Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How a witch strengthened the faith of an Anglo-Catholic, and how a Wycliffe-Arminian Heterodox Protestant saw it

The first half of the title for this post concerns Hector, who posted How a witch strengthened my faith at the Aleksandreia site. The second half refers to my seldom-humble self, more or less a Christian who refrains from heresy by welcoming schism.

Those who are conversant in ancient Greek have observed that the term Paul used when he wrote of heresy has connotations of party or faction. Thus, I suspect that heresy is the act of seeking domination of the body of Christ for one's own party or faction. The orthodox are merely the heresy in power. The sin, if it can be called one, is the arrogance of believing that I, or my group, understand God better than any other individual or group within the faith, who has a slightly different idea of exactly what God is trying to tell us.

Hector lists a number of well-known miracles as the foundation or his faith. I have no objection. I frankly don't give much thought to whether these miracles did or did not occur. More often than not, my comment on such debates is "Don't mess with the stories." They are there for a reason. Perhaps they are there because some will recognize God through these accounts of miracles. Others may not, but may find the stories moving in some sense. Yet others may be put off by the improbability of such events - for them, no doubt, God has other ways of calling.

What ways? Well, as an avid reader of science, although not professionally competent, two of my favorites are the fact that the universe we live in began with a tremendous burst of electro-magnetic energy some thirteen billion years ago, and the fact that the foundations of evolutionary biology can be discerned in the first two chapters of Genesis. For the most part, human culture only discovered the first point in the mid-20th century, but somehow Moses knew all about it some 3500 years before the Hubble Space Telescope or the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. The second escaped human knowledge until well after Darwin; before Darwin, we didn't have the empirical knowledge to recognize what the text was talking about, so our ancestors became infatuated with much simpler interpretations.

But these little pieces show a congruence between science - the empirical knowledge of our world - and monotheistic revealed faith, not enough to uphold any given prophet or savior, but enough to suggest that there is a God who created all that is, seen and unseen, a deity who occasionally has reason to communicate to us as best we can understand.

Whether I believe in specific miracles really truly happened is, to me, rather irrelevant. They may well have, without setting aside science. There is no question that our universe runs in accordance with patterns that science can and has explored with some accuracy. But, if there is anything transcendent, it would be roughly like a larger Venn diagram enclosing our universe as a subset, represented by a smaller Venn diagram. A transcendent God could intervene whenever he chose, and obviously chooses to do so rather seldom. Indeed, if there were no consistent scientific basis to the universe, miracles would not be particularly extraordinary. They would be commonplace random events in an unpredictable chaos.

So we come to the White Witch, a devout member of a schismatic Anglican church which insists on restricting the priesthood to males, relying strictly on the King James Version of the Bible, and presumably also on denying the validity of same-sex couples or marriages. She had an out of body experience, as a child, while clinically dead, before doctors noticed a restored heart beat and breathing. The experience was two minutes of conversation with Jesus Christ.

Do I find this credible? Not in the sense that it restores my faith, but I wouldn't presume to deny that it could not have happened. The fact that this happened to her as a child, that she had no religious training from her parents, provides a veneer of credibility. Onthe other hand, the fact that she later attended a Roman Catholic School, after that practiced some version of Wicca for twenty years, and only after that became an Anglican Christian, suggests that the conversation with Jesus had not made much of an immediate impression on her. For a skeptic, there is plenty of cause to doubt.

Again, I don't much care. The vision is for her, if for anyone. There is no way to test whether it is genuine. Therefore, I doubt that it is of great significance for me.

This former Wiccan "found her thirst for a particularly feminine spirituality slaked in a newfound devotion to the person of the Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of God." Here is another conundrum for an Arminian raised in the attenuated Calvinism of the late 20th century Presbyterian Church USA. Do I believe that Mary, the physical human mother of "the carpenter's son," was taken body and soul into heaven? No, my faith does not rest on what many denominations, including the Roman, Greek, and Anglican churches, reverence as "the Assumption."

Frankly, I find the Jewish teaching quite credible, that it is no coincidence that the first Christian church dedicated to veneration of Mary as Virgin Mother of God was built in Ephesus. Those Ephesians darn well needed a female spirituality, and if they couldn't have Diana, they were going to have Mary. Besides, it gave the silversmiths a new theme for profitable images to sell. But, I don't write it all off as idol worship.

One of the unique features of Christianity is a God who so loved the world that he became human, lived our experience, has a specific desire to reach out to us. Much as I respect the Jewish foundation for monotheism, and the piety of Islam, these offer a more austere and remote version of God. Of course, if there is only one God, there are not Jewish and Christian and Muslim godlings out in space fighting proxy wars with each other through their earthly adherents. There is only one. But we ornery humans are incapable of having one comprehensive understanding or relationship.

So if some women, and some men, need a "feminine spirituality," I'm sure God is quite happy to let them find that in his mother - albeit Muhammed made sense when he denied that a transcendent God could have had either a mother or a son. I am informed that the formal name within those orthodoxies that declare anathema on thinking like mine is "modalism." Well, so be it. I don't suggest that God, per se, is modal in nature, but that God is transcendent, and happy to let us humans venerate any mode that brings us closer to a transcendent unitary God - or even to let us worship a triune image of God.

Having had little direct sense of divine presence - the kind received with fear and trembling - I have been known to say that I sense to presence of God when I see it reflected on the face of someone in a praise team, as sunlight is reflected on the face of the moon. I seldom sense any DIRECT response to my prayers - I always have the dry spell Hector has been experiencing of late. But I don't sense that I'm getting a busy signal. I think C.S. Lewis wrote that "men's prayers today are one of the innumerable cordinates with which the Enemy [as Screwtape references God] harmonizes the weather of tomorrow."

A Roman Catholic blogging as Roland de Chanson interjects into discussion the assertion that "God speaks the Truth to whom He chooses. And His Incarnate Son established a Church to teach that Truth." The first sentence is inarguable, except by denying that there is a God (singular). The second defines the boundary between adherents of the Roman Catholic church and all other Christian denominations. In my mind, the vast bureaucracy in the Vatican City, and its subordinate institutions throughout the world, are merely one more heresy, no better and no worse than those it persecuted when it had the carnal power to do so. The significance claimed for the words "thou are Cephas" is strictly an ex post facto intepretation of convenience, which might have been presented earlier except that the ink had not yet dried.

Roland also speculates, what if this Anglo-Catholic formerly Wiccan women who had a conjectural conversation with Jesus Christ is "an agent of the Evil One intent upon your soul’s perdition?" I for one don't worry much about such things, because I don't seek for signs and wonders to sustain my faith. The Evil One, if there is such a Manischean graft onto the teachings of the Tanach (aka Old Testament) may send me any number of people relating glorious visions, but I put little stock in such things.

I believe in part because, if I don't construct edifices of detailed explanations of the unexplainable, it makes sense. Further, I can look back on my life and see connections made with a significance I could never have forseen. If someone had not very subtlely (as Albert Einstein used to say) been watching out for me, by all the statistical criteria of a cold indifferent universe and a corporate capitalist regimented economy, I should certainly have been homeless long since.

(Note: Hector, please invite John E. and Franklin, and even Roland, to comment here after you've read it). And you might want to look at this discussion with Eulogos.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Distributing the Wealth and Income

The question of "redistributing" wealth and income pops up in many debates, some related to the value of a strong labor movement, some motivated by other points of concern.

When workers demand "More," which was Samuel Gompers's bottom line, there are two ways to deliver it.

One is increased productivity. However, as the high unemployment rate and depressed wages since the crash of 2008 have shown improved productivity does NOT necessarily deliver a higher standard of living to the working class. It may simply be absorbed by those who own the capital, as they continue to take advantage of the productivity of their employees by laying off a portion of them.

The other is to reset what portion of revenue goes to the employees of employers, and what portion goes to the employers of employees. Employers always balk at that, and scream about "the free market," but there is nothing "free" about the transaction between the owner of capital and a person who desperately needs a job.

It is of course true that the share allocated to labor cannot exceed 100% of revenue on a long term basis. A good part of revenue must be reinvested even in maintaining the plant so it can operate productively, much less expansion. Failure to recognize this has been a prime failing of eager young socialist governments. The oil industry in Venezuela right now is ailing because the government takes too much of the revenue for various social projects (and military purchases), without allocating enough to maintain the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Looking at what remains, anyone who invests their savings in an enterprise expects a return, to compensate them for the deferred gratification. Finally, if the business can only meet the demands of its employees, organized together in the form of a union, by going into debt, then eventually the enterprise will fold.

So, the fundamental question is not one of "redistribution" but of a fair and appropriate DISTRIBUTION of the product of labor.

In a sole proprietorship, with no employees, all increases in productivity are personally delivered by the sole owner and sole worker, who receives all the benefits. When the roles of owner of capital, and employee who has no capital (thus, the need to "find a job"), have been separated, they have partially different and opposite interests. Karl Marx called this "alienation of labor," and it is real, whether Karl Marx said it or not.

This "alienation" is even explicitly expressed by the defenders of an employer's unlimited right to do what he pleases, without reference to the best interests of the employees and their families. A sole proprietor not only reaps all the benefits, but pays all the prices. The employer can say "the benefits are mine, because I invested the capital, it is the job of the employees to pay the prices."

Suppose we were to plan that out of the average revenue over a ten year period, 47 percent should be allocated to capital maintenance and expansion. Another 47 percent would go to labor. That includes the labor performed for necessary and essential management functions. Managers would be paid somewhat more, but probably no more than ten times what the lowest paid employee earns. (New janitor trainee, $20,000 a year, top CEO, $200,000 a year).

Then the investors who put up the capital can get six percent of the revenue as dividends on their investment. This might be more or less than 6 percent RETURN on investment, depending on how wisely their capital was managed, and the ratio of business revenue to capital invested.

That is not REDISTRIBUTION, except by comparison to the present rapacious status quo. It is merely a fair distribution of the revenue generated by a complex collective enterprise. Yes, it IS a collective enterprise. Everybody contributes to its success. Everyone is ESSENTIAL to its success.

What we, as a society, need to do for the disabled, the elderly, the unlucky through no fault of their own, the children impoverished by the bad judgement of their parents, are all separate questions. They are worth looking at, but they are different from the distribution of revenue to those who put their labor into a productive enterprise.

Unfortunately, under our current laws and power relationships, its not so simple. It plays out like this, and this. So until we have better laws, and more sensible ways of doing business that "promote the common welfare" while allowing everyone a reasonable return for what they actually put in, we still have to "Roll the Union On!"