Thursday, April 25, 2013

Social Justice Watch: The Church And The Poor (Pt.1)

In 1983 I was in San Antonio, Texas doing post-production work on a film, when the editor made a casual comment about his church youth group traveling overseas to help missionaries on a building project. That hit me like a ton of bricks: I'd never heard of a youth group doing such a thing. As a youngster, I vividly recall a family from our church leaving Canada with their kids (some of my best friends) on a "short-term" missionary assignment to Africa—they were gone FOUR YEARS. That was my frame of reference for missions work.

By 1983, airline deregulation had brought down the cost of international travel by over 25%, no small factor in the growth of such trips, I'm sure. A reviving economy under Ronald Reagan helped make such travel affordable as well. 
My niece in Kenya in 2006 
I don't recall my editor friend using the phrase "missions trip" at that time, but these days you would have to search high and low to find an American (or Canadian) church that hasn't sent their youth to some Latin American or Caribbean nation—or even further. And, of course, there are myriad domestic "missions trips" to urban areas, or to the remote Navajo and everywhere in between. I consider all this to be a great good on many levels.

But this doesn't stop Social Justice activists from branding evangelical Christians as "uncaring" if we oppose higher taxes to grow the Nanny State. Strictly speaking, of course, these missions trips aren't intended to end poverty or cure every disease. But activities like these—and others by para-church outfits like World Vision, Compassion and Samaritan's Purse—are non-trivial evidence that American Christians do indeed care for the "needy."

Before wading into the societal debate about the church's "obligation" to the poor, a Christian should first turn to scripture for guidance.

A note about my choice of english translation: the ESV. My pastor recommends it for study—concluding that the NIV has become too politically correct and unreliable. As an aside, I have a personal affinity for the NLT in readability and an increasing admiration for the new HCSB in study. So that's that with that, then.

Leaving aside the Old Testament, due to the unique, insular nature of the Jews and Israel, here follows a summary of New Testament usage of the word "poor." It appears just five times each in Matthew, Mark, and John. Only nine of those 15 instances are spoken by Jesus. Eleven of the 15 deal with just three events:

1. The Rich Young Ruler, told by Jesus to sell all he had, give it to the poor and follow Christ.

2. The Poor Widow, who was giving a significant offering of her own money to the Temple.

3. Judas, complaining about the expensive perfume poured on Jesus, which Judas wanted to sell, saying he'd give the money to the poor (a half-truth at best). And then Jesus' reply: "the poor shall be with you always."

The other Matt/Mark/John instances of the word are spread among the Beatitudes ("…blessed are the poor…"), the Isaiah 61 prophecy ("…the poor have the good news preached to them…") and one reference to insufficient quality ("…poor wine…").

Next up is Luke, who uses the word eleven times: once for the Rich Young Ruler and twice for the Poor Widow, but no mention of the Judas incident at all. He twice includes the Isaiah 61 passage. The rest of Luke's "poor" usages are from the Zacchaeus story, the Parable of Lazarus and Dives, the Beatitudes, and the Banquet Parables.

The Gospels often overlap in retelling the same event, so those 26 usages of the word "poor" fall into just nine incidents: the Beatitudes, Isaiah 61, Rich Young Ruler, Judas' Complaint/Jesus' Reply, Poor Widow's Offering, Banquet Parables, Lazarus and Dives, Zacchaeus, and Judas Leaving the Last Supper.

After the Gospels we come to the Acts of the Apostles, where the word "poor" does not appear at all. I kid you not. Think about that for a minute.

Then come the Epistles—the letters of Paul, Peter, James and John (not to quibble over Hebrews). While the Gospels and Acts are mostly narrative—describing actions and events—the Epistles are mostly teaching. The lessons we may take from the retelling of an occurrence in Jesus' life are indirect, requiring both interpretation and application. But the lessons contained in teaching passages are pretty straightforward. On to the numbers.

The word "poor" appears just eleven times in the Epistles: once in Romans ("...the poor among the saints in Jerusalem..."); three times in 2 Corinthians (twice about Jesus making himself poor, once quoting Psalm 112 in collecting for the saints in Jerusalem); once in Galatians ("...remember the poor..."); four times in James (all in reference to respecting rich and poor alike); and twice in Revelation ("...not realizing you are wretched, pitiable, poor..." and "both rich and poor" taking the mark of the beast).

So there's something to mull over: simply the number and nature of New Testament mentions of the poor. 
There are, of course, other words that must be considered as well—"needy" comes immediately to mind. Other related words: charity, alms, naked, hungry, etc. Next up, Social Justice Watch: The Least Of These (Pt. 2) includes analysis and, as you might guess, some contrarian conclusions vis-à-vis today's Social Justice-ites.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Federal Reserve Is Bad For America

"The Federal Reserve System was created by the Federal Reserve Act in 1913 . . . an unusual mixture of public and private elements." — from the Fed's website.
"Quantitative Easing" belongs in the restroom.
It's a little ironic that the American Left, who are so quick to cry "Fascism" whenever Republicans are business-friendly, should now be such supporters of the unholy alliance of Big Government and Big Banking we call the Fed. It may have seemed like a good idea a hundred years ago—Woodrow Wilson was just full of "good ideas" like, y'know, the Income Tax and Direct Election of Senators (16th and 17th amendments). For the purposes of this discussion we'll not delve into Wilson's (and the Democrats' and Princeton University's) alignment with the Eugenics Movement . . . except to note that sterilization and euthanasia are the unavoidable conclusion of Progressivist logic; abortion-on-demand being its most widespread achievement to date.
The same hubristic mindset that gave us the "unsinkable" Titanic in 1912 also gave us Woodrow Wilson and the Federal Reserve System the following year. The Progressive Movement was in full flower, seeing no limit to what human reasoning and the Scientific Method could deliver. But artists, those canaries in society's coal mine, painted a darker picture—like Marcel Duchamp's 1912 Nude Descending A Staircase, which scandalized New York's 1913 Armory Show. This was also the era of Cubism, Dadaism, and Nihilism . . . which together foretold Friedrich Nietzsche's Will To Power. Of course it's pure coincidence that the decades to follow became the Golden Age of Totalitarianism . . .

. . . and Central Banking. 

How so many Americans miss seeing the direct link between Totalitarianism's central planning and the supposedly benign central banking is beyond me. These are identical impulses—a desire to control of every aspect of national life. What could be more vital to the daily bread of any people than their money? Kings and monarchs of yesteryear could only dream of having the power to create money out of thin air—they had to extract it from the earth, or their people's purses via taxes, or borrow it from somebody (usually a Jew, whom they would then resent and ostracize). But I digress.

The Great Depression demonstrated the impotence of America's central bank to end financial panics—the very rationale used to establish it. So when a government's plan fails miserably, do they wind 'er down and go back to the drawing board? No, instead of ending the Fed, FDR used the man-caused disaster as a pretext to confiscate Americans' convertible gold. We still have these brutal recessions, but now the Fed inflates the money supply so politicians can spend like crazy to buy our votes. What a country!

Since the dawn of civilization, gold had been money. But FDR's motto was "bold, persistent experimentation!" He couldn't completely take America off the Gold Standard, but his arbitrary re-valuations and his Keynesian spending prepared the way for Richard Nixon's dumbest idea, which was to "float" the dollar. We now have a fiat currency, unhinged from any standard other than the collective wisdom of the Fed's dozen-odd governors.

Today, when you compare the Fed's Target Inflation Rate of 2% to the 0.84% savings rate you're getting at Ally Bank this week, every hundred dollars saved means your account only loses $1.16 each year. Of course, the Fed doesn't want you saving money, they want you to spend it. You see, banks no longer need consumer savings in order to accumulate cash to make loans—the Fed just pushes a button to squirt a few hundred billion more dollars into the banker's pockets. By the time those funds work their way through the system and into our paychecks, prices of stuff we need have gone up! It's good to be a banker with access to the Fed's discount window.  

Part of the calculation made by Statists in power is to puff up clouds of complexity—aimed at discouraging citizens from intelligent debate on monetary matters. In one sense, of course, they're right: the myriad free decisions made every minute in America between willing buyers and willing sellers (including their decisions to not spend) is far too complex to be controlled or managed. But rather than being humbled by this unimaginable web of interactions, arrogant bureaucrats and their enabling political masters seek to dominate, tame and bend the nation's economic life to their will.  Aside from the obvious threat to freedom, this overreach always fails to bring about its stated results—leading Statists to create ever more intrusive, oppressive laws and regulations to force us to behave the way they want.

But there is a growing body of scholarship exploring options all the way from disbanding the Fed to instituting a new Gold Standard. Aside from Ron Paul's famous End the Fed, there's terrific writing from three Think Tanks you need to keep up with: the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute's Values and Capitalism site, and the Ludwig Von Mises Institute

Saturday, April 13, 2013

I'm A Tiger Woods Fan, But...

...he should have been disqualified from the Masters after signing a scorecard Friday that didn't include a 2-stroke penalty for an improper drop. That was Tiger's fault—though I have to wonder what he's paying caddie Joe LaCava to do out there.
Tiger's illegal drop at Augusta National's 15th hole. Arrow points to original divot.

ESPN says there was a Rules Official present with Tiger's group on that 15th hole. He must've been on a potty break, because Masters Tournament Rules Committee Chairman, Fred Riley, said he was alerted to the infraction by a TV viewer. By the time he watched the videotape Tiger was already playing the 18th hole (elapsed time 45-minutes). Based on that video review the Rules Committee determined Tiger had done nothing wrong. So they said nothing to him about it before he signed his card. 

Have you seen the videotape? One of the CBS camera angles (shot by the guy above) clearly shows Tiger standing a few feet behind the divot from his first shot. What was Ridley looking at? Whatever he saw, he gave the most lenient possible reading of the Water Hazard rule:
     26-1a. ...playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played..."

Then Tiger went on TV and said he intentionally moved back "a couple yards" to give himself a better distance to the pin. Uh-oh, now Ridley knows there was a rules violation. So he and his compadres turned to golf's newest politically-correct rule:
     33-7. Disqualification Penalty; Committee Discretion
     A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.

Obviously the Committee considered a waiver warranted. Why? Here are the words from Ridley's written statement: "The penalty of disqualification was waived by the Committee under Rule 33 as the Committee had previously reviewed the information and made its initial determination prior to the finish of the player’s round."

Those words are english, but what do they mean? The DQ was waived because the committee had been mistaken earlier. What chain of logic is that? Because we missed the call earlier, we feel bad and we're gonna give Tiger a break. Or more expansively: Because the on-course official missed the call, and we weren't watching the telecast, Tiger didn't get a warning about the infraction, and the consequences became too severe after he signed his card. No matter how you slice it, their ruling has no foundation other than Tiger Woods being an "exceptional individual." Their explanation is both dissembling and disingenuous.

Given the fame of this decision, what rules committee at any PGA Tour event will ever allow a DQ to stand? Ignorance of the rules, and signing an incorrect card are now officially deemed by golf's most prestigious Major Tournament to be immediately excusable. How is this mushy-minded decision anything other than sloppy spillage of Moral Hazard?