mituns: (freiheit)
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

-Martin Niemöller


Back in the days of the Third Reich, there was a saying that went such Halts Maul - sonst kommst nach Dachau. Basically, it translates to "Shut your mouth, otherwise you'll be going to Dachau". Now, one of the theories that floats around about why Germans didn't speak up to defend the Jews is because they simply didn't know what was happening. Now, this isn't to say that every German knew the extent of the extermination camps, but with sayings like this, it's obvious that people had a general sense of terrible things going on, and that people would be silent in the hope that this wouldn't happen to them. All in all, that reaction is very human; after all, who wants to do things to attract persecution? However, the price of this silence was the lives of millions of other people, not only Jews, but anybody who did have the courage to oppose the regime. The Nazi government knew that they could use this type of fear to control people, and they implemented policies such as Sippenhaft which was the policy of not only punishing someone who spoke out against them, but punishing family members as well. For most people, this was too much to deal with, because even if they were willing to go to prison or die themselves, most were not willing to put their families and associates in such danger.

In hearing about the scandals breaking out dealing with the IRS, dealing with hassling conservatives group applying for non-profit status, illegally getting health care records, the government getting AP phone records, the EPA selectively waiving fees for "friendly" groups, etc., a lot of people are celebrating that maybe the country is waking up to the corruption of this current US government.

Call me a cynic, but hearing about these scandals break all together strikes me as highly suspicious. I believe that there is a high probability that these scandals "broke" on purpose, in order to further cow people from participating in resistance to the government. The revelations that the story breaking was scriped and that the woman in charge of the IRS at the time this was happening got a promotion to the Obamacare division of the IRS only serves to strenghten my view. I believe that this is being used as a warning to the American people to let them know the kind of things the government is capable of to destroy the voices of opposition.

Short of a complete replacement of the entire government or a complete dismantling of the IRS, EPA, etc, I don't believe that anything substantial is going to change. As many people contemplate the risks of not complying with Obamacare (for instance) knowing that these institutions still exist and still operate is a huge consideration. Who's to say that a family that won't support Obamacare wouldn't have their kids taken away for neglect? An audit pales in comparison. Who's willing to risk that?

Furthermore, for those who believe that there is some recourse in due process, there may be. But like in the case of these conservative groups, how many of them just gave up rather than have to deal with this? If one's kids are taken, and if one regains custody it's a measure of years before that happens, is that really justice? Many of Obama's nominees for various positions have rightfully been challenged for being overly partisan or incompetant or malicious. This is not an accident; it's a clear message to let people know that if they stand in the way of the agenda, they will be dealt with accordingly. That Obama seems to stay aloof from all of this is also no accident. After all, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, upon hearing of Stalin's death, there were people weeping in sorrow, because even after all they had been through, they could not believe that Stalin himself - as hero of "the people" could possibly have anything to do with such atrocities.
mituns: (towers)
My kids have a book by Sandra Boynton called "Dinos to Go", which, like many of her other books, is very cute, amusing, and smartly written. The book has seven very short stories about different dinosaur characters. One of the characters is about a dinosaur named "Snort". The beginning of his story begins "Snort. A mean red dinosaur. Always gets his way..." The picture is of this dinosaur, which is big and red and mean, who is holding three ice cream cones while two smaller dinosaurs cower in fear without any ice cream.

I saw this picture many times without giving it a second thought. Of course, the implication is that because Snort is mean and bigger than the other dinosaurs pictured, he must have swiped the ice cream cones from the smaller, weaker dinosaurs pictured there.

I was somewhat upset with myself for having fallen into this trap so easily. There is no reason that Snort couldn't legitimately have three ice cream cones, and that the "meanness" is not sharing, rather than that the others had something taken away. There is no reason, either, if Snort got the cones legitimately that he is obligated to share with the other dinosaurs. (Think "The Little Red Hen", for example.) Yet, when most of us see a picture of three "people" and three things, the automatic reaction is that it is only "fair" that the items be split equally.

Fairness, in some sense, though, is a principle for small children. Children come into the world completely self-centered, and completely incapable of providing for themselves. Parents, then, are forced to divide resources, especially when there is more than one child, in a spirit of "fairness", which is probably the first introduction for many children to thinking about somebody other than themselves. To consider others is a difficult concept, and even children who are quite small concern themselves in "fairness" not so much because they want the other child or children to have something, but because they do not want to end up receiving less than the "competition". This sort of mindset is heartbreaking to see in so many adults these days, who sit around and complain of inherent "unfairness" because they feel like they have not been given the same sorts of things that they assume have been given others.

As people grow and mature, what one has ought to be less of what one is given, and more of what one has earned. In this sense, even if there is "fairness" in the circumstances in which one begins, logically, there will be a greater inequality between where people 'end up' because different people are going to use the gifts they have been given differently. To use a Biblical example, again there is the parable of the man who gives his servants talents to care for while he is away. The servant who got the most received 10, which was ten times more than the servant who received one. After the master came back, the servant who had 10 had also earned 10, and so now had 20 times what the servant who received one talent and buried it had. When it was revealed that the one talent had been buried, the master took it away and gave it to the servant who already had 20. In the spirit of fairness, was it unfair for the master not to have given his servants the equal amounts to invest? Was it later unfair for him to have not "spread the wealth" by taking from the servant who had done the best and not having given it to the servant from whom very little could be expected? (After all, this had to be the reason that he only got one talent in the first place!) Or was the master the most fair of all here, rewarding the servants who had worked hard and worked smart and punishing the one who squandered the opportunity given to him?

My point here is not to overreact about a page in a children's book, but rather to point out that as children are developing their sense of different concepts, such as fairness, it's important to keep watch on how these concepts are being shaped. I hardly think that just because the children see Snort with the three ice cream cones that they will be joining Occupy Wall Street as soon as they are old enough. However, I also believe it is important to understand that these types of messages make their way through even to very young children, and as parents and adults, we need to help guide our children's attitudes to see more than just "It's so unfair - so and so has more than I do".
mituns: (Default)
Since early 2009, I have been involved, to one degree or another, with the American "Tea Party" movement. According to the prevailing media, that puts me into a category of "far right-wing kooks" who simply do not want to pay taxes (or, on a more sinister note, supposedly do not want to pay taxes so as to undermine a black president... but I digress).

My goal here is not to explain or justify the Tea Party. It is hardly monolithic, the numbers range from few to huge, and in it there is a coalition of disparate groups.

One of the strengths of the Tea Party is its focus on taxes as an issue, although at almost any Tea Party rally, signs referencing a wide range of issues can be found. As a practical matter, sticking to a more universal theme is helpful, as this provides a wider base of support.

However, I am considering now how this focus on taxes becomes a weakness, if viewed from the other side. From the perspective of a taxpayer, more and higher taxes are bad because they make it harder to survive on the same amount of work and they stifle economic activity because money that could be used to spur on other economic activity is being sucked away by government.

That being said, when one is the beneficiary of others being taxed at a higher rate, whether employed by the government or government agency, or receiving benefits, such as welfare, the cry by others that taxes are too high rings like a rallying cry of heartless greed; an example of Ayn Rand's axiom, "Greed is good".

There has even been a strain of supposed Christian opposition to the Tea Party, citing various Biblical references from obedience to civil authority, especially Romans 13.

As a Christian, I reject Rand's Objectivism. In my last post, I wrote about Hebrews 13:5, which commands "Keep your lives free from the love of money" and "be content with what you have". On the subject of taxes, Jesus himself says, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's". The Old Testament, in particular, details many times tax rates and how taxes were levied. Jesus' statement concerning paying taxes, was, in large part, an affirmation that His mission on earth was not to be the King of the Jews in a political sense; Jesus' mission on earth was not to challenge Rome, or even to free the Jews from foreign occupation. Jesus affirms that as citizens of nations, Jews - and Christians - are subject to the laws of the land.

The biggest caveat to this teaching, however, is when there are laws in place which contradict God's Law. Think of the story of Daniel. Think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Think even of Jesus' parents who fled to Egypt rather than to follow the edict of Herod to kill all baby boys under 2. The Bible is clear on this point. When laws of the state and laws of God are in conflict with each other, a Christian must follow God's law.

Paying taxes is one thing; there are very few, even in the Tea Party, who believe that taxes ought to be done away with altogether, and fewer still who fail to pay taxes. However, when we say our government is a republic and our taxes are used to support abortion, there needs to be some outcry. When money collected in taxes is used to prevent a whole section of society from discovering its potential, there needs to be some outcry. And when the money from our taxes is used to support the god that government has built unto itself, there needs to be some outcry.

What about the poor and needy then? Are they to starve? I believe that the Bible is also very clear on this point as well. Those who can work, should work (2 Thes. 3:10), but those who are not able to (widows, orphans, the elderly and infirm) should be taken care of by anyone who considers himself to be a Christian, by virtue of Christian love. Shirking our duty as individuals by depending on the state to tax us in order to provide a bare minimum of care is a tragedy and completely foreign idea to Christian doctrine.

I'm not delusional in thinking that every member of the Tea Party is a Christian who is speaking out on Christian principle. However, it is certainly not incompatible for one to be a Christian and to be a member of the Tea Party.
mituns: (Default)
Recently, I read the book Nikolai Berdyaev's book "The Fate of Man in the Modern World", which, despite being a fairly small book (about 130 pages) and dealing with the issues of Europe in 1935, is still quite prescient and touches upon many issues that the "modern world" is still dealing with.

Berdyaev himself was a Marxist who came back to Orthodox Christianity and was eventually exiled from the Soviet Union because of his writings. He first ended up in Berlin, but after a period of a couple years, he settled in France, where he lived out the rest of his days. Because of this, he has firsthand experience living in Russia, Germany, and France, and as he speaks about the modern world, much of what he writes about centers on these countries.

However, in 1935, which was the year this book was written, it was not as though these countries were somehow insignificant on the world stage. The Soviet Union had existed for 17 years, and behind the wall of socialist utopia, Berdyaev understood entirely what socialism does to human beings who are trapped in that system. In 1935, Adolf Hitler had been in power in Germany for two years, and again, Berdyaev considered what had happened in Germany to have been something akin to mass insanity of which nothing good could come.

In dealing with the substance of "the fate of man" in this current age, Berdyaev also is no huge fan of capitalism, as he sees that in its pure form, it is as dehumanizing as socialism. As he understands it, a Christian society is one that necessarily has elements of socialism, and so he's considered by many to be a "Christian socialist". However, the more I think about this, the more I believe that he is correct.

This isn't to say that I believe that socialism is the right way to go, and I don't believe that he would either. Take, for instance, the book "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. Rand is adept at painting the picture of the world as it is when government strangles free enterprise, when it picks winners and losers for the sake of fairness, etc. At most Tea Parties, there are numerous signs with pictures of Rand, with the question "Who is John Galt?" as well as other references to this work. It is a powerful work, but it largely fails when it comes to answering the question of why someone who is gaining power and influence would also not use illicit means to solidify that growing power and influence. Her answer seems to be along the lines of "Excellence breeds virtue", and to demonstrate that, all of the elite characters are truthful and good when it comes to matters of business.

However, this worldview - objectivism - is hardly virtuous in a Christian sense. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, for example, charity is considered weakness, and traditional "moral" values such as fidelity and chastity are nothing more than old and useless traditions. Without a Christian base, this is logical. Communism values man as far as his contribution to the collective; in "pure" capitalism, man's value is still determined as a function of his production.

Berdyaev, though, avers Christianity as something that is different, that raises man up and out of the vicious circle of communistic and purely capitalistic societies. Christianity insists that one's worth is intrinsic to one's being, regardless of what that person can produce either for himself or for society. As a Christian, one is called to take upon himself a code of conduct that calls him to act in a "Christian" way; a way in which he does not lie, cheat, or steal, that he supports the poor, old, and hungry through willing acts of charity. Ironically enough, it is when people act in these ways, a civil society is built, upon which just about any type of governing system can be placed (though, for obvious reasons, socialism will only work in places like monasteries), because people, as a whole, will govern themselves.

And so, in America at least, we have two different groups who consider themselves "conservative" even though their worldviews are often quite a bit different. In the example of the "Tea Party", it comes to a shock to many that a large percentage of those who support this "libertarian" movement are the dreaded "social-conservatives", who, if we are to believe what is being said, want to use government to enforce their (usually) "Christian" values on everybody. The other group is the more "libertarian" group, who claim to make very few "values" assessments, and claim to just want to be left alone by government as well as others.

In these days, there are quite a number of places where the interests of these two groups converge, but it is amazing to see the amount of infighting among the "conservative" movement as to who is a "true" conservative. For this reason, even though many, many people see Rick Santorum as a conservative, because he is squarely in the "Christian values" group, many of the more libertarian-minded point out repeatedly how he can't possibly be a conservative and at the same time encourage a return to "family values" and make statements against contraception and pornography.

To the Libertarian, freedom itself becomes the highest ideal, and a government should serve no more than to keep society from falling into the chaos of anarchy. Yet this type of freedom lends itself to many abuses and an eventual de-humanizing of the soul. As to the conundrum that Christianity and freedom have created from the beginning, I refer back to the words of St. Paul: "For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another. (Gal 5:13)
mituns: (Default)
In traditional Christianity, the body itself is not to be worshipped, but is to be respected being made in the "image and likeness of God" and as the container, so to speak, of the soul. Furthermore, at Christ's second coming, there is to be a physical resurrection of the dead. For these reasons, the body, even after death, is to be cared for with respect and the reason for burial rather than cremation.

In 2009, a scandal broke out as it was discovered that in the Burr Oak cemetery, plots were being resold, headstones were being relocated, and bodies were being dumped to random parts of the cemetery. As part of the effort to rectify this mess (to the extent possible), the director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese's Executive Director of Cemeteries was put in charge of this task, and ultimately, the Catholic cemeteries buried bodies in their own cemeteries, in plots that they donated.

Three years later, we are now embroiled in another scandal involving the dead in Chicago. Apparently, the Cook County morgue was overcrowded to the point of being completely unsanitary, with many more bodies than could be accommodated . Sometimes, there have been reasons for delays, but a lot of it boils down to plain incompetence.

Again, in the city's hour of need, the Catholic Church has offered to them free burial plots. This isn't some slick marketing ploy, or a political move on the part of the Roman Catholic Church. This is plainly in keeping with the Church's mission, that every life is of value and deserves some dignity even in death. However, this time the city is not so quick to accept.

I can only think of one reason that the city is not working with the Catholic Church, and that is that it boils down to politics. In the last few weeks, the Catholic Church has made a stand against the Obama administration's diktat of mandatory contraception coverage by all employers. Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, not only is President Obama's former chief of staff, but has a brother, Ezekiel, who is the Head of the Department of Bioethics at The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health. The Obama Administration has made it clear that it is hostile to the Church, and as such, it would be very hard for someone this close to President Obama to publicly accept help from such a source.

Some of the people whose bodies at the morgue remain unidentified. Some seem to hav no family. Others can't afford the costs of burying their dead. However, reverting to the "logic" of the contraception fight, it would be terrible for these poor souls to be buried in a Catholic cemetery because undoubtedly not all of these people were Catholic, and as such, a tragedy if they weren't offered free birth control!

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