Tuesday, November 27, 2007

confessing the revolution--because some things work too well

Confessing the Revolution: Capitalism and the God in Whom We Trust

For what it's worth, I'm not an economist, and I'm not appoaching this person's article as an economist. One reason for that being, as the person himself says...

The first question put to any economic order should be not “Does it work?” or “What is in it for us?” but rather “Does it enable and enhance humanity’s chief end of glorifying and enjoying God forever?” Another way of putting this is to say that the fundamental question that should undergird all other questions we put to capitalism is, “With our economic lives ordered by capitalism, are we able to worship God truly?”

...and since he obviously things that simply saying that capitalism's successes are irrelevant, I don't need to be an economist to argue with and against him.

The quote above is a good place to start--can a capitalist truly worship God?

It's an interesting question. What are the alternatives? Socialism? Communism? Distributism? Barter? Primitive hunting-gathering?

In fact why stop there? Shall we look at forms of government? Democracy? Monarch? Anarchy? Tyranny? Feudalism? What about science? Does Bell, or maybe more the people at the site who have printed this article, think that we should do science different? Shall we discard evolution, because it makes God into some kind of myth-maker? Return to relying on divine providence for healings? Stop finding cures and doing surgeries, because those take our faith from God and put them on science and human efforts?

Why ask those questions? Because his questions are meaningless, and perhaps worse leading. The fact is, there have been plenty of godly people who have been able to worship God while living in a capitalist society, and there have been plenty of evil people in others forms of economy.

In other words, questions of being able to worship God have nothing to do with what kind of economic systems. It does have to do with the godliness or lack thereof of the persons in that system. Heck, I'll even posit the possibility of Christians who are committed communists. They may be misguided, but I willing to admit there is the possibility.

Bell tries to say that the God of capitalism has three characteristics...

The Creator who does not create enough
The God who does not save
The Market Sustains

Concerning the first...

God did not create enough; creation is insufficient. Apparently when God rested on the seventh day, God was punching out a little early. Creation was good, but not good enough. The created order is marked by scarcity. Most theological defenses of capitalism take this as a given, as a rather obvious matter of fact that usually requires no theological support at all. It is just the way things obviously are.

...and he gives a quote by someone named Novak. I know nothing about Novak, and so I'm not sure what his views are. Nor am I so sure that Bell is representing him in the best light. For example...

Creation is full of secrets waiting to be discovered, riddles which human intelligence is expected by the Creator to unlock. The world did not spring from the hand of God as wealthy as humans might make it.

What about these statements is necessarily off-whack? Since Bell didn't italicize the first statement (although there it is in the article) I assume he has no problem with the idea of creations being full of things to discover. But having granted that, why have a problem with the second? It seems almost like saying that God gave up a palate and paints, but we get to use them to paint whatever pictures we want.

Given the account of God as an incomplete creator, what do theological accounts of capitalism tell us about how God acts to redeem us from material deprivation, from sin, death and the devil, here and now? To be blunt, they tell us nothing. This is to say, they tell us that God does nothing to save or redeem the material world now. What is to be accomplished in terms of redemption here and now, what is to be experienced of the abundant life here and now, is entirely a human work.

Right about now, I start to see what's going on, and I smile sardonically. Certainly we should be wary of any thought that says that capitalism is some kind of end-all-and-be-all, a kind of divine command, but when someone tries to tell us that capitalism tells us that God is in essence pulling an agnostic, credibility goes beyond being a bit stretched.

Again, history proves otherwise. Why is it that so many of the people who see salvation as being a product of human work only seem to hold to other forms of economy? Granting the existence of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of capitalism being a great good, usually when one looks at the humanists and their ideas of salvation, one eventually finds that they tend more towards some form of socialism.

Is it any wonder that when one looks at the great non-thiestic efforts of the past century, they have usually been socialistic? Shall we point out the good old USSR? Red China? Cuba? Various other places in the world?

Thus, if we are to confess capitalism as a theological and not merely economic revolution, we should confess not the god of capitalism but the sin that is capitalism. We should confess and repent of the capitalist revolution for the sake of rightly worshiping the God who graciously inaugurated the original revolution in Jesus Christ, whose work of mercy meets the needs of all prodigally.

We should repent of the capitalist revolution that does not really change anything, only managing sin in a more efficient manner perhaps. And we should confess the original revolution that turns the world upside down (Acts 17:6) by setting us free from sin.

We should confess, lest we end up like those whose fate Jesus bemoans in his sermon on the plain, those whose imaginations were so impoverished that they desired nothing more than what this world’s economy offered. Why, Jesus laments, do they settle for so little, when God’s economy offers so much and when God wants nothing more than to give and give abundantly?

Let us stop bowing down before wooden gods, no matter how much gold and silver they have laid on. Instead, let us worship and enjoy the true God. Let us be about the work – the economy– of God which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

So, capitalism is a sin? Only if we accept Bell's definitions.

Let's say for the moment, he's right about what he claims some theologians have said about capitalism. So what? All we would be dealing with, then, is some people's thoughts about it, not the system itself. People may have the right idea, but have some wrong thoughts about the idea. A sick person may be right to trust God, but wrong to listen to Benny Hinn's WOF rantings.

At the first, Bell wants us to look beyond the idea that capitalism either does or doesn't work. That's fair, but it can't be disregarded either. We should be able to look beyond whether something 'works' in the short term, but if a compelling reason from morality and ethics cannot be made against it, then the question of utility, whether something works or not, become of the greatest importance. Would he rather that we adopt a system that has proven to be failing?

This does not mean that capitalism is the perfect form, nor that improvements can't be made, nor even that people cannot take advantage of the system for their own ends and cause bad things to happen. It is saying that such faults can be found in any system put forth, and are more the signs of mankind's fallen nature than of any great problems in an economic system.

People had problems worshiping God and with scarcity of resources and with wrong views of God long before someone thought up capitalism. It has to do with things like original sin, man's fallen nature, greed and idolatry and selfishness and laziness. Nothing new, nothing really special, nothing that isn't universal, and none of the problems can't be found in some form or another in any society throughout history.

So, shall we maybe say that capitalism tends to heighten certain negative human tendencies? That's possible, and not unreasonable. Some seem to say it's conducive to greed. But greed is universal, why else would communism have been so popular? Didn't ancient nations go to war so they could get stuff the other country had? Which is worse, conquering to get an empire so you can control diamonds in India (assuming India even had diamonds, which I don't know), or getting up at four in the morning to go to a Black Friday sale?

Don't answer that.

For what it's worth, I think the fact that capitalism works, and works well, is a point in it's favor, especially considering the failures of some of the other systems. Warnings and cautions about potential failings and trends have their place and uses, but going over-the-top like this guy has done is ridiculous.

Monday, November 26, 2007

movie review--beowulf

Yesterday I went to the movies, and decided to see 'Beowulf'. I still wonder if it was among my better decisions.

The look of the movie is a kind of reverse of where it seems animation is going. In some movies such as "Final Fantasy", the idea seemed to be to attempt to make the animation as life-like as possible, but with 'Beowulf' the idea seemed to be to give a live-action movie a slight look of animation.

The results were fair. The movie had a kind of other-worldly or fantasy look to it, kind of like can be given to images in programs such as Photoshop if one knows how to do it. The human characters are realistically done, but they look idealized, without many of the marks of normal human features. I would suspect that was the kind of thing the creators were looking for, and the movie takes on a kind of grown-ups fairy-tale appearance, and considering the story, it's not an unrealistic thing to attempt.

For the record, there may be some spoiler material after this. I've tried to keep if pretty vague, but if you don't want any kind of hint as to the movie's contents, you may not want to read after this.

The movie itself is not an easy one to watch, at least for me. The people we are first introduced to are a crude and crass people, but more then that they are debase. It is set in Denmark in the 5th century AD and the civilization had only recently had Christianity introduced to them, and in at least one it is referred to as Rome's religion. It is not easy to say whether the movie is pro-Christianity or anti-, or even if the creators had an opinion this way or that. There were two times when statements that coujld have been considered anti-Christian were made, but then the characters who made them were perhaps not the best of characters, either.

One was the first king of the village, an old man gone to seed. When we first see him, we get the impression that although he is or was a brace and capable warrior, as a person he had some serious character flaws, such as drunkenness and promiscuousness. His remard was that the village didn't need help from gods, even the Roman god Christ, but needed heroes.

The other was Beowulf himself, and in the first half of the movie he is the obvious hero, though it could be wondered at times if he's more bluff then substance. Like the king, he and his men are brave enough, though not necessarily nice. His remark came several years after being made king of the village, and Christianity had begun to take a firmer hold, and his thoughts were that Christianity had ended the time of heroes and now all they had were meek and weak martyrs.

But these two characters also fall in much the same way. Both meet a sort of water-creature or water-demon, and have a son by her, the first being the creature Grendel and the second a dragon-like creature. In both cases there is a sense in which the 'sins of the father' are visited on them, as one character quite strongly hints in the lead-up to the final fight.

One way in which the story could be characterized is at the rise, fall, and redemption of Beowulf. We see him young and strong, then his fall and how it comes to haunt him, and finally a time when he comes to see how the secrets and lies have damaged him.

On the down side for me, is much of the first parts of the movie. The references to womanizing and other things were not things I enjoyed, but while some of it was stuff that probably could have been different, it did have a place in the story.

I don't know if I would recommend it. Much of it would be a matter of personal convictions, and since there are some things in the movie that may not be things one would want to see, let each decide. There are some interesting thoughts in it, though, and while I may not want to see it again for a while, I can't necesarily be against it, either.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pink Floyd Open--went for the 'Money', hit 'The Wall' :-p

My apologies for the attempt at a pun in the title.

This past Saturday, there was the Pink Floyd Open chess tournament in Lexington. This one was a regular four-round game/60 thing, with a twist--they played Pink Floyd music on a CD player while we played chess. I blame the music for my results.

Actually, I have little to complain about concerning the day, except the final results. And the first game.

That first game was a grim affair. Thinking to win some material, I goofed and wound up losing a piece with no compensation. My opponent is a good player, and while he probably could have finished me off sooner, he nonetheless took away any hope I may have had of active counterplay and all I could do was dig in until he finally opened me us and won.

Game two was one of the more interesting games I've ever played. In the middle game, I exchanged a minor piece to win three pawns, and while my opponent did win back one pawn, in the endgame I had two connected passed pawns while he had a knight, and in the we drew.

The third game was my only win. In the middle game complications, I came out a pawn up in and we went into a bishops-of-same-color endgame. I think I handled it pretty well, getting a passed pawn on one side of the board while keeping an eye on his pawn on the other side, which meant his bishop was tied to defending it. He resigned when it was clear he couldn't stop the one pawn without giving up his bishop.

The fourth was another very complicated game. I probably could have handled things a little better towards the end, and at least held the draw, but I didn't and my opponent had pawns threatening to queen and I couldn't stop all of them.

I was reasonably happy with how I played, except that I didn't finish off very well, I think. The games were complex and with good chances to win, and while I'm disappointed in the overall results, I'm actually enjoyed the play (except for, of course, that first game).

Monday, November 12, 2007

movie review--fred claus

So, if I should ever go on about how Christmas stuff gets started far too early, and go on about how I wish we could at least make to, oh, Independence Day without having to put up with anything Santa, you can point out to me that a good week-and-a-half before Thanksgiving of this year, I went to a movie theater and saw "Fred Claus"

I could probably point out that there was little else worth watching, but that wouldn't really be a good argument, would it?

Anyway, "Fred Claus"...

It was a pretty good movie, as long as you keep in mind the types of actors in it. Vaughn can do funny stuff, and having him as the black sheep of the Claus family works. Kevin Spacey as the 'bad guy' efficiency expert was good, and they sort of have some fun with his role in the last Superman movie. Another scene I liked was the 'Siblings Anonymous' one, where the less-famous brothers of famous people are getting group therapy.

There is little really original in it. Christmas is once again in jeopardy because Santa may not be able to do his rounds, since he's not making quotas and the whole operation may be moved to the South Pole, or some such thing. Santa's operation is, of course, state of the art, and with some kind of giant magical snowglobe through which a person may look anywhere on earth and even into the past.

The religious imagery and message of Christmas is almost completely lost in it, but not quite. Santa is identified as a saint, though what that may have meant is unclear. We see him as a child, one who is selfless and kind but not overly observant--his ideas of helping others may not be well informed on how may be best to help them. The Christmas music in the movie is also almost completely Santa-related, with the sole exception I remember being a nice rendition of "Silent Night", but even that scene had little to do with Christ and Christmas. It was used more as mood-music then as fitting the words.

Maybe "Talladega Nights" used up their quotas of references to the Baby Jesus, because I can't remember even one in this movie, except the before-mentioned "Silent Night".

One of the main messages of the movie has to do with the whole "naughty and nice" thing. Fred's job is to take a small dossier-like summary of the kid's year and so stamp each one 'naughty' or 'nice', with the naughty kids being exempt from getting gifts. In one scene, we see Fred indiscriminately stamping 'nice' for each kids without even reading about them. Later, he tells his brother that there are no naughty kids, that each kid deserves a gift.

One could really have some fun with the concept of "deserving a gift". We probably do use the word 'gift' in such a way, but at it's core, I rather think that the idea of 'gift' is something that isn't deserved, isn't earned, but given anyway. If we do deserve something, it may be merited as an award, or earned as a wage, but it's not really a gift anymore.

But the whole idea of there being no naughty or bad kids is outrageous. This isn't a slam on children and childhood, it's the truth--there are children out there who are not good children, and while there may be external causes that effects them, in the end they are simply bad kids. Period. They're selfish, they are rebellious and disobedient, they lie and steal and do things they shouldn't do.

That message of "Fred Claus" is some kind of simplified, idealized, feel-good message, but without any kind of support.

King's Island Open--not what I would have hoped

This past weekend was the King's Island Open chess tournament.

I had some hopes for this one. Whether the hopes were based on reality, is perhaps open for question. At the least, the results were not all I had hoped.

And, in the end, that's my fault, if fault could be found. At the least, I could have done better.

The first round game was one that up until the last few moves I would view as one of the best ones I had ever played. It was tight and intense, with my opponent putting me under some pressure on the kingside but I had a bind on him on the queenside. Things opened up and bit and we exchanged down, and in the endgame I was a piece up and should have won easily. But in a position when I should have spent a few seconds and calculate a little, I made a stupid move and we ended up drawing.

The second game was another intense game, with a good bit of back-and-forth. My opponent chose an opening that wasn't overly aggresive, but would give him a small advantage, and then things got a bit wacky. I thought I had some tactics that would have been good for me, but I missed a move at the end of it that was good for him and bad for me, and he got a well-earned win.

I guess I was a bit ticked for the last round, so I came out with a certain "attack quick and blow the guy away" attitude, and right at first I thought it was working. A few moves in, I had his king under pressure and then simplifid into an endgame-like position an exchange up, but it was still difficult, and I guess I handled that part wrongly. Anway, in the end we had a drawn rook-and-pawn ending.

So, three rounds, two draws and a lose. There were two more rounds on Sunday, but I decided to cut my loses (as in not needing to spend far too much on a hotel room) and withdrew.

I'm starting to realize some things. For one, if my results are any indication, I'm pretty much playing people on the level where I'm playing. I'm getting a lot of draws, and I'm winning about as much as I'm losing, so if my results are about 50%, then I guess that's an indication that my current level is the correct one.

Another thing, I need to start seeing that local tournament in which I tied for first as not really an indication that I am consistently that good. Looking back on it, of the four games I played in that tournament, one that I won I should have lost, and another which was a draw was maybe pretty close to being lost. It's not to mean that I downplay that result and discard it, it was a high mark in my play and I view it with something like pride, but it's not really an indication that I've arrived and that my game is really at that level.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

not in my 'comfort zone'

Hang around most contemporary churches very long, and the idea of "comfort zone" will creep in. In fact, it won't so much creep as it will parade itself, being a part of almost every idea being spoken of. The ways it may be expressed would probably be in words such as these, "God wants to stretch us, take us out of our comfort zones", "Yes, doing this will be strange for us, and some people may think we're crazy, it's not traditional, it's not comfortable, it will take us out of our comfort zone".

Over a year ago, while living in Lexington, I was attending a certain church, and one Saturday was with a group from the church having dinner at a restaurant. I was sitting with three other guys, two of whom seemed to have been newbies in town, and were talking about a certain minister or ministry I had some familiarity with, and wasn't one I thought overly highly of. I didn't really say much, nor get too upset about it, but to one of them did mention that I did question some things that person taught. But when in response he tried to say something about my 'comfort zone', I have to admit I spoke pretty hard in response. Nothing major, no shouting, just rather firmly stated that he shouldn't play the 'comfort zone' game with me.

It's an idea I've never really liked, and didn't really think was completely correct, but didn't think it out far enough to see why I thought it not quite right. Until somewhat recently.

In an essay called "The Weight of Glory", C. S. Lewis began by pointing out the differences between unselfishness and love. If I remember correctly, his idea was that while unselfishness has more to do with what a person chooses to do without, love has to do with considering the good of the other. In essence, unselfishness measures itself by the what the self chooses to not have, while love measures itself by the good done to the other.

A similar parallel could be made between, for example, being nice and being kind. Niceness tends to have be concessional, not given to standing strongly for anything, and afraid of offending. Kindness can be firmer, stronger, may even offend if need be.

My thought is that in this likening of "comfort zone" rhetoric and obedience, a similar transposition is occuring. The focus is more on the self, and how an action is considered right or wrong. More so, it's a way of measuring if an one is 'living in faith' or if what one wants to do is based on faith.

But it's a subjective measure, and it's based on feelings. It assumes that an action of faith will feel a certain way, a sort of Christian version of a Mountain Dew commercial.

And as with the others, the focus becomes more on the self and less on God, more on feeling and less on real obedience.

Perhaps more then that, it's a catch-all that can be used to justify almost anything. Those who want to do something, and more so something questionable, can use the "comfort zone" type of rhetoric to claim that those who disagree are not willing to "go out of their comfort zones". A person speaking things that may be bizarre can also insinuate that their opposition is based solely on the 'fact' that what he is saying makes them "uncomfortable". Kind of like what the man in the restaurant tried to pull on me.

It's not that there isn't some truth in the "comfort zone" idea. Often, perhaps even most times, obedience isn't comfortable, just as love will cause one to sacrifice and kindness does consider how one's actions are perceived. But that is only a part of the thing, just as those others are only parts of the bigger virtue.

But it's an emphasis on the one aspect, not the whole. Discomfort is not a reliable measure for the obedience of an action. I would guess that most people could think of things they considered bad and even evil that they would be uncomfortable doing. But the thing is, God could well ask a person to do such a thing, much as how He asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

That is perhaps the biggest charge against the idea--it's trite. Speaking of "comfort zones" to Abraham while he is on his way to sacrifice his son would rightly in my opinion by considered insulting. It wasn't a case of him "leaving his comfort zone", it was a case of him obeying when what was asked was rending him to pieces.

It is obedience, not discomfort, that defines faith.

Friday, November 2, 2007

oh joy of all joys!!!!

X-Files 2 Movie Returning in 2008

Be still, my heart!!!

thougts on l'amour and community

Last night, for the first time in quite a while, I finished up a Louis L'amour book.

Several years ago, mostly in my time at Morehead State U, I was on a serious kick of reading novels about the American West--mostly Zane Grey, Max Brand, and Louis L'amour books. One of my desires was to see the country they described so very beautifully--the canyons, the mountains, the deserts.

As time has gone by, I have seen some of them, and have not been disappointed. There was the time I was with a group riding from Georgia to Colorado, and being entranced by Kansas and it's overwhelming flatness, and then how abruptly it flatness ended quite a ways into Colorado with the Rocky Mountains. There were the mountains of Alaska, and I think a part of me is still up there. I couple of years ago, there was flying to Nevada and seeing the country along the way--a gashed, dry, sparce place both beautiful and terrible. About the only place I haven't seen that I would really like to would be the Grand Canyon. Maybe someday.

This isn't really about the sights, though I don't regret having taken that rabbit trail.

Reading L'amour's book over the past week (I began it several days ago, though had gotten only a few chapters in until last evening. For the record, the book was titled "Milo Talon") was in some ways refreshing.

The big thing today in Christian circle, at least from my admittedly narrow view (no one's going to mistake where I live for one of civilization's bleeding-edge places), is 'community'. The word gets tossed around with regularity. And I'm fine that, to some degree.

It's not really anything new, and certainly nothing the church hasn't been doing, to some degree or another. Of course concepts of community have been different. Some have had a narrow, separatist view--they in essence take their belief community and more-or-less separate themselves from the overall community. Others were more involved in their societies.

I would suppose that concepts of 'community' today are also different, and I don't want to do a compare/contrast with each one. My idea is broader, though I hope accurate.

When I hear some people talk today about "community", I can't help but think "co-dependence". Alone-ness becomes almost a thing to be avoided. Concepts such as 'individualism' and 'independence' seem to be to be looked at warily, if not outright questioned and discarded.

So, what does L'amour have to do with this?

I'm struck in ways in his books by how much individualism and community are blended, to the good of both concepts. The people he writes about in good ways are individuals--strong, independent, able to stand on their own, wary of asking for help where they don't think they need it. But he doesn't take individualism to the extreme of an Ayn Rand, where the individual becomes god and has no responsibility at all to the overall society.

On the other hand, L'amour's heroes are part of the community--their family ties are strong even when the family may not be present in the story, they "ride for the brand" meaning they give honest work for honest pay and are loyal to the people they work for, they are ready to help those who are truly helpless but expect those who can help themselves to do so, and they will go far to help those who may be friends or whom they consider to be good people.

The L'amour hero is independent, but not completely separated from those around them.

Consider the book I just finished. It wasn't a big book, but here are things that were in it. The hero, Talon, helps a young lady, a stranger, to get established in the one-horse town where most of the story takes place. He takes a job and sees it through to the end, even when he starts to question many aspects of it. He makes friends with a Mexican man who watches over the horses for a rancher, and helps him when he is injured in an attack. When Talon has to face off against several men set upon gunning him down, he helped by the Mexican man he had helped and a friend of his, and a third man sent by a friend to watch his back (even though he didn't know it at that time). And at the end, when the townspeople grew sick of the killing and told him to leave, even if I would have considered their position unfair against him, he still respected their opinions and left.

Of course, one should be careful of using a source like L'amour. I don't know what his religious views were, and while his heroes often showed respect to the country churches and religion they grew up in, I don't know how Christian they may have been. To use a phrase I heard recently, it may be best to think of them as being "Christ haunted"--their morals and ethics were markedly based on the Christianity in their culture, even if they didn't really know it.

But I like the balance in them, between Randianism and Communism--people are there to help each other, but refuse to be used as crutches for those not willing to at least attempt to stand on their own. Neither extremely individual nor extremely communal, but with a healthy respect for both--each person is an individual and are still part of their society.