.” Leonardo Boff, Essential Care, An Ethics of Human Nature, p. 63.
These are truly the values of labor, of workmanship, of creation, in opposition to the impersonal dominating, having mentality of the capitalist. After St. Thomas discusses the value of possession, he states that “The second thing that is competent to man with regard to external things is their use. On this respect man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need. Hence the Apostle says (1 Timothy 6:17-18): ‘Charge the rich of this world . . . to give easily, to communicate to others,’ etc.” In other words things must be used in such a way as to communicate with others in their need. While we possess, or more correctly, are allowed by the community to care for a specific set of the things of this world, that possession is only justified by service to common needs. Notice how clear St. Thomas is regarding what takes priority. While property is justified on pragmatic grounds, the use of material goods is always subject to the universal destination of goods. A system of property can only be justified if it can guarantee to all their right to the use of the goods of the earth.
The workers at Republic Windows and Doors have lived this principle by standing up for human dignity, asserting the rights of human beings, of workers, over the rights of capital. While taxpayers were forced to give Bank of America 25 billion that could have been used for desperately needed health care, the bank tried to withhold from the workers the money owed them by the company until they were forced into it by direct action and publicity. The dignity of the worker and the primacy of being over having is a glorious present to celebrate this Christmas.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
$170 billion is now spent each year on the wars in the Middle East, yet our bishops sit mute or denounce women’s ordination as ultimate sin. $170 billion could bring so much relief to those who suffer without hope, bring enlightenment to minds, soothe to bodies in pain, give light to eyes dulled by poverty and hunger, yet our bishops share meals with Pentagon officials and remain mute when a word from them to the incoming Obama administration could set consciences alight. They share meals with war lords while Fr. Roy Bourgeois faces excommunication for following his conscience. If I could I’d like to amplify your price tag by adding what the banker bailout funds could mean for creation’s groans. Just as the violence of war is a lie so is the violence that steals hope from the billions in order to pamper those suffering discomfort due to gambling losses.
A recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies called Skewed Priorities: How the Bailouts Dwarf Other Global Crisis Spending puts the bankster bailout in perspective. The following is from an article called, “Bailouts Dwarf Spending on Climate and Poverty Crises” from the IPS:
• RATIO OF FINANCIAL BAILOUTS TO DEVELOPMENT AID: U.S. and European governments have committed approximately $4.1 trillion to aid struggling banks and other financial institutions. That's more than 45 times the sums they spent on development aid last year.
• RATIO OF FINANCIAL BAILOUTS TO CLIMATE FINANCE: Although the climate crisis poses catastrophic risks to the global economy, U.S. and Western European governments have committed 313 times more to rescuing financial firms than the $13.1 billion in total new commitments made to help developing countries respond to the climate crisis over the next several years.
• U.S. CONTRIBUTIONS TO CLIMATE FINANCE = $0: The U.S. Congress hasn't approved any contributions to the developing world's climate change efforts, in part because the Bush administration insisted such financing be channeled through the World Bank, an institution with a poor environmental track record.
If Fr. Roy Bourgeois deserves excommunication for supporting women’s ordination, what do the bishops deserve for failing to speak out about $4.1 trillion spent to comfort the richest people on earth while hundreds of millions starve?
No salvation outside the poor.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The idols of finance capital are starting to topple. As Christians, we are in a unique position to advocate the transition from a profit-centered system of worship to one centered on the primacy of human development.
What is the beast within that Christians so constantly and often futilely struggle with? It is well-described by Paul in the first letter to Timothy:
“Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains. But you, man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” (1 Tim 6: 9 -11)
While it is easy enough to rail against “greed” as the root of the current crisis, do we not, as Christians, possess a more far reaching critique of the goals of the current economic system? What does the love of money consist of? It is an idolatry in which one worships an object of human invention in place of the creator who made both the worshipper and the thing worshipped. But the critique of Paul against the Money God goes much deeper than simply idolatry.
Trust in God means more than verbal profession or mental act. It means that something changes in the way we operate in the world. With respect to the community of the world, there is a hidden unity created by God which we call the common good. Pride separates us from this community and makes solidarity with the people of God impossible. “Pride means the breakup of this bodily unity and its bodily expression is money. Money is the body of the antigod, just as the liberated body for Paul is the body of Christ. This is why one cannot trust in God without really doing away with hoarded wealth. This must occur in an external and not merely an internal fashion.” Franz J. Hinkelammert, “The Ideological Weapons of Death”, p. 141.
When we worship money, we lose the “solid capital” (1 Tim:6:18) of life in the Spirit to the false liberation promised by money. The love of money is not simply a moral deficiency, it is a loss of faith in God. The world organized around the love of money is the world of death, it is the system in which the Antichrist flourishes.
The current economic crisis is irreversible because it is part of the inherent nature of capitalism. The basic drive of capitalism is toward constant expansion. Without the constant development of new sources of profit, it cannot survive. It must devote enormous human and material resources to conjure new, artificial needs. Consumerism is not the unfortunate result of abuse that can be cured through moral exhortation, but part of the dynamic that keeps the system working. The deep human satisfaction that comes from serving others or contemplating the glory of God is the true fulfillment we long for. The artificial needs necessary to keep the capitalist engine roaring are incapable of meeting our real needs, but feed a constant grasping for more commodities in order to keep us in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. This economic system cannot endure without selling us more and more of what cannot satisfy.
While most American Catholics have been carefully shielded from this teaching of the Church, John Paul II denounced the system of consumerism so severely that he compared it to Nazism, a system he suffered in his own flesh: “Before our eyes we have the results of ideologies such as Marxism, Nazism and Fascism, and also of myths like racial superiority, nationalism and ethnic exclusivism. No less pernicious, though not always as obvious, are the effects of materialistic consumerism, in which the exaltation of the individual and the selfish satisfaction of personal aspirations become the ultimate goal of life. In this outlook, the negative effects on others are considered completely irrelevant.” – John Paul II, World Day of Peace Message, Jan. 1, 1999.
Consumerism destroys the soul of those who succumb to it along with the victims in the poorer countries whose lives must be sacrificed to maintain it. Unfortunately, while the Church continues to denounce “consumerism”, it is treated as personal moral deficiency that can be corrected through voluntary behavior changes, rather than a central pillar of our current economic system without which it would collapse. Until now, the Church has been unable to see the systemic roots of this moral chaos.
When Catholic social teaching approaches crises such as the present financial meltdown, the categories it uses are most often taken from prevalent economic theories rather than basic Christian principles. We hear much about the need for high growth rates to guarantee jobs, but little or nothing about the universal destination of goods which is supposedly the fundamental Christian economic principle. This principle has been well described in the Catechism in the chapter on the seventh commandment, a commentary that is intensely relevant to the current crisis: “In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race.” Catechism of the Catholic Church p. 2402.
“The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race.” That is the principle on which all Christian economics must be founded. Gaudium et Spes illuminates the principle in this way, “God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should be in abundance for all in like manner. Whatever the forms of property may be, as adapted to the legitimate institutions of peoples, according to diverse and changeable circumstances, attention must always be paid to this universal destination of earthly goods. In using them, therefore, man should regard the external things that he legitimately possesses not only as his own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only him but also others.” – Gaudium et Spes, 69.
Therefore, Christian economics are not based on the metrics of contemporary economic theory, but on the principle that all people have a right to the goods of the earth. The clear implication is that the attempt to monopolize those goods is a grave sin against this fundamental human right.
St. Thomas Aquinas describes the right of ownership in this way, “The temporal goods which God grants us, are ours as to the ownership, but as to the use of them, they belong not to us alone but also to such others as we are able to succor out of what we have over and above our needs. Hence Basil says [Hom. super Luc. xii, 18: ‘If you acknowledge them,’ viz. your temporal goods, ‘as coming from God, is He unjust because He apportions them unequally? Why are you rich while another is poor, unless it be that you may have the merit of a good stewardship, and he the reward of patience? It is the hungry man's bread that you withhold, the naked man's cloak that you have stored away, the shoe of the barefoot that you have left to rot, the money of the needy that you have buried underground: and so you injure as many as you might help.’” St. Thomas Aquinas, ST II-II, q. 32, a. 5, ad. 2
Capitalism must be judged in the light of this principle. If it is truly the system that promotes the right to a decent life for the billions of our fellow humans, then and only then can we accept it as God’s will for our economic practice. Notice that I am not, for the moment, asking what are the practical alternatives which the current situation affords us. I am asking what the guiding principle of Christian economic practice, whose moral rule is love of neighbor, teaches us in evaluating economic systems including the current one.
The history of the last two hundred years have plainly revealed the effects of the triumph of global capitalism. In a world where two billion people live on less than a dollar a day and a tiny minority in the developed countries own a huge percentage of the wealth, it is clear that this is not a system friendly to the universal destination of goods. The growth of wealth and technology promoted by capitalism has not led to the end of hunger, universal health care, or a decent living for all, which the productive forces unleashed have made possible. Nor will it ever - for the simple reason that these are not the goals of our economic system. Its goal is to maximize profits for a relatively small ownership class. Goals which conflict with this goal will be swept aside. Neoliberal economists can present their ideology as one that promotes the universal good through the selfishness of each, but the results which stare back at us on the evening news are hard to argue with.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Effective struggle for social justice cannot be carried out without the sword of the spirit. The divorce of progressive struggles from the the righteousness of a loving God emasculates their spiritual roots and eviscerates their power to move hearts.
"For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places." - Ephesians 6:12 "The People's Bible"
Progressives often wonder why those who live in the spirit of peace and justice are constantly harassed, incarcerated, and murdered by the power of the established societies while those who violate every rule and principle of those same societies flourish and are lavishly rewarded. We are constantly perplexed by those like the Iraq war boosters whose every projection was demonstrably false, yet who continue to be receive the most prestigious positions in media and government. The same phenomena is even more pronounced in the current meltdown of finance capital. Those whose greed-driven irresponsibility with the lives of billions, all of whose bets came up bad, are awarded, despite massive and systematic fraud, with hundreds of billions of taxpayer revenues to make good their depredations.
As a Christian, we know that these are grave sins against justice, but what is the social mechanism which causes them? The answer must be sought in the spirituality represented by the institutions of those societies. Walter Wink has referred to this spirituality as the "powers", which the quote from Ephesians above invokes. These can be thought of as the spiritual personalities existing behind institutions such as Wall Street or finance capital more generally, which represent those forces which are decisive for the lives of virtually all human beings on this planet. This is not the spiritualization of a conspiracy theory, but a scientific description of how the power of finance and its instruments constrain the options within which we all must choose. Financial objects, such as commodities, become agents which control the fate of billions. The institutions which manage these objects are the subjects of the spiritual forces which these objects embody.
The result is that those who submit to the spiritual forces in heavenly places can break all laws and destroy all institutions while enjoying the rewards of those same institutions, while those who violate this spirit must suffer and be nailed to the cross though they scrupulously obey every law established. Wall Street bankers are a classic example of the former. Iraq veterans who oppose the Iraq occupation are sterling examples of the latter.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
“We must emphasize and give prominence to the primacy of man in the production process, the primacy of man over things. Everything contained in the concept of capital in the strict sense is only a collection of things. Man, as the subject of work and independent of the work he does--man alone is a person. This principle is an evident truth that emerges from the whole of man's historical experience.” – John Paul II – Laborem Exercens, 12.
The fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching is the priority of the human person over the means of production, that persons, their labor and their solidarity must always be preferred over things. More philosophically, being takes precedence over having. The bailout of the banks on Wall Street signifies the triumph of the opposite principle, the victory of what is described by John Paul II as “This gigantic and powerful instrument-the whole collection of means of production that in a sense are considered synonymous with ‘capital’” – John Paul II – Laborem Exercens, 12. It is the triumph of capital and its financial machinery over the needs of people and respect for the common good. In fact, it is even worse because the means of production at least represent a concrete potential for bringing benefits to humanity. This triumph is the triumph of financial speculation over productive enterprise, in which those who make the bets get to keep all the winnings, while distributing their losses to the public.
Again, Pope Benedict XVI put his finger on the nub of the issue in his “Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation”, “The priority of work over capital places an obligation in justice upon employers to consider the welfare of the workers before the increase of profits. They have a moral obligation not to keep capital unproductive and in making investments to think first of the common good. The latter requires a prior effort to consolidate jobs or create new ones in the production of goods that are really useful. The right to private property is inconceivable without responsibilities to the common good. It is subordinated to the higher principle which states that goods are meant for all.” No. 131 The financial players require vast amounts of unproductive capital in order to lay their bets, and the concept of the common good is meaningless to them.
The priority of the Bush administration has always been capital over labor, and in its final days, we are seeing a final massive Treasury heist. “When the Bush administration announced it would be injecting $250 billion into America's banks in exchange for equity, the plan was widely referred to as ‘partial nationalization’--a radical measure required to get the banks lending again. In fact, there has been no nationalization, partial or otherwise. Taxpayers have gained no meaningful control, which is why the banks can spend their windfall as they wish (on bonuses, mergers, savings...) and the government is reduced to pleading that they use a portion of it for loans.” – The Bailout: Bush’s Final Pillage, Naomi Klein, Oct. 31, 2008.
Catholic social teachings once spoke loud with the voice of justice, “If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation. Vatican II affirms this emphatically. At the same time it clearly teaches that income thus derived is not for man's capricious use, and that the exclusive pursuit of personal gain is prohibited. Consequently, it is not permissible for citizens who have garnered sizeable income from the resources and activities of their own nation to deposit a large portion of their income in foreign countries for the sake of their own private gain alone, taking no account of their country's interests; in doing this, they clearly wrong their country. “ – Pope Paul VI, “Populorum Progressio”, no. 24.
The same principle applies even more emphatically to those who have looted the Treasury to protect Wall Street bankers from suffering the results of their bad bets. The common good demands that the property of those who have stolen the fruits of the people’s labor should be confiscated and returned to the people whose labor created the value in the first place. “The exclusive pursuit of personal gain is prohibited.” This traditional teaching of the Church is openly mocked by the bailout. We have become numbed to the organized lovelessness upon which this economic system is based.
The thesis that the bailout was critically necessary to prevent a “financial meltdown” is conclusively disproven by the use to which a significant part of the money has been or will be put. About half the bailout money will be used for mergers and acquisitions of other banks, not making loans. As to another significant chunk, “According to the Guardian, salaries and bonuses for top executives and employees at major banks and investment firms will add up to $70 billion this year. So 10 percent of the $700 billion that Congress committed to ‘rescue’ Wall Street will end up ‘rescuing’ the bank accounts of some of Wall Street's richest players.” – Alan Maass, “What’s so Funny about Peace, Love and Spreading the Wealth”, CounterPunch, Oct. 31, 2008.
The fundamental lie of this economy is that those at the top have earned their position by the wealth they have produced. “A hedge fund does not make money by producing goods and services. It does not advance funds to buy real assets or even lend money. It borrows huge sums to leverage its bet with nearly free credit. Its managers are not industrial engineers but mathematicians who program computers to make cross-bets or “straddles” on which way interest rates, currency exchange rates, stock or bond prices may move – or the prices for packaged bank mortgages. The packaged loans may be sound or they may be junk. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is making money in a marketplace where most trades last only a few seconds. What creates the gains is the price fibrillation – volatility.” – Michael Hudson, “America’s Own Kleptocracy”, Sept. 20, 2008.
I end with a quote from the Catechism on the seventh commandment, “Even if it does not contradict the provisions of civil law, any form of unjustly taking and keeping the property of others is against the seventh commandment: thus, deliberate retention of goods lent or of objects lost; business fraud; paying unjust wages; forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another. The following are also morally illicit: speculation in which one contrives to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others; corruption in which one influences the judgment of those who must make decisions according to law; appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste. Willfully damaging private or public property is contrary to the moral law and requires reparation.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 2409. Let the reparation begin.
Friday, October 31, 2008
The current financial crisis represents a stellar opportunity for the renewed growth of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in our minds. But first, a few hard truths.
The current downturn is probably not just another recession, but may well represent a new phase in economic history, the beginning of the end for the “savage capitalism” which John Paul II contrasted with Catholic social teachings in passages such as this, “… there are collective and qualitative needs which cannot be satisfied by market mechanisms. There are important human needs which escape its logic. There are goods which by their very nature cannot and must not be bought or sold… these mechanisms carry the risk of an ‘idolatry’ of the market, an idolatry which ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities.” – Centesimus Annus, 40
Before we consider the nature of the economic healing that must take place, we should pause and consider the origin of the breakdown. The basic factors behind the current crisis are stagnant wages for workers accompanied by large increases in productivity enabled by those same workers. The resulting increased profits were not shared with the workers, but directed entirely to the owners and shareholders of the profitable enterprises. In response, in order to maintain the lifestyle promoted by marketing campaigns, workers borrowed against their houses. Wall Street, in turn, bought up these mortgages and packaged them as securities to be sold to big investors. The scheme imploded when housing prices stopped climbing. At that point, many workers could no longer pay off their mortgages and the value of the mortgage-based securities declined drastically. This set off a chain reaction among the major banks that were gradually forced to expose the extent of their reliance on bad mortgage debt. Unable to meet their financial obligations, the bankers had no alternative but to run to the federal government for relief.
The Christian principle which this arrangement has violated is well stated by the Pope Paul VI, “… private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditioned right. No one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use what he does not need, when others lack necessities. In a word, according to the traditional doctrine as found in the Fathers of the Church and the great theologians, the right to property must never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.” – “On the Development of Peoples”, 13. q.66. The financial system of which we are a part has consistently and blindly violated the common good for the past thirty years. The judgement that is currently being rendered on it by events will hopefully be permanent.
The immediate cause of the crisis is the unbridled growth of speculation that produces no real economic value, but profits by sophisticated forms of gambling on price movements. Michael Hudson describes it as follows, "A hedge fund does not make money by producing goods and services. It does not advance funds to buy real assets or even lend money. It borrows huge sums to leverage its bet with nearly free credit. Its managers are not industrial engineers but mathematicians who program computers to make cross-bets or ‘straddles’ on which way interest rates, currency exchange rates, stock or bond prices may move – or the prices for packaged bank mortgages. The packaged loans may be sound or they may be junk. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is making money in a marketplace where most trades last only a few seconds. What creates the gains is the price fibrillation – volatility." – Michael Hudson, “America’s Own Kleptocracy”, CounterPunch, Sept. 20, 2008. In other words, this “wealth” was based not on real economic value, but is a kind of mathematical illusion based on price fibrillations. Clearly, it was a blatant instance of the “idolatry” John Paul so presciently condemned. Like all idolatries, it was doomed by its own arrogance.
Perhaps now it is time to turn back to the great Fathers of the Church and use their wisdom to re-imagine a completely different type of economics. St. John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople, (born at Antioch in 347, died in exile in Armenia in 407), preached a vision of Christian economics which can still inspire us today. Here is a section from his 11th Homily on the "Acts of the Apostles":
"And there was a great charity among them (the Apostles): none was poor among them. None considered as being as being his what belonged to him, all their riches were in common…a great charity was in all of them. This charity consisted in that there were no poor among them, so much did those who had possessions hasten to strip themselves of them. They not divide their fortunes into two parts, giving one and keeping the other back: they gave what they had. So there was no inequality between them; they all lived in great abundance. Everything was done with the greatest reverence. What they gave was not passed from the hand of the giver to that of the recipient; their gifts were without ostentation; they brought their goods to the feet of the apostles who became the controllers and masters of them and who used them from then on as the goods of the community and no longer as the property of individuals. By that means they cut short any attempt to get vain glory.
Ah! Why have these traditions been lost? Rich and poor, we should all profit from these pious usages and we should both feel the same pleasure from conforming to them. The rich would not impoverish themselves when laying down their possessions and the poor would be enriched…But let us try to give an exact idea of what should be done.
Now, let us suppose - and neither rich nor poor need be alarmed, for I am just supposing - let us suppose that we sell all that belongs to us to put the proceeds into a common pool. What sums of gold would be piled up! I cannot say exactly how much that would make: but if all among us, without distinction between the sexes were to bring here their treasures, if they were to sell their fields, their properties, their houses - I do not speak of slaves for there were none in the Christian community, and those who were there became free - perhaps, I say if everyone did the same, we would reach hundreds of thousands of pounds of gold, millions, enormous values.
Well! How many people do you think there are living in this city? How many Christians? Would you agree that there are a hundred thousand? The rest being made up of Jews and Gentiles. How many should we not unite together? Now, if you count up the poor, what do you find? Fifty thousand needy people at the most. What would be needed to feed them each day? I estimate that the expense would not be excessive, if the supply and the eating of the food were organized in common.
"You will say, perhaps, 'But what will become of us when these goods are used up?' So what! Would that ever happen? Would not the grace of God be a thousand times abundant? Would we not be making a heaven on earth?”
Thus speaks the “golden voice” of the economics of compassion, which acts as a channel for true wealth to flow into communities. It is long past the time for priests, bishops, and theologians to start promoting an economic vision based on satisfying real human needs, rather than silently accepting savage capitalism based on orgiastic and unsustainable consumption by the many and obscene profits hoarded by the few. These golden voices from Catholic tradition offer hope as the thunder deepens while idols crash.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
The first Christians were the banished, the persecuted, the oppressed, the enslaved, and the damned of Roman society. If a member of an American megachurch were somehow transported to the Roman Empire of the first century, the Christians thus encountered would have appalled him. They were not the prosperous elite whose oppression we now sanctify through magical religion, but the wretched of the earth.
Rosa Luxemburg characterized them in this way, "In this crumbling society, where there existed no way out of their tragic situation for the people, no hope of a better life, the wretched turned to Heaven to seek salvation there. The Christian religion appeared to these unhappy beings as a life-belt, a consolation and an encouragement, and became, right from the beginning, the religion of the Roman proletarians. In conformity with the material position of the men belonging to this class, the first Christians put forward the demand for property in common - communism. What could be more natural? The people lacked means of subsistence and were dying of poverty. A religion which defended the people demanded that the rich should share with the poor the riches which ought to belong to all and not to a handful of privileged people; a religion which preached the equality of all men would have great success.” – Rosa Luxemburg, “Socialism and the Churches”, 1905
Recent studies by John Dominic Crossan and Joerg Rieger establish that early Christianity was not simply a religion as we think of the term today, but equally a social and political challenge to the empire. The proclamation of the Lordship of Christ was intended as a direct subversion of the imperial concept of Lordship. “God in Christ is a different kind of lord who is not in solidarity with the powerful but in solidarity with the lowly. To be more precise, Christ’s way of being in solidarity with the powerful is by being in solidarity with the lowly; the powerful are not outside the reach of Christ’s lordship, but their notions of what it means to be lord are radically reversed. This position – at the heart of the new world proclaimed by Paul – directly contradicts the logic of the Roman Empire. “- Joerg Rieger, Christ and Empire, 2007. Here we see inextricably merged a longing for freedom from material oppression along with a lordship that has reversed the power relations of empire. In the inimitable words of Crossan, “What better deserves the title of a new creation than the abnormality of a share-world replacing the normalcy of the greed-world.” - Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, 2004.
But the insight penetrates more deeply, and reverberates in the current economic crisis. “Greed may be one symptom of empire, but what we are up against are not moral failures (like greed) but a logic according to which the structures of empire are endorsed as the ones that are ontologically superior and will bring happiness and peace to the world. The fundamental problem with empires, including the Roman one, is not that they happen to endorse morally reprehensible behavior but that they pursue their own logic of top-down power and thus are built on the back of the weakest; what Crossan and Reed reject as ‘greed’ the empire would endorse as economic common sense that leads to improvements for everyone.” - Joerg Rieger, Christ and Empire, 2007. This is the sense in which the lordship of Jesus Christ was proclaimed. Christ represents the joy and hope of the marginalized that empire cannot permanently repress. In this way, Rieger extends Luxemburg’s insight into the social position of the early Christians by illuminating the spiritual dimension of their longing for relief.
The spiritual dimension of Christian communism is the elevation of the community above the individual and their private possessions. While the lords of empire invest their security in financial instruments and military force, Christians no longer needed possessions to give their lives security. The Resurrection had overcome their fear of death and thus the insatiable greed for life which imperial materialism breeds. The early Christian community became a refuge from the competitive struggle which isolates and atomizes society into lonely individuals, “the social chill of the heartless world”, in the words of Jurgen Moltmann in his essay, “The Trinitarian Experience of Fellowship” in Experiences in Theology.
This portrait of Christian economics reverberates down the centuries, “A contemporary wrote, ‘these [Christians] do not believe in fortunes, but they preach collective property and no one among them possesses more than the others. He who wishes to enter their order is obliged to put his fortune into their common property. That is why there is among them neither poverty nor luxury - all possessing all in common like brothers. They do not live in a city apart, but in each they have houses for themselves. If any strangers belonging to their religion come there, they share their property with them, and they can benefit from it as if it their own. Those people, even if previously unknown to each other, welcome one another, and their relations are very friendly. When travelling they carry nothing but a weapon for defense against robbers. In each city they have their steward, who distributes clothing and food to the travelers. Trade does not exist among them. However, if one of the members offers to another some object which he needs, he receives some other objects in exchange. But each can demand what he needs even if he can give nothing in exchange." – Rosa Luxemburg, “Socialism and the Churches”, 1905
Note that property relations were subordinate to the obligations of solidarity. Rather than reverencing private property as the bastion of freedom, the early Christian had no reverence for private property as such at all, but treated it as a subordinate and instrumental value. Clearly the first Christians treated community as the center of Christian life, not the isolated individual exulting in the freedom granted by his possessions. Such a creature would have been seen as one who had lost the way.
As Luxemburg expressed it, “Thus the Christians of the First and Second Centuries were fervent supporters of communism.” But what the early Christians lacked and ultimately undermined their primitive communism was the concept of productive as opposed to distributive communism. “We have been able to observe that the Roman proletarians did not live by working, but from the alms which the government doled out. So the demand of the Christians for collective property did not relate to the means of production, but the means of consumption. They did not demand that the land, the workshops and the instruments of work should become collective property, but only that everything should be divided up among them, houses, clothing, food and finished products most necessary to life. The Christian communists took good care not to enquire into the origin of these riches. The work of production always fell upon the slaves. The Christian people desired only that those who possessed the wealth should embrace the Christian religion and should make their riches common property, in order that all might enjoy these good things in equality and fraternity.” – Rosa Luxemburg, “Socialism and the Churches”, 1905.
What is necessary for Christians today is to extend the building of the “share-world” into the realm of productive communism. Charity conceived of as a spiritual act which distributes the goods of this world to the needy falls short of our calling. Instead we must criticize the economic relations which underlie the production of those goods. Charity can no longer be removed from its social context and idealized as the meritorious act of an individual. The conscience of a Christian today demands that we delve into the origin of riches, that we penetrate the heart of the heartless world (Karl Marx) and thus lay the economic groundwork for the kingdom of heaven.
Today we see that the wealth generated by the laborers of the world is more and more concentrated in the hands of a few superrich. As in the Roman Empire, wealth flows continually back to those who own the means of production. This was the economic situation in which the concept of “almsgiving” – the idea that charity denotes economic superfluity granted to the poor – became dominant.
Rosa Luxemburg analyzes the decline of Christian communism in this way, “At the beginning, when the followers of the new Savior constituted only a small group in Roman society, the sharing of the common stock, the meals in common and the living under the same roof were practicable. But as the number of Christians spread over the territory of the Empire, this communal life of its adherents became more difficult. Soon there disappeared the custom of common meals and the division of goods took on a different aspect. The Christians no longer lived like one family; each took charge of his own property, and they no longer offered the whole of their goods to the community, but only the superfluity. The gifts of the richer of them to the general body, losing their character of participation in a common life, soon became simple almsgiving, since the rich Christians no longer made any use of the common property, and put at the service of the others only a part of what they had, while this part might be greater or smaller according to the good will of the donor. Thus in the very heart of Christian communism appeared the difference between the rich and the poor, a difference analogous to that which reigned in the Roman Empire and against which the early Christians had fought. Soon it was only the poor Christians - and the proletarian ones - who took part in the communal meals; the rich having offered a part of their plenty, held themselves apart. The poor lived from the alms tossed to them by the rich, and society again became what it had been. The Christians had changed nothing.” – Rosa Luxemburg, “Socialism and the Churches”, 1905.
The same paradox endures today. Christians, along with everyone else, depend on the productive capacity of modern industry to supply the commodities necessary for life. Distributing the surplus of these capacities in the form of “charity” fails to question the mechanism by which these goods are produced, but justifies them as a means of supporting the poor. The original Christian impulse was to share the goods of the earth and is still enshrined as a fundamental Christian principle in the Catholic Catechism which states, “In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. “– Catholic Catechism, 2402. The basic paradox is that once the surplus wealth is distributed to the poor, charities must return again to the wealth producers to obtain more “charity”, thus perpetuating the cycle of dependency. Since the Churches do not possess the means of production, but must depend on the compassion of the wealthy, they are obligated to justify the mechanisms by which the powerful create the wealth they depend on.
Eventually Christian communism was destroyed by the very mechanism that has so thoroughly repressed this fundamental Christian value today. The division between rich and poor became enshrined as an aspect of the cosmic order willed by God. Economically, Christianity has become the worship of the status quo. Submission to “what exists” economically has become the key virtue, while rebellion against authority is for many ecclesiastics the very definition of sin. To make charity a function of the generosity of the wealthy sanctifies both wealth and the means by which it is produced. A careful examination of the economic exploitation practiced by Christian churches must lead to a deep repentance. This repentance can be achieved by returning to the ideal and practice of the first Christians which can now be extended beyond the distributive communism of the Apostles to the productive communism of liberationist Christianity.
The Christian communist task is to question the current Christian definition of charity and the economic foundation on which it rests. We will examine this in more detail in the next article on Christian Communism.
I give the final word to St. John Chrysostom:
“And there was a great charity among them [the Apostles]: none was poor among them. None considered as being as being his what belonged to him, all their riches were in common…a great charity was in all of them. This charity consisted in that there were no poor among them, so much did those who had possessions hasten to strip themselves of them. They not divide their fortunes into two parts, giving one and keeping the other back: they gave what they had. So there was no inequality between them; they all lived in great abundance. Everything was done with the greatest reverence. What they gave was not passed from the hand of the giver to that of the recipient; their gifts were without ostentation; they brought their goods to the feet of the apostles who became the controllers and masters of them and who used them from then on as the goods of the community and no longer as the property of individuals. By that means they cut short any attempt to get vain glory. Ah! Why have these traditions been lost? Rich and poor, we should all profit from these pious usages and we should both feel the same pleasure from conforming to them. The rich would not impoverish themselves when laying down their possessions and the poor would be enriched.
Now, let us suppose - and neither rich nor poor need be alarmed, for I am just supposing - let us suppose that we sell all that belongs to us to put the proceeds into a common pool. What sums of gold would be piled up! I cannot say exactly how much that would make: but if all among us, without distinction between the sexes were to bring here their treasures, if they were to sell their fields, their properties, their houses - I do not speak of slaves for there were none in the Christian community, and those who were there became free - perhaps, I say if everyone did the same, we would reach hundreds of thousands of pounds of gold, millions, enormous values.
‘Well! How many people do you think there are living in this city? How many Christians? Would you agree that there are a hundred thousand? The rest being made up of Jews and Gentiles. How many should we not unite together? Now, if you count up the poor, what do you find? Fifty thousand needy people at the most. What would be needed to feed them each day? I estimate that the expense would not be excessive, if the supply and the eating of the food were organized in common.
You will say, perhaps, 'But what will become of us when these goods are used up?' So what! Would that ever happen? Would not the grace of God be a thousand times abundant? Would we not be making a heaven on earth?”- St. John Chrysostom.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Recently, I received the following reply to my posting "Why the Bailout Will Fail According to St. Thomas Aquinas":
In reviewing your thesis, I am bothered by a statement that you made in response to 'butterfly'. You stated:
'In other words, rather than bailing out the billionaires, which Christian principles show to be an immoral act, we should remove the property that they have abused and redistribute it to the poor and those who have been harmed by their actions.'
My question to you is, what actual, pragmatic steps do you propose that Christians implement to 'remove the property that they the (wealthy) have abused and redistribute it to the poor and those who have been harmed.' What steps do you propose knowing the results and sad lessons of the:
1) French and Russian Revolution which stripped the wealthy of their possessions;
2) Knowing that the wealthy have friends in government who would do all in their
power to block and obfuscate any attempts of Christians to use legal means
to achieve this end;
3) If nothing else works, the wealthy are capable of hiring mercenary troops to
guard their property and possessions. If you have never seen mercenaries at
work,go to the country of Columbia (for just one example), and observe
mercenaries working for drug lords out-gun and out-manuever the national armed
4) And finally as I am typing this out, I am listening to political ads on the
TV. One candidate for the presidency accuses his opponent of trying to do
exactly what you are stating that Christians should do "re-distribute wealth
all around." But this candidate states that this concept is wrong because it
removes any incentive to work; removes any initiative to create new industry or
technology; removes any impetus to propel the nation to growth.
Since most people have not been gifted with Aquinas' lofty intellect nor do they all possess his profound virtue---what concrete steps are you proposing to initiate in America to achieve Aquinas' vision?" Comment in National Catholic Reporter.
I replied as follows:
"Rather than advocating the methods of the French or Russian revolutionaries, I advocate the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas and his major commentators. Consider the recommendation of Cajetan, St. Thomas Aquinas' greatest commentator: "Now what a ruler can do in virtue of his office, so that justice may be served in the matter of riches, is to take from someone who is unwilling to dispense from what is superfluous for life or state, and to distribute it to the poor. In this way he just takes away the dispensation power of the rich man to whom the wealth has been entrusted because he is not worthy. For according to the teaching of the saints, the riches that are superfluous do not belong to the rich man as his own but rather to the one appointed by God as dispenser, so that he can have the merit of a good dispensation." - Cardinal Tommaso Cajetan, St. Thomae...Summa Theologica cum commentariis Thomae de Vio Cajetani. In other words, our goods are owned by God and given to us so that we can share in His goodness and mercy by freely sharing them with others.
In other words, the confiscation of the property of the wealthy is sometimes required so that justice may be served. Those who violate the common good, whether they be Communists or Wall Street bankers have abrogated the right to their superfluous property. This property should be expropriated and distributed to those whose rights have been violated so that the rich might have the merit of a good dispensation. Note that this expropriation contributes to the spiritual good of both rich and poor.
You make a valid practical point in item 2. I agree wholeheartedly that the wealthy would use their friends in government to prevent such expropriation. What we must ask ourselves as Christians is whether we should submit to the machinations of unjust wealth because we may not be able to successfully resist their conspiracies.
This reply also applies to point 3. I am quite aware of the effectiveness of the U.S.-supported Columbian mercenary troops. My point above however remains. Should Christians submit to superior firepower and efficient political repression? Is this the example of Jesus?
As to point number 4, redistributing the wealth according to the principles of justice sounds like an excellent idea to me. The fact that Mr. Obama renounces this idea diminishes his stature in my eyes.
Catholic social teaching does not depend on universal attainment of the gifts of St. Thomas, but they do respect his principles. Concretely, I advocate four specific actions:
1) The fortunes accumulated fraudulently by the CEOs and financial speculators of Wall Street should be immediately confiscated and placed in public fund to compensate victims of predatory lending practices.
2) The 850 billion dollar bailout fund should be immediately redirected to public works programs to rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure, provide decent housing and schools, universal health care, and provide well-paid, full-time jobs for the unemployed.
3) Dismantle the U.S. war machine beginning with the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, both because of their intrinsic injustice and to contribute to the funds needed to rebuild U.S. infrastructure.
4) Markedly increase the progressive taxation of the wealthiest five percent in order to help pay for the shift to an economy based on alternative energy sources.
In my posting, I presented Christian principles, validated by the Catechism. Most of the replies have been based on political practicalities. I would treasure a reply based on scripture, the Catechism, or the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Where are your Catholic principles, sir?"
Recently, a member responded to my commentary on the financial crisis as follows:
"Although as an Anglo-Catholic/Episcopalian and not a Roman Catholic, I'm not prepared for "a serious discussion of Catholic principles" beyond saying that I like your selection of texts, I do have a couple of comments.
Your point about the necessary abrogation of (some) property rights in times like these is made more clearly justifiable if we first put the necessary emphasis on the "if" in the phrase "even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise." Respect for property rights is always contingent.
Also -- we need to emphasize that it's a bundle of rights, not a unitary right. The common acceptance of the principle of zoning, even if sometimes it's done badly, shows how some of the rights associated with property ownership can justly be overridden.
About the current bailout: as a dedicated critic of our economic system, I still have to concede that the "bailout" is not primarily on behalf of capital vs. the common good. Capital has messed up so badly that the common good requires a bailout of some kind. (The credit freeze, as shown in international inter-bank lending interest rates, was/is real. As I write, it's been thawing rather slowly and the economic fallout may last a long time.)
The inadequacies of the (evolving) bailout are the issue. The common good requires that we move on from the necessary first steps of shoring up the financial system and proceed to start paying attention to human priorities, including the need for some basic as yet undefined and unagreed-upon 'systemic change' in our current corporate "structures of sin".
Universal sharing and solidarity are not possible when corporations rule. The sin which you describe doesn't merely "lurk" in the (mainly corporate) property system: it's the basic structural component.
I agree that the bailout will ultimately fail if we don't address the deep spiritual failures embodied in our current non-negotiable American Way.
Thanks for bringing so many apt and powerful quotes to my attention."
My reply is as follows:
Respect for the common good clearly takes precedence over the "if" of the Catechism. I'm attempting to contend that the "absolute" demand of property rights is neither Christian or human. Christianity is not worship of the status quo, unquestioning acceptance of current property relations. Respect for property rights is contingent on many factors. In fact it is far down on the Biblical priority list.
It is indeed a bundle of rights, all based on human as opposed to natural law, as Aquinas explicates. My key point turns on this distinction. The universal destination of goods negates individual rights to possession when they violate the common good.
As to your third point, I regret to say I disagree. The common good does not require the preservation of the current economic system. I believe the bailout is precisely about the preference for the current financial system over the birth of a new system. The current system must die for many reasons, one of which is its inherent prioritizing of capital requirements over human needs. Such a system will collapse from its own contradictions, and Christians should rejoice in the possibilities unleashed in that collapse.
I consider the current capitalist system a form of sin and like all sin, it will eventually destroy itself because it is based on a lie. Attempting to preserve it because of the evil a collapse might cause is temptation. I want to see a completely new system based on the priority of human development over monetary considerations. I have no interest in bailing out the current system.
So I would continue my disagreement by asserting that the inadequacies of the current bailout are not the issue. The issue is, as you state, to start paying attention to human priorities. That is the first step, not 'shoring up the current financial system' which inherently contains the same priorization of capital over those needs.
Far from being "undefined", systemic change can be adequately envisioned by those who see beyond the current system of injustice, whether that system is "agreed upon" or not. Agreement can only come by demonstration.
I firmly endorse your insight into the basic structural components of the corporate property system. Indeed, they do not "lurk", but dominate.
The bailout will fail precisely because it is a bailout, not a response to the American spiritual failure. In the words of Paulo Friere, "The church [or country in this case] that is not reborn through suffering, but merely rearranged in its domestic life, only succeeds in becoming more efficiently fascist."
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The first of the Christian economic principles, for which St. Thomas served as the mouthpiece of the Fathers of the Church, is what the current Catechism calls the "universal destination of goods", which he described as follows, "Now according to the natural law all things are common property and the possession of property is contrary to this community of goods." - Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIa, IIae, q. 66. This was not a Communist or a monastic principle, but a Christian principle, reaffirmed by the current Catechism in the following section, "The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise." Catechism, 2402. While the neoconservative economics advocated by Michael Novak and his cohorts have led to the current fiscal meltdown, the economics of sharing advocated by St. Thomas and the Fathers of the Church have been the persistent source of spiritual and economic renewal throughout the centuries.
The Church has long taught the priority of labor over capital, well summarized in the following passage from John Paul II, "...we must first of all recall a principle that has always been taught by the Church: the principle of the priority of labor over capital. This principle directly concerns the process of production: in this process labor is always a primary efficient cause, while capital, the whole collection of means of production, remains a mere instrument or instrumental cause. This principle is an evident truth that emerges from the whole of man's historical experience." - Laborum Exercens, 12.
During the 1970s, workers won both higher wages and social services while refusing to increase the pace of work. Thus corporations found their profits under pressure as the increasing quality of life of workers clashed with profit-making. In response governments began to attack the wage and social services gains made by workers.
John Paul II spoke with eloquence and perspicuity against these trends: "We must emphasize and give prominence to the primacy of man in the production process, the primacy of man over things. Everything contained in the concept of capital in the strict sense is only a collection of things. Man, as the subject of work, and independently of the work that he does-man alone is a person." - Laborum Exercens, 12. While we are currently bailing out capital at the expense of the common good, the Church persistently directs us to the priority of humanity over the "collection of things" which the financial system represents.
My thesis rests on Christian tradition concerning private property, which "... has never upheld this right as absolute and untouchable. On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone." - Laborum Exercens, 14. This principle implies that in times such as these, when the right to private property has been used to destroy the common good, property rights are abrogated. In such circumstances, it is the right and the duty of the state to expropriate the resources of the wealthy, in this case the banks, and reallocate those resources for the good of the common people.
John Paul II points to the inherent sinfulness of the dominance of capital over the good of the person, "This concerns in a special way ownership of the means of production...They cannot be possessed against labour, they cannot even be possessed for possession's sake, because the only legitimate title to their possession - whether in the form of private ownerhip or in the form of public or collective ownership-is that they should serve labour, and thus, by serving labour, that they should make possible the achievement of the first principle of this order, namely, the universal destination of goods and the right to common use of them." - Laborum Exercens, 14.
In other words, the only legitimate reason for the ownership of capital is to serve the needs of labor, with the goal of promoting universal sharing and solidarity. The sin which constantly lurks in the property system is that of indiscriminately excluding others from using the property which God intended for common usage.
Statistics show clearly that corporations have been spectacularly successful in keeping wages low. Real wages with inflation factored in are at the same level today as in the early 1970s. But low wages raise a major problem for corporate profits. Low wages mean workers cannot afford to buy the proliferation of superfluous goods. If goods cannot be sold then profits cannot be made. This is the classic problem of overproduction. Thus is the low-wage model inherently unsustainable.
To compensate for this, wide availability of cheap credit has allowed workers to borrow large sums of money and consume way past their means. Low mortgage interest rates, zero-percent car financing, thick decks of credit cards and loan shops at every street corner have allowed high levels of consumption to continue. In effect, this allows corporations to profit twice: once from the low wages of increasingly productive workers, and twice from interest on loans to those same workers.
Yet, according to the Catechism, "'Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.' When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice." - Catechism, 2446. Making deceitful loans to workers rather than paying them just wages is an immoral violation of the remuneration due to workers for their increasing productivity and a grave sin against the common good.
The current bailout will fail because it is the result of deep spiritual failure, a catastrophic denial of Gospel principles. Hopefully, the passages from John Paul II show that my article had nothing to do with defending the economic philosophy of medieval monasticism, but with a very modern Christian vision of economic justice. I would welcome a serious discussion of Catholic principles related to these issues.