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Archive for April, 2012

7Wendell Berry once so wisely wrote, “Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.” Though that is the way society should work, there are many that are on the top of society who prefer the survival of the fittest model to be the way we run our world. Perhaps, it is not said that blatantly, but in the policies and rhetoric it comes out.

Essentially, this idea of taking Darwin’s ideas on evolution and applying them to human society is nothing new; this was a growing movement at the turn of the century both in the U.S. and Europe. The idea was that the weak should basically fend for themselves, and those on top are there because they deserve it. It was the justification given for the massive colonialism and domination of indigenous groups. At the end, Hitler took these ideas of Social Darwinism to their most extreme, and the theory was basically exposed for the evil it was.

No politician will blatantly say they are a Social Darwinist, but many hold to the majority of the beliefs of this system. It seen in the writings of right wing heroes like Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism, where selfishness is the highest morality. The poor are that way because of their own fault, and the wealthy and powerful are there because of their hard work. It can be seen in the current budget plan of Congressman Paul Ryan who basically want to shred the safety net to nothing, while making sure more wealth is funneled to the wealthy through large tax cuts.

It took people in the labor movement and progressive movements to stand up to the rise of Social Darwinism at the beginning of the century and make real reforms in the country, and I believe it will take another large scale movement to say that we are not animals. We do not operate by a system of the survival of the fittest. We are humans, and all people should be treated with dignity, care, justice, and equality.

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8Last fall, a student at one of the most conservative religious institutions in the nation, decided to challenge the authority of the school and speak out against what he saw as a failure to take sexual abuse seriously. The student’s name is Christopher Peterman, and until this past week, he attended the very conservative school, Bob Jones University. He was angry that one of the board members of the school had supposedly tried to cover up a case of sexual abuse. Through his actions, the member is no longer on the school board. However, according to Peterman, because of his actions, the school was aiming to expel him.

It is hard for many people to even picture the rules at a school like Bob Jones, but basically you give up most of your rights when you enter. The university decided to monitor him and gave him “demerits” for doing things like watching unwholesome television. Basically, they found the little infractions needed to kick him out and decided to do so just weeks before his graduation- an act in itself that is repulsive.

We are creatures of comfort, and it is much easier for us to not speak up when something is going wrong. It is easier to not make too much of a disturbance and just go on with our daily lives. How many times should we speak out against something, but decide not to out of personal preservation? However, it is only those who speak out and are willing to suffer the consequences that actually make real change.

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9Last night, the U.S. House rammed through an “anti-hacking” bill which in reality does much more than stop hacking; it basically allows the government and military even more control and oversight over all our internet activity. It basically makes a policy that internet companies like Google or Facebook will share any information which the government asks for. They will also be required to share this information with the military.

Though I am sure there are few that doubt that the government already does this large scale spying on their citizens, this law basically just makes it legal. The government is setting up a police state in the name of protecting our security. However, the reality is that they are taking away all our liberty and privacy. It is amazing how the biggest proponents of bills like these are often those who scream about “smaller government”. Well, there is nothing small in the government tracking and monitoring all the conversations, messages, and insubordination of its populous.

This is all being done quietly, without much fuss in the corporately owned media. We do not realize how much closer and closer we are getting to George Orwell’s 1984 society. All it will take is one revolution, one big terrorist attack, one large scale disaster, and the police state will be right there to monitor, censure, and punish any dissent. This is not a conspiracy theory; it is a reality that is happening before our eyes.

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10There seems to be a grand emphasis in the Christian church put on what a person believes. Faith has become our defining characteristic, more important than our actions or attitudes. However, neither Jesus nor St. Paul seemed to have the same opinion. While there is no doubt that faith is essential in a strong spiritual life, it is nothing in comparison to love.

If we have the strongest faith in the world, a faith that is willing to be martyred, a faith that is willing to go to the ends of the earth, but have not love as the Apostle Paul wrote-we have nothing. The American church has wanted to be strong on many different fronts, whether it is the culture wars, the battle against homosexual marriage, or keeping ¨family values¨ strong. However, have we not realized that all of that is worthless? It is worthless because most of those battles have been waged out of fear, anxiety, and anger, but very little love.

While it is easy to pick on those on the right with a failure to show love, those on the left can also be guilty. It is easy to get so caught up in the cause of social justice, equality, and pacifism, but to do so in a way that actually is hateful rather than loving. As a Christian community, those on the right and on the left need to realize that without love, our faith is a sham; it is worthless. In the end Jesus did not call us to become believers, he called us to become followers, and his most important commandment was that we love one another.

Paulo Coelho puts it so poignantly, “We are used to hearing that the most important treasure in spiritual life is faith. Many centuries of religion rest on this simple word. Do we hold faith to be the most important thing in the world? Well, we are quite wrong.

In his epistle to the Corinthians, chapter XIII, Saint Paul takes us to the early days of Christianity. He ends by saying: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.”

This is not some superficial opinion of the author of these words, Saint Paul. After all, talking about Faith a moment before, in the same letter, he said: “And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” Paul did not avoid the question; on the contrary, he compared faith and charity and concluded: “(…) the greatest of these is charity.”

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aIn much of the modern church, the tithe has become orthodoxy. It is quite odd, as neither the Gospels nor Paul´s epistles talk about the importance of the tithe. It was part of the Old Testament law that served as a type of income tax. Part of the tithe would go to the temple, part would go to the poor (something similar to a welfare system), and part would go to pay for festivals. It was not in fact 10%, in the end the multiple taxes or tithes were over 20% of one´s income.

The tithe has of course remained popular in the church, selectively taken out of the Torah (while leaving almost everything else) for obvious reasons. Somehow, each church is entitled to 10 percent of everyone´s income. This is great news for mega churches and churches with wealthy members. It is a gold mind waiting to be exploited. They can use that many to build even bigger facilities, give the staff a nice bonus, and if they can, give a little to the poor. Unfortunately, it is the antithesis of the message of Jesus.

The tithe is also good news for the rich. I attended one semester of a Christian college, and I will never forget the introductory freshman teacher I have saying that as a Christian he needs to give his 10 percent, but after that-everything is his. While that might soothe the conscious of the wealthy, it is not what Jesus taught. All of our money is on loan from God and should not be spent in a wasteful or overly luxurious way. The tithe is also bad news for the poor. Can you imagine churches asking their members who are struggling to get by to give 10 percent, especially if that money is going to go towards salaries and buildings that those poor cannot even comprehend? I don´t think there is anything more disturbing than a wealthy TV preacher asking for money from his poor congregants and then using that money lavishly. That kind of exploitation is one of the greatest evils that I can think of.

Should we give? Absolutely- but we should not give a standard 10 percent based on some misplaced guilt and bad theology.  We should give as St. Paul said what we have purposed in our heart to give. For many of us, we should be giving much more than 10 percent. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Should we be giving it the local church? Possibly. If you feel your local church is really using their position to preach good news to the poor and help out the hurting, than by all means give to that church. It is very important for the local church to have their needs met, and those who are being ministered to should try to give back. However, do not for one second feel you are obliged to give to the church if they are using the money in foolish and extravagant ways which go against the teachings of simplicity that Jesus taught.

I love how Frank Viola puts it in his book Pagan Christianity, “Under the Old Testament system, tithing was good news to the poor. However, in our day, mandatory tithing equal oppression to the poor…Conversely, contemporary tithing is good news to the rich. To a high earner, 10 percent is but a paltry sum. Tithing, therefore, appeases the consciences of the prosperous without impacting their lifestyles. Not a few wealthy Christians are deluded into thinking they are ¨obeying God¨ because they throw 10 percent of their income into the offering plate.”

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