It’s funny you mention The Sermon the Mount. I passed by St. Paul’s this weekend, and stopped to observe for a while. A man was reciting all three chapters of The Sermon on the Mount to the accompaniment of a djembe and a didgeridoo. There was no sermon following the performance, but there were several thoughtful pauses and suggestive facial expressions during it.
I was an adolescent during the 90’s in an evangelical church, and I steadfastly refused to wear WWJD bracelets or other paraphernalia for the reasons you cite (although only vaguely formed in my teenage head). That is to say I wholeheartedly agree. But perhaps the Sermon the Mount can speak to individuals caught up on all sides of the economic crisis.
It is interesting to note that Karl Marx’s partner Friedrich Engels tried to appropriate Christianity to Communism when he wrote: “The history of early Christianity has notable points of resemblance with the modern working class movement. Like the latter, Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed people: it first appeared as the religion of slaves and emancipated slaves, or poor people deprived of rights, of peoples subjugated or dispersed by Rome” (Marx and Engels, On Religion, 1894). Karl Kautsky went to so far as to say that Jesus was one of the first socialists and his movement achieved true communism.
Much later the German sociologist Ernst Troeltsch asserted that all religious movements were the work of the lower classes. In America, theologian-sociologist H. Richard Niebuhr in his book The Social Sources of Denominationalism similarly said that religious movements are “the child of an outcast minority, taking its rise in the religious revolts of the poor.”
American sociologists devised a “deprivation theory” of religious and social movements. But this theory failed to explain why the children of the wealthy, as seen even in American religious movements (John Wesley, etc.) and contemporary Jihadist-motivated terrorism, typically led such movements.
As pointed out by Rodney Stark, “religious movements typically are launched by the privileged class.”
Even biblical Christians often seem to overlook verses such as 2 Corinthians 8:9 where the Apostle Paul wrote: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
While this verse has been “spiritualized” it might be reflective of the truth that Jesus came from a rich family. For as W.H.C. Frend writes in his The Rise of Christianity (1984:57): Jesus’ parents were well of enough “to have had property in Capernaum as well as Nazareth.” Jesus’ parents could also afford to go to Jerusalem each year for Passover, which most could not have afforded, let alone leaving their farm fields unguarded.
Having two houses today and going on annual vacations would be a sign that one had reached the proverbial “1%” of the Occupy Movement.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents he indicates some knowledge of banking and investment. Jesus spoke to privileged audiences. As George Wesley Buchanan noted in his chapter “Jesus and the Upper Class” in his Novum Testamentum (1964: 205): Jesus’ parables “would be pointless if told to people who had not enough wealth to entertain guests, hire servants, be generous with contributions, etc.”
Jesus did reach out to the poor and the marginalized but he associated and preached to the wealthy such as Zacchaeus, a tax collector, Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy convert, Joanna, a steward of Herod Antipas, and Susanna, a wealthy woman and benefactor to the Jesus movement.
“What would Jesus do?” I agree with Dr. Berger that there is no way of knowing and that solutions to such complex economic issues as the current day financial crisis cannot be found in what was written about him.
But in Matthew 26: 6 to 11 we find an intriguing story. Jesus was ready to have dinner at the home of a Pharisee and an unidentified “woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head.” His disciples became outraged because it could “have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor.” But Jesus is said to have replied: “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”
The price of the ointment or perfume was equal to a year’s wages for the typical worker as noted in the book The Early Christians in Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius by Paul Trebilco (2004:406).
Invoking “What Would Jesus Do” as social legitimation for the Occupy Wall Street Movement is dubious and, as pointed out by Dr. Berger in many of his writings, could equally be appropriated by bankers as approval of modern Capitalism.
Which leads to a proposition: be skeptical of those appropriating Jesus or their social movement, whether they are a member of the Tea Party or the Occupy Wall Street Movement or part of the “system or the horde” (to use Dr. Berger’s felicitous term).
Any suggestions,anyone, for books about Hillel and his times?
I don’t think that your evaluation that being a Christian means to live as the Mennonites, Desert Fathers, and such is really quite accurate.
Note that only a portion of the early Christians lived such a lifestyle – even during Christ’s ministry some were called to directly accompany him, others to return to their villages and their lives. During the Book of Acts, we see that Christians lived as part of the community, and that many saved believers, such as the centurion Matthew 8 (among many other believers and new Christians described in that book) did not live such a life as you ascribe to being how Christians should live.
I am no theologian, but I do not think that your assessment is correct, and it does not seem that most theologians do either…very few if any such theologians, who themselves are believers, live such lifestyles.
Also, while you say that ” the New Testament, which is hardly an objective account” – many scholars believe otherwise…the Bible has a strong historical records behind it – numerous scholars have demonstrated that.
A nice article on this (with plenty of references and such) can be found at
While it is true that the Bible (and Jesus) does not speak *directly* to this economic crisis, a tremendous amount of dishonesty, fraud, greed, and all-around sin played a huge role in getting us to this point. So on those matters, and the foolishness and vanity of people in general, the WWJD (and say) does definitely apply.
Jesus would say that no one has a right to squat on someone else’s property, to use the force of govt to take someone else’s money, or to demand grand outcomes for mediocre effort.
Jesus would also say that the affluent should help the truly destitute, which already happens through charities and churches as no nation digs deeper than this one.
In England, he might look at a society in which some 25% live in homes where not one inhabitant has done an honest day’s work and say that it is a bit much to demand help from others when you refuse to help yourself. In the US, he might look at the sea of hyper-educated OWS types with their Master’s in puppetry and ask “really?”
I am not interested in the supernaturalism of Christianity, but am very interested in the study of the early history of the group. I am always happy to talk to others that are also interested in this topic. My interest specifically is up till perhaps a generation or two after Irenaeus. But I would say I am interested in anything from the Maccabean revolt up till about 384CE when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire.
Note that only a small portion of the early Christians lived such a lifestyle – even during Christ’s ministry only some were called to directly accompany him – others were to return to their villages and to their lives there. During the Book of Acts, we see that Christians lived as part of the community, not in monasteries (or the equivalent) and that many saved believers, such as the centurion of Matthew 8, did not, upon conversion, live such a life as you claim to being *the way* how Christians should live.
I am no theologian, but I do not think that your assessment is correct, and it does not seem that most theologians do either…very few if any such theologians, who themselves are believers, live such lifestyles themselves..
You write that “the New Testament, which is hardly an objective account…” – many scholars believe otherwise…the Bible has a strong historical backing behind it, and the archaeological and textual support behind the Bible as a reliable historical record are quite sound. This can be easily researched. A good start (with tons of references) would be
As for “One would wish, say, for just one report from the third precinct of the Jerusalem police department” – how much of that type of documentation do we even have for any ancient civilization? Do we have (the ancient equivalent of the) Jerusalem police dept records for anything else during that time frame?
While Jesus did not say anything directly applying to our current economic crisis, much of it was caused by the same fallen-ness of human nature that has caused most of humanity’s problems – greed, pride, short-sightedness, self-centeredness, and an arrogant belief that our own cleverness can overcome basic mathematical reality – such as using clever financial instruments to hide the real risk behind certain investments and mortgage-backed securities.
Most human drama throughout history is remarkably similar – the actors change names, but the core script remains the same. So while Jesus’ teachings do *directly* address specific modern financial policy (and why should they?) the core problems of human nature, that used these modern financial materials to create such problems, remains unchanged and Jesus’ teachings very much do apply.
Oops…the link that I meant to put after “This can be easily researched. A good start (with tons of references) would be”
Another brilliant comment, Peter: I don’t know how you do it. As a practicing Jew, I am not really in a position to comment on your conclusion, except to say that it is of course correct. I am in a position to comment on two other matters, perhaps marginal to your point, or perhaps not. We’ll see.
First, it is of course true that, if you are looking at Jesus as an historical figure, he was a practicing Jew of his time. More than that, however much he may have been straying into mysticism or not (and we really don’t know for sure),he was of the Pharisaic persuasion. (The bad rap the Pharisees get in the New Testament is a rank, politically motivated inversion done for reasons of prospective proselytizing, but that is another story.) But the question, Peter, is what does it mean to say that he was a Jew of his time with regard to the content and method of his moral reasoning? Your suggestion that anyone who wants to know how Jesus’ method of moral reasoning went should just go to a yeshiva and study Talmud doesn’t quite work, for the simple reason that the earliest part of the Talmud, the Mishnah, was a work then in progress orally, but it was not yet written down in any form as far as we know. The bulk of the Talmud, the Gomorrah, which is where the finer points of the Jewish normative tradition are debated and discussed, is centuries newer still. So to put the point as finely as possible,there was no Talmud when Jesus lived, so he could not have consulted it.
You are nevertheless right to imply that the basic modalities of thinking about these issues existed in Jesus’ time, even before there was anything in writing that eventually came into the Talmud. But because there is no written record, this gets murky when we try to be specific. Moreover and more important. Jesus lived at a molten time at the very origins of Rabbinic Judaism; its seeds had been firmly planted within and by the Pharisaic school, but its actual shape had yet to form. Since the shape that rabbinic Judaism took after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE and especially after the failure of the Bar-Kochba rebellion in 135 CE was literally revolutionary, it is a tricky business to read back even an early form of Rabbinic Judaism into the centuries that immediately preceded it–to include the time of Jesus. In short, we don’t have a very firm basis to know what Jesus thought on the basis of what the Jews of his time thought. Generalities, sure; specifics, much harder to say.
Second, to support your point that Jesus was a Jew of his time, you might have mentioned, since many readers will not know this, that the famous line “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” that Jesus supposedly uttered in Aramaic (which transliterates as “Eli, eli lama sabachtani?”) is just a translation of the first verse of Psalm 22 from the Hebrew Bible, which in the Hebrew is just a single word different: “Eli, eli, lama azavtani?” So not only was the Golden Rule a paraphrase from Hillel, as you correctly point out, but even this, Jesus’ most famous line perhaps, was a quote, in the form of an Aramaic paraphrase, from the Psalms of David. You can’t get much more Jewish than that.
We Jews, some of us anyway, have amused ourselves from time to time by switching out the “What would Jesus have done?” meme into the “What would Moses have done?” meme. If the life of Jesus as conveyed through the New Testament really offers no guidance for us today when it comes to matters of political economy, and you are right about that, asking about the life of Moses more than a millennium earlier doesn’t at first appear to promise anything more useful. But perhaps there is something here, if you will permit me to speculate (wildly, for the sake of amusement.
In what we, in this culture, call the Ten Commandments (Judaism has a different phrase for them in Hebrew, but never mind), right after “Thou shall not murder” (and it is “Thou shall not murder”, NOT “Thou shall not kill”, which is an absurd and misleading translation of the Hebrew original) and “Thou shall not commit adultery”, comes “Thou shall not steal.” One should notice that these are all very simple short sentences. They are highly unqualified statements, and that is for a reason: not that light cannot get complicated, but we do ourselves no favors by trying to find ways around or under direct orders from God Almighty. It is what it is, simple and straight: Stealing is wrong, so don’t do it in any way, fashion or manner.
Now remember, too, that in Exodus 23:7, just after the revelation on Sinai, he tells them, “Keep thyself far from falsehood”, which the Rabbis interpret as meaning don’t just avoid doing wrong things, but avoid even the appearance of doing wrong things (called in Hebrew “ma’arit ayin”). Applied to the commandment “Thou shall not steal”, this means avoid doing anything that even appears to be stealing.
So, then, what would Moses have thought about the various high-powered forms of lobbying undertaken by our Wall Street financial plutocrats that, by any reasonable definition, amounts to stealing dressed in silk underwear? It may not be technically illegal what they do (yet), but just as the Torah does not qualify “Thou shall not steal”, what they do at least in part is indeed theft, not but the simple or straightforward kind but of the maximally convoluted sort, not least by dint of the multitudinous offshore vehicles that enable all this larcenous chicanery to proceed.
I don’t really know what Moses would have thought about all this, of course, on a day when NY City is in near chaos. I doubt that he would have had any strong views about student loans or tax reform and the like, and I doubt that he would have approved of either the appearance or the language or the general behavior of the OWS crowd. It’s just my hunch, however, that his nose for doing the right thing, as the Holy One gave him the light to see, would have led him nevertheless to the side of protest.
Sorry about posting twice…I thought my first post didn’t stick so I reposted.
Please ignore post #4 above…
“Asking what Jesus would do cannot be of slightest help in choosing the right course in dealing with the economic crisis.” Yet, “that which is hateful to you, do not do to another” certainly can be a start as we grapple with world economic dislocations – and new societal arrangements. Economically, we need complex systems thinking.
I looked at your site…you seem like a nice enough person but it seems that many of the points made (regarding the existence of Jesus) on the /relgion part of your site have already been addressed. I myself am no history expert (I personally enjoy philosophy, math, and science more) but the arguments that you cite from Earl Doherty about the alleged nonexistence of Jesus are honestly quite poor…and have been thoroughly dealt with already. See below:
What Jesus would most definitely do (and is also presently doing without thought for Himself)is love you. And love me. In addition, only truth will prevail.
I don’t really get involved with supernaturalistic sites like that Calvinistic tektonic site you posted. I am a historian. The Doherty link on my /religion page is one of a number of reference links. I talk to most people via email. That /religion link are simply meant as a resource. The short essay portion on that page I would defend/explain if someone wishes to email me. But I would let Doherty defend his own position. I have seen links on his site where you can contact him.
I. “I don’t really get involved with supernaturalistic sites like that Calvinistic tektonic site you posted. I am a historian.” Sounds like you are just being evasive. (Especially the non sequitur about you being a historian.) While the site does deal with explicitly religious issues a good deal of the content (including what I sent you) is primary concerned with historical evidence and scholarship.
II. You use Doherty as support for your position that Jesus doesn’t exist…so pointing out that your support resource put forth a poor argument is perfectly reasonable. (A quick Google search showed that you have done this elsewhere e.g. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2011/09/12/is-the-jesus-story-a-myth/ ) so you seem to have quite a bit of faith in Mr. Doherty as an important source – and the whole ‘Jesus Puzzle’ schtick in general…also dealt with via history and scholarship at the site that I linked to earlier (plus tons of other sites and books).
III. As Bart Ehrman (himself an agnostic as I hear it) correctly stated, there is no serious historical scholar who actually believes the Jesus never existed…and plenty of those scholars are atheists, agnostics, or very liberal Christians who would like nothing more than to disprove Christ’s existence and make a big name for themselves. You likely know that all those ‘New Atheism” books are making quite a lot of dough, so undoubtedly Doherty and similar folks would love be able to rake it in if any respected scholar took them seriously. You also seem to love Robert M Price, whose views are similarly addressed and also just as dumb.
IV. In terms of Doherty defending himself…if you check the link I sent you, he did try to defend his position already, and the results were hilarious.
V. This issue has been dealt with thousands of times over, and I have no inclination to hear the same tired objections again and again…especially when more than sufficient scholarship has been linked to already to put the matter to bed for good. Unless you really have some new argument not addressed in the reference materials provided, or can demonstrate that they missed some vital point that renders their refutations ineffective, there is no point in discussion. (after some googling, you seem to have made valiant attempts to contribute to the mythicism debate, but alas people seem to be manifestly unimpressed, and with good reason. Also, nice try at insulting the credentials of many reputable scholars, by claiming that they are not historians since their subset of history is about ANE cultures and related material. What, may I ask, are your historical qualifications? Are you qualified to dismiss them as historians? Do you doubt their ability to critical analyze ancient texts and reach unbiased conclusions? Those are pretty big claims (I always though atheists believed that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence). –I especially found hilarious your argument about members of this community having to not appear to be skeptics to appeal to Christian ringleaders…as if Bart Ehrman or John Crossan (and others like them) who do this type of work are such devout Christians who have never argued against (and published works against) the Christian faith.
VI. As you like to say, “Cheers!”
VII. P.S. Some more quality reading: (it also addresses your hilarious “these people aren’t real historians” BS: http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexist/jexfound.html )
Basically, read Matthew Chapter 6. Daily bread … lilies of the field … if anything leads you into sin, cut it off (this can just as easily apply to an overzealous sense of “justice” that leads to expropriation (theft), as the love of Mammon). Covetousness is a sin for rich and poor alike.
Christ’s advice… take a deep breath. You’ll get your daily portion, (that goes for all those on whose behalf you’re imagining you’re working, too) so don’t get violently worked up about it; you’re likely to do more harm than good. You can get reliable 5% returns, pushing for 10-20-30% returns is likely to do more harm than good, too.
If you’re looking for the policy advice of a technocrat — what prime rate would Jesus recommend? — the Gospels probably won’t help you much.
But if you are among people who are steeped in the teachings of the Bible from youth, you’ll probably find far fewer who are inclined to live beyond their means (and far fewer willing to lie on their mortgage applications, for that matter), and crises like this will happen a lot more rarely.
You’ll also find more people willing to share their wealth, person to person, with those around them. Lives must touch lives! Those who don’t have much money have a lot to learn from those who make an honest living. Those who make a dishonest living should see what their decisions do to those around them. This will never happen if an impersonal bureaucracy interposes itself between giver and receiver. In person, Compassion inspires feelings of generosity in the giver and gratitude in the receiver.
But with OWS, we have the twisted debacle of gave-at-the-office (via taxes withheld), bureaucratically-ordered Compassion. With these militant Welfare Staters, Compassion instead allies with Pride and Covetousness (known in these latter days as Entitlement), and with Wrath (protesters screaming at walls), to enable lives of Sloth and Gluttony among the “impoverished”…. all this by threatening un-Christian violence against “the rich”.
As I read it, as far as Christ is concerned: If you’ve got enough to get from one day to the next, that’s enough for Wall Streeters and OWSers alike. (Matt. 6:11) If you’ve got anything that you would hold onto at the price of your soul, that’s too much, whether it’s a billion dollars (or one dollar!) or a belief in “justice” that moves you to sin. If you aren’t willing to cut it off, you can find yourself damned. (Matthew 5:29-30)
The drive to pile up riches frequently requires you to value those riches more than your soul, which in most cases is a bad thing. (Mark 10:25)
On the other hand, not all investment is evil, and some are entrusted greater abundance than others. It’s what you do with it that counts. Much of the time, to him who has, more is given. (Matt. 25:14-30)
But in the end, if someone else gets a “better deal” in this ephemeral Earth than you do, what is that to you? Follow the path God has set out for you, do the work He has apportioned to you, and they will toil along on theirs. (John 21:22)
So… peace. Persuasion. Screaming and yelling won’t help, and neither will further bloating our Welfare State. Encourage everyone to seek after the righteousness of the kingdom of God, whether they’re in the executive suite or on the street. We all have different lives to live, we’re all given different things in different measures, and that’s OK; it’s what you do with it all that counts.
How about WNWO?
Well I figured I would check back here after a few days…seemed like brave Mr. Griese ran away…oh well.
Interesting discussion anyway.
It has been a fascinating series of blogs dealing with fascinating questions: movements that will last or not (Teapartiers and Occupiers), questions of whether churches will Occupy (especially denominations), and the question of what Jesus would do about or with or for the occupiers (or Teapartiers, for that matter). On the surface, the whole scene is somewhat whimsical, especially for those of us who were around to observe or participate directly (you did one or the other or both) in the movements of the 60s and 70s. Berger writes with an observational sense of humor (he has famously said “nothing should be taken so seriously that it supercede the capacity for laughter,” a line he followed up on some 30 years later with his book, Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience).
Reading Berger on these movements reminds me of a statement he wrote of what an Anglican Bishop said so presciently, that he who would marry the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower, which, eventually, will also become the fate of our movements in question.
When Occupiers form committees to generate statements of purpose as to why they are there and what they want, they signal quickly they are rapidly heading for “widowhood.” They remind me of Berger’s statement in his October 12, 2011 blog entry on atrocities: “Rousseau and others like him were wrong in thinking that man is by nature benevolent, and only turns to evil if led there by oppressive institutions. Actually, pretty much the opposite is the case: man is by nature homicidal, unless restrained from acting out of his natural impulses by institutions that foster benevolence.”
Our movement followers seem to be Rousseauian Sermon on the Mounters acting as if there are no Devil’s Nights n the Bald Mountain world, fighting what they perceive as financial and employment white collar atrocities.
Both the Teapartiers and the Occupiers, as well as the WWJD folks, believe they can not only create their desired future (or make someone else do it, i.e., the market or government) but control it after birthing it. Jim has a good take on the Occupiers in this vein.
The WWJD questioners, as Berger points out, can’t know. However, their asking the question is a stealth way of saying they do know Jesus would do: what they want done, and that they know what he wouldn’t do: what the other guys want him to do, arrogance dressed up as humility (as in the prayers of both sides in our civil war). Islam knows too, and thus very graciously explains WAWD: What Allah Will Do).
Jesus, “of course,” would promote what Berger suggests: relationships. Indeed the ten commandments, as Rabbi Garfinkle reminds us, are all about relationships, hence his reminder that the “thou shalt not kill” is about murder, not killing (hence the OT directives to the Armies of Joshua, David, etc., not to mention self defense). Thus the 10 (3 about relating to God and 7 about relating to fellow humans) all fit into the various versions of the Golden Rule of all the major religions. Jesus would probably (we can only guess) urge sitting down with the offending Wall Street finance guys and the offending government regulators (and the bureaucratic enablers of both), urging all to “turn the other cheek” to each other, absorbing each others’ slaps, and then to work it out, giving to Caesar his taxes (more? or less?) and to God what is God’s (usually the tithe) but he says nothing about redistribution as in “to each according to his need.” But most importantly, he would remind us that regardless of which side “wins” or if there is found a middle ground, there will still be “suffering” of some kind involved in any one or more kinds of suffering: physical, verbal, financial, existential, mental, cognitive, opposition to will, injustice, etc. – fill in your favorites).
Berger’s reminder of Jesus’ statement that the poor will always be with us is a reminder that although there is justice and fairness in promoting “equal opportunity,” those favoring “equality of result” are actually planting the seeds of democracy’s destruction along with the seeds of totalitarianism’s ascendency (I often wonder if LBJ fully understood what his famous and injudicious phrase of “equality of result” meant, when penned by his speech writer, Richard Goodwin). Neither nature (with its Bell Curve) or nurture (with its many multi-culcural variances on what is of value and who is of value enough to get what is of value) provides any evidence of the possibility of equality of results, although totalitarian approaches have been adept at providing an equality of poverty and oppression (except for the ones in charge who are “more equal” than the others).
Berger again uses the “human nature being what it is” phrase. Which in turn reminds us that not only does death await all of us, so does its attendant suffering, whether rich or poor, for even the richest cannot forestall death of self or that of loved ones.
The value of the Sermon on the Mount goes beyond its pithy sound bytes and insightful stories and its inspirational “ideal” as the way to live (it is interesting that I was in college in the early 60s, at a state school, the work referred to by Berger, Thomas a Kempis’ “Imatatio Christie” — Imitation of Christ — was required reading in my English Lit class, but is no longer. As Jacques Maritain reminds us (which I write remembering “human nature being what it is”), the suffering that both the Teapartiers and the Occupiers seek to escape (and everyone outside them and in between them) is impossible to escape. Thus, the Sermon on the Mount’s value is about how to live with and through suffering. I have long summarized Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning in this way: “enjoy life; and when you can’t, derive meaning from your pain and suffering.”
Another version of this is Anthony’s comment that, “Economically, we need complex systems thinking.” But don’t we already have the most complex sets of systems thinking in the world (financial and materials) already in the form of complex econometric and macro-economic models, not to mention engineering (Shuttles, hydro dams, sky scrapers) and homeland security computer models, everywhere we turn? Do we need more quantitative models as some suggest? My sense is that the answer is not without using qualitative models for evaluating the quantitatively generated social policy results (including calculus of meaning/pain, which can be done under the umbrella of pedantic utopian analyses).
In the early 70s, EPA’s reliance on its “quants” was criticized for its believing it could put all the variables into their econometric models (always impossible given that the future is empirically unavailable). That criticism is still valid. Today we could add pollution and climate models (in 1968, especially August, science predicted the coming of a new ice age: global cooling, raising the concern about where we would get the energy needed to say warm).
During hearings in 2008, the defenders of Fannie and Freddie said their risk models showed that what Fannie and Freddie were doing was “riskless”. Wall Street is run by very complex quantitative financial trading models to help identify and avoid risk. Its adherents are as fully invested in their faith in these models as any religious monk is in his. Turn that around: as greatly complex systems have not solved these problems, why would adding more complexity do so? Occam would say: apply my razor and make it simpler.
So, regardless of the subject, anytime anyone says “riskless,” run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit. If we accept that reality is “socially constructed,” which I do (meaning it is the interpretations of the material that make them “real”), that means that the computer models of systems outputs are also made “real” through social construction. To believe in systems models in isolation of the social construction of their presumed meanings is to suggest that Artificial Intelligence can lead to benevolent systems (as in benevolent dictators). So, again, the need exists for qualitative analytic metrics for being able to deal with the potential consequences suggested by the “calculus of pain” and the “calculus of meaning,” by developing a “pedantic utopian” analytic approach as opposed to an “end of history” and “we have now arrived at utopia” approach and have no more problems.
The Occupiers want to end income inequality (the Teapartiers want to keep income generating regardless). Lawrence Summers has recently declared that it is not a zero sum game. Agreed. We know the tremendous job growth created by companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, and before them IBM, Intel, HP, and Honeywell, and all those before them going back to Rockefeller, Ford and Edison, and then before them, etc). They were all started by individuals, not government, some in garages, some on kitchen tables: all by young, dynamic entrepreneurs who didn’t know they couldn’t do it. If we take them away and the wealth they created for so many, and say “no more,” we also take away all the jobs they created and made possible as well (and the taxes they generated). Do we end that pursuit of dreams that leads to so many jobs being created along with the rising quality of life they bring for all or do we say “no, we must all be equal, even if it means less”, which, as seen in the historical evidence, leads to a downward spiral of “equality” as the result is equality in less and less.
The Pingback reference at the end of the comments on Berger’s “Is the Vatican About to Occupy Wall Street” blog entry, raises good questions if not workable answers. Whether the notion is a theological ideology or an ideological theology, the notion of global peace through the “authority” envisioned by “A Vatican Vision of Financial Order” as suggested is dismissive of the Achilles’ heal of all relationships and endeavors: imperfect “human nature being what it is,” and that “thing” the Vatican is well noted for discussing as to why human nature is not perfect: sin (whether as understood by the Greek philosophers and historians or by still waiting for the savior Israelites or by the savior has already come folks as led by St. Paul). I’m amused to see how much this vision reflects Brussels’s vision of the European Union (just as USA mainline denominational thinkers’ reflect the social policy advocated in the editorial pages of the New York Times), both discounting any potential “risk” to their preferred policy. Regardless of these efforts there will only be “sin/imperfection” on all sides, given “human nature being what it is” (whether genetic or by eating forbidden apples).
The failure is not so much a breakdown in monetary and banking practices (there is no law against being stupid and/or gullible). Many in banking/finance not only view themselves as ethical but can’t view their actions as unethical simply because it is their action. The ethical breakdown comes from their view that using computers takes away the “risk” and protects ourselves from ourselves, and are thus superior to the human “calculus” of meaning and pain that deals with the real world of suffering, as computer construction of reality masks the social construction of meaning in the development of reality. Sophisticated computer models can’t prevent suffering. Often they suggest conclusions that have led to the unintended consequences of financial calamity leading to even more suffering that they putatively seek to avoid, as the models are based on the most unethical stance of all: the expressed certainty – faith – in computer outputs (because the users provided their own inputs they therefore must be correct), dismissing the reality that they could be playing GIGO: “garbage in, garbage out.” The result is to conjoin the “riskless” mantras of Wall Street and Washington planners with the “novel recommendation by Iustitia et Pax of a supranational authority to regulate the global economy.”
These four terms (“Global Public Authority,” “a world political authority,” “supranational authority” and a “global government”) should not only give us pause, but encourage us to ask if there is to be separation of church and state, and if so or if not, which institution is to have the authority?
Would these 4 not make the global economy worse? Following the Vatican’s (or liberation theology’s) notion of leveling (equal results), misreading the Sermon on the Mount, would they not create more suffering: that of not letting those blessed with abilities to be turned loose to use those abilities to create things and systems that in turn benefit everyone else (hence, capitalism as the economic system to bring more people out of poverty than any other).
Yet, the Brussels officials (who are just bureaucrats) hold that the Church doesn’t have credible “authority.” Only Brussels is the credible authority. And Brussels wants to maintain its authority by keeping separation between any others that would claim authority, including the Church, which once did have authority for many centuries. This is not a vision of peace and financial harmony but a vision (by both Brussels and the Vatican) of flattening all cultures into one dictated by The Authority, which will have the same effect of the culture-flattening attempts that led to WWI and WW2, and which came after each one (I must confess to not being fully opposed to such an “Authority” as long as that Authority is Me).
Whether by Roman Catholic Church or leftist atheists (or any in-between), the animus against either “creative destruction” (Schumpeter) or “technological disruption” (Christensen) is of no moment as they are inescapable regardless of ideological or religious lean. But the reality, and let’s be bold and use the still valid approach (no matter how denigrated) “value free objective” analysis, as fortified by history’s transparent evidence, is that these disruptions are not preventable nor controllable, but instead are part of what“naturally” ensues from not being able to know the reactions to come (Newton’s law again) nor to be able to predict what the unbounded newness of creativity and innovation that are also part of the nature of being human will generate, especially in response to change (whether to foster more change or to prevent change). In other words, creative destruction and technological disruption will always occur. They are the drivers of “unintended consequences” as they can’t be known in advance.
To continue to suggest globalized peace through a benevolent authority (again, shades of “benevolent dictator”) is an answer that could only come from the elite of the “new class” with what can only be called a self-assumed “cognitive superiority” (what is where the touted ”consciousness raising” of the 60s and 70s has led to). Wishful thinking is but another part of human nature. What is of concern is not thinking in the service of those they claim to serve. Are we not hearing echoes of the “thinkers and planners” who “knew” World War I or World War II could be diverted by “the best minds” (elite groups all) or at least used purposefully to quickly restore order, which some considered mad (and others pushed for the MAD: mutually assured destruction as the deterrent)?
My sense is that what is needed (something with which we might even speculate that Jesus would agree to) is a clear, non-ideological and non-denominational application of the ethics statement and insightful warning Victor Frankl uses to close his famous “Postscript” to his Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.
Since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.”
Here are three thought experiments for use by both the occupiers and by those they occupy against (and by the Teapartiers and those for whom they brew), as well for the WWJD folks: what “should” they do after analyzing their calculi of meaning/pain, particularly the no’s they don’t want? And give thought to the basic three: “no” to poor education, “no” to denial of jobs, “no” to purposefully sub-standard housing.
The first thought experiment is to compare the Auschwitzian capability with the Hiroshiman response in financial terms:
Since financial transactions are believed to be either riskless due to computer analysis or understood to be riskless policy by government and corporate leaders because of their self-perceived superiority as reality card counters, we know the self deception that the narcissistic sense of cognitive superiority can make man capable of.
Since the financial collapse, downgrades, bailouts, and bankruptcies of regions, nations, states, institutions, and individuals, whether on Wall Streets, Main Streets or Neighborhood Streets, whether public or private, anywhere in the world, we know what is at stake.
The second thought experiment is to bring qualitative methodological approaches to the quantitative analytic enterprise usually engaged: how would you evaluate the plans being discussed to “save” Europe from itself using a “calculus of meaning” and a “calculus of pain,” including the questions of how they would lead you to include or exclude those who will have to live under the resultant financial, public and social policies, especially those in the fast growing areas of Muslims in Europe, who have a different sense of meaning and pain from that of Brussels, and, in terms of the United States, where the debate continues over policies providing for continuous increases in payments of social security and health care (Medicare and Medicaid) when only debt is there to leverage to continue those programs as is. At what point to we stop the medical practitioners profitable war against death (whether medical or bureaucratic) that takes 80% of the health care dollar during the last six months of life?
The third thought experiment is to conduct a Moccasin Analysis (don’t judge another until you have walked a mile in their moccasins): would you be willing to live for 30 days under the same conditions that would result from your policies before having others do so, or will you draw the line and leave to your “lessers” to live with the consequences of your new policies which are the consequences of your responding to older policies? And if you are so willing, record what you approve of and oppose or would revolt against that you encounter during your 30 days that you record in your “30 day diary”. As an example, think of “pure air”. How long do you think it will take before China’s mask wearing lung searing pollution breathing citizens rebel against the fact that the one’s who created the policy of pollution to enable growth don’t have the pollution in their homes, offices, or cars (The Privileges of China’s Elite Include Purified Air, NYT, Nov 5, 2011). Is not the belief that clean energy cannot include oil and coal or tar sands ideological rather than a science finding?)
The article states that as “Breathing clean air is a basic human need” and that the air purifiers for the elite (the “elected” in the sense that Calvin uses the term) is essential for those they lead who do not have purified air: “Creating clean, healthy air for our national leaders is a blessing to the people,” said a top economic official who takes the device along for car rides and hotel stays. How many of our law makers and other institutional elites see their privileges as not only “a blessing to the people” but a “need” for them in order that they may continue to be a blessing to the people in order to help the people suffer quietly and compliantly? This the Tea Partiers and Occupiers are unwilling to do. Jesus would not remain quiet nor compliant either. That said, what would he then do or at least encourage us to do, in terms of education, jobs and housing? Regardless of what you think he would do, what will you do?