“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Politics & Culture
The Pornography of Barbarism
The following post was written several years ago. It seems apropos to revisit it, in light of the recent horror in Aurora.
I am not easily shocked anymore.
Perhaps it is my profession, where the constant exposure to human suffering and pain harden the spirit and keep emotions at a safe distance. Perhaps it is the almost imperceptible but relentless inoculation brought about by the constant stream of violence and vice which pour forth from the dazzling screen faced daily from the comfort of cottage and couch. Perhaps it is the cynicism and callousness from one too many movies showing gratuitous sex; one too many art exhibits with fecal creativity or blasphemous pretension; one too many headlines of school shootings or child rape. It all seems to blend together, like some Clockwork Orange deprogramming script shimmering on screen as we sit with eyes held open against our will, the beauty of Beethoven lulling us into the normalization of depravity.
Each scene, more horrid than the last, flashes by, horrifying in the moment but soon forgotten, our calloused souls no longer responding, our eyes transfixed in cold determination on money and the material, routine and ritual. We have swum in the cesspool so long we no longer notice the smell.
This week, some things broke through the indifferent haze. Like some unheralded emetic, the cynical disdain for a culture gone corrupt turned instead to nausea — physical, to be sure, yet far more: a nausea of the soul, a dyspepsia so deep in the spirit that no hardened defense could mask its rolling waves of disgust and dismay.
There was, at the first, the video: a teenage girl, lured into a trap, then brutally beaten by six other girls her age for thirty minutes continually, carefully recorded on video for upload to YouTube.
Then came the Yale “artist” who repeatedly impregnated herself by artificial insemination, then aborted the fetus with drugs, carefully saving the results for display wrapped in plastic and Vaseline for her senior art exhibit.
Then this morning, in the local paper: a man — a school bus driver — convicted for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl left alone on his bus.
One could multiply such incidents, ad nauseum, on almost any given day, in any part of the world — beheadings and genocide, ghoulish scenes of body parts and bloodied walls from yet another heroic martyr seeking virgins through hyperviolence. Yet these events, small on such a savage scale, in some way troubled me more than most.
One wants to rail at a society gone mad, at a civilization which has lost its bearings and moral compass, at a decadence fed by materialism and secularism, force-fed with the rotgut wine of postmodern relativism, drunk with the notion that ideas have no consequence and idols worshiped bring no destruction.
Yet the time for such anguished mourning seems long past, its passing but a point in a pitiful past history. We have, it seems, entered the post-human age.
Our secular prophets have heralded the Good News: there is no God; we are but accidental apes. We have been liberated from the bondage of religion and morals; we are, at last, in this twenty-first century, at the pinnacle of human achievement and potential. The shackles of superstition are broken, the potential of man unbounded, his glory unlimited but by the constraints of his imagination.
Yet as we celebrate our exalted humanity, the technology we worship brings glimpses of a darker reality, flashed in some subliminal message quickly dismissed as aberration or sideshow.
We may reflexly think of those who partake in such ghastly exhibitionism to be but beasts — but to think thus insults the animals, whose nobility far exceeds our own. For the animal kingdom is violent, brutish, and predatory — but it is so with purpose, its violence constrained by the drive to survive, or mate, or protect its territory. It is only the human animal who ventures into the subhuman, in glorification and gleeful pursuit of perversion for pleasure, of violence as theater. It is this theatrics of barbarism so prevalent in our age which bespeaks something far darker, more sinister, more terrifying. For to be human is to share the beautiful and the good with the hideous and evil; it has been so since the dawn of history. But to celebrate perdition, to promulgate a pornography of barbarism, to cast it abroad over media and message seems the unique and chilling characteristic of our current reckless age.
Civilization has always withstood the barbarians with low walls lightly guarded. It has depended far less on strength of force than strength of character, a consensus among the civilized that certain behavior and unrestrained license threaten its very existence. Laws and the power of enforcement cannot long resist the dark demons of depravity unleashed from within; the power of Rome proved feeble when there became no difference between the citizens within and the barbarians without. The Dark Ages which thus ensued seem now long forgotten, even as we arrogate the privileges of freedom while destroying the self-control and restraint on which it depends.
Our own Dark Age seems soon upon us. The knowledge and technology which have brought us to such great heights will document in living color and HD the breaching of the walls and the slaughter of the children.
Don’t touch that remote — you will not want to miss the next episode. And be sure to post it on Facebook.
Open Source Politics
If you have not done so, I encourage you to mosey over to the National Journal and read Jonathan Rauch’s in-depth analysis of the Tea Party movement: How Tea Party Organizes Without Leaders.
The Tea Party movement which has arisen over the past two years has proved an enigma to politicos and pundits alike. Unable to grasp its essential nature, caricatures and character assassinations have abounded, and the straw man thus erected — angry, racist, extremist white men, secretly funded by corporate America and puppets of the Republican Party — bears no resemblance to the reality on the ground. In reality, the Tea Party represents open source politics — individuals empowered by connectivity and the internet, functioning in many ways like a living organism.
If you have been reading John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog (and you should, if you want some deep insight on how society and the nation-state are evolving to something radically different than that to which we have known over the past half-millennium) you will recognize well its form: the empowerment of individuals and small groups by technology and connectivity, undermining and hollowing out centralized command-and-control structures, whether they be military, governmental, or political in nature, utilizing their very size, ossification, and inertia against these institutions in sociopolitical jujitsu.
The Tea Party movement has grown out of the widespread frustration with aristocratic, corrupt government and politicians, of both parties, indifferent and contemptuous of their so-called constituents, running a nation reeling toward bankruptcy as their “experts” increase their control over society with increasingly reckless and destructive policies and plans.
The goals and concerns of the Tea Party movement are laudable and widely held: reign in out-of-control spending and massive expansion of government; address our disastrous spiraling national debt; increase the accountability of politicians and civil servants to the public; foster transparency and rational governance among the elected. The Tea Party has the potential to bring about enormous changes in our political system — which is why those entrenched in power fear it so, while understanding it hardly at all.
But we would be foolish if we were to ignore the downside potential of this 21st century phenomenon. The potency of connectivity and instantaneous communication, unbounded by geography and national borders, resides in the leveraging of the Lilliputians: a small terrorist faction with a few thousand dollars can destroy an oil pipeline carrying billions of dollars of crude; an unknown pastor with a match and a Koran can trigger a global crisis in Islam. A miscreant with a web site can expose tens of thousands of secret military documents, endangering the lives of thousands of informants and forcing changes in strategy in billion-dollar military campaigns. A broker with an incorrect trading order can spark a flash crash in global stock markets, potentially triggering a financial crisis costing trillions.
Our current government has become profoundly dysfunctional. Its massive size creates an enormous inertia rendering it incapable of responding appropriately to even the most straightforward problems; it is a paraparetic pachyderm crushing everything it stumbles toward. Its politicians and civil servants have created an impenetrable fortress, gerrymandering their way to eternal election, indenturing the the taxpayer to support lavish and corrupt lifestyles and unsustainable public salaries and benefits. The Tea Party is a response to the widespread frustration and helplessness engendered by a preening, ignorant, arrogant aristocracy which treats its citizens with utter contempt as it squanders their grandchildren’s future to further entrench themselves in power. Party no longer matters; all are spoiled royal heirs whining and squabbling over who wears the king’s robes.
The Tea Party movement — loosely organized, decentralized, superempowered by modern technology and connectivity — may represent our best, and perhaps last, hope of reversing the disastrous and destructive bent toward an economically bankrupt aristocratic dystopia. It is by no means assured of success; our fate may already be preordained, and we do not know how well those elected by them might govern. But the genius of our young republic resides in the checks and balances of tripartite, representative government. It is not a populist democracy, as was ancient Greece — indeed the Founders saw the dangers of purely populist government, where charismatic despots or a fickle and easily-swayed populace could make drastic changes in governance ultimately destructive to the health and integrity of the nation.
The empowerment of a populist revolt is not without risks: an enraged and empowered populace could sweep into power those supportive of despotism, or religious persecution, or reckless policy-makers who could trigger financial or social meltdown.
But one thing is clear: the rules of the political game have changed, forever. Let us hope and pray they have changed for the better.
The Coming Cataclysm
It is late in the day, and few are prepared for the darkness coming. The signs, it seems, are everywhere:
U.S. Treasury 2009 Financial Report Shows Dire Course
The Treasury Department recently issued the 2009 financial report of the United States government. … the annual report is untainted by creative accounting but also because its message is too important to ignore.
That message is that the sky is indeed falling…
…simple addition indicates that the total net position of the government is a whopping negative $57.4 trillion… if current policies are left unchecked U.S. government debt held by the public will increase from approximately 80 percent of GDP today to 700 percent in 2080.
The Fiscal Nightmare of the Welfare State
Bloggers post what they claim to be the scariest economic chart or the chart of the century. Indeed, many data sets are frightening, but none more so than the tables found here. This data shows incontrovertibly that modern government has failed. These countries are all insolvent and will eventually default.
All Western democracies are on death row. The unlimited welfare state is the cause. Some governments are delusional, believing they can continue on their present paths. Others cling irrationally to hopes of some miraculous reprieve. All are dead men walking.
Is Greece Just the Tip of the Iceberg?
Virtually every country in the EU spends more than it takes in and has made long-term fiscal promises to an aging work force that it can’t keep … Europe would have to have the equivalent of roughly $60 trillion in the bank today to fund its very general welfare benefits in the future. Of course, it doesn’t.
Today, Greece is only the tip of a very large iceberg.
America is digging itself into a deep fiscal hole. In 2009, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion, but took in only $2.1 trillion in revenue — thus spending $1.67 for every dollar it collected. The resulting $1.4 trillion deficit was equivalent to 10% of the nation’s economic output, the highest percentage since the end of World War II. America’s publicly held debt now totals $7.5 trillion, about 53% of gross domestic product — the highest it has been in more than 50 years.
These figures are alarming, but they pale in comparison to budget projections for the years ahead… By 2020, the United States would owe more than $20 trillion, the equivalent of about 85% of GDP. At that point, interest payments alone would consume about $900 billion a year — almost five times as much as they did in 2009.
The outlook grows even more bleak when we account for the ongoing retirement of the Baby Boomers and further increases in public spending on health care… The twin pressures of increased entitlement spending and slowing revenue growth mean that the debt will skyrocket — to roughly 200% of GDP in 2035, under one CBO scenario — unless there are dramatic cutbacks in all other government activities or an equally dramatic increase in taxes.
The euro crisis is a judgment on the great lie of ‘Europe’
We have still scarcely begun to wake up to the gravity of the crisis now upon us, not just for the eurozone but also for us here in Britain and for the entire global economy. The measures so far taken to prop up the collapsing euro, such as that famous “$1 trillion package”, are no more than gestures.
Greece was just the antipasto: Italy, Spain, Portugal and others are now hanging over an abyss of debt which scarcely all the money in Europe could fill – created by countries living way beyond their means, thanks not least to the euro’s low interest rates. The only possible consequence of the collapse of one of the world’s leading currencies, leaving Europe with no money to trade in, would be utter chaos…
…If the euro does disintegrate … the consequences would be incalculable … Without a currency, trade would collapse – leaving Britain, dependent on Europe for 50 per cent of its trade, just as seriously affected as everyone else. A system failure on this scale would make the 1930s pale into insignificance…
Dow Theorist Richard Russell: Sell Everything, You Won’t Recognize America By The End Of The Year
Do your friends a favor. Tell them to “batten down the hatches” because there’s a HARD RAIN coming. Tell them to get out of debt and sell anything they can sell (and don’t need) in order to get liquid. Tell them that Richard Russell says that by the end of this year they won’t recognize the country. They’ll retort, “How the dickens does Russell know — who told him?” Tell them the stock market told him…
… If the two Averages violate their May 7 lows, I see a major crash as the outcome. Pul – leeze, get out of stocks now, and I don’t give a damn whether you have paper losses or paper profits!
Is Europe heading for a meltdown?
The Bank of England Governor summed it up best: “Dealing with a banking crisis was difficult enough,” he said the other week, “but at least there were public-sector balance sheets on to which the problems could be moved. Once you move into sovereign debt, there is no answer; there’s no backstop.” … Politicians temporarily “solved” the sub-prime crisis of 2007 and 2008 by nationalizing billions of pounds’ worth of bank debt. While this helped reinject a little confidence into markets, the real upshot was merely to transfer that debt on to public-sector balance sheets. This kind of card-shuffle trick … is not so different to the Ponzi scheme carried out by Bernard Madoff, except that unlike his hedge fund fraud, this one is being carried out in full public view.
No worries, mate — sleep well.
Of course, this is merely the opinion of the pessimists, who, if they predict calamity long enough will eventually prove right. The optimists say: no worry, the economy’s getting stronger, and once that bipartisan commission on deficit reduction reaches its conclusions we’ll just spend our way out of this crisis, just like we always have in the past…
Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury is buying its own T-bills to artificially suppress interest rates; states are going bankrupt, issuing IOUs instead of tax refunds or civil service salaries; and are funding their public pension plans … by borrowing the money from their public pension plans. Sweet! Let’s pay off our credit card debt by putting it on our credit card!
I’m no economist, but it seems blindingly obvious that the current global economic climate is extraordinarily fragile, and seems poised for an cataclysmic meltdown. Even without a black swan — a hot war in the Middle East or Korea; a mass casualty terrorism attack here or abroad; a huge natural disaster or another financial meltdown like September 2008 — the whole house of cards is poised to collapse, catastrophically. The timing is unknown, but the inevitability clear. The players are hard-wired: the Ponzi scheme of being paid today with tomorrows dollars is a powerful drug, intoxicating to both those who deal and those strung out on its increasingly delusional indulgence. And the addicts will not lie down meekly when the dealer runs dry.
Beyond the obviousness of this impending crisis lies our stunning unpreparedness to face the chaos which most surely ensue. As David Warren writes,
Europeans, outside the Nazi-Fascist Axis, and North Americans were as utterly unprepared for the horsemen of the apocalypse riding their way in the 1930s, as we are today. In fact, they were materially less well-prepared, though spiritually perhaps rather sounder. Nevertheless, the spirit of denial, which includes the desire to focus on problems that aren’t real, to avoid staring at the real ones, was so alive in our predecessors that their naiveté has become our cliché.
But I think the tests we face from abroad may, this time around, be matched by the tests we face domestically. And for those I think we are even less prepared… we are living out lives in which the focus of our attention is constantly displaced from the here and now, towards any number of fidgeting external distractions, in a “virtual reality” that disappears in the first moment of a power failure. So that, when something happens in the here and now, transcending the technological order, and muting all sources of external entertainment, we are at a loss.
How or when this cataclysm will play out is pure speculation — a speculation in which I may indulge, time and grace permitting, in coming days. Our leaders have arrogantly boasted: “Never let a crisis go to waste.” While theirs is the opportunism of self-destructive power, we too should not waste the opportunity afforded us by this impending implosion to make the most of that which soon threatens to burst upon us in ways most frightening and unpredictable.
Now is the time to become grounded, to set aside frivolous things and focus on that which is permanent, unshakable, and sure. The time to do so surely is short.
Our Gnostic Masters
The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything but his reason.
Â Â Â Â Â Â — G.K. Chesterton —
We have become a nation of experts.
They are everywhere: on TV, advising us about raising our children or improving our sex life; in magazines and newspapers, lending a measure of weight to opinion pieces disguised as news; in business, promising to improve productivity and bolster profits through higher productivity, or slicker marketing, or yet another reorganization or “team-building” project. They are ubiquitous in government and politics, lending credence to the implausible and certainty to the unpredictable. Armed with statistics, and studies, and the ethereal proclamations of other unnamed experts like unto themselves, they saturate our psyche with innumerable “facts” and figures, that we may live perfect lives in an imperfect world. The chaos which swirls around us need not engender fear and hopelessness — there will always be an expert to hold your hand, lest you become lost and wander from life’s perfect path.
Intimidated by their credentials and self-assured certainty, we slowly relinquish the uneasy feeling that their advice and conclusions invariably run counter to our experience, and common sense, and the simple wisdom of life acquired through parents and parish, logic and lore. Theirs is a relentless battering of our natural defenses, made ever more potent by lives lived without margin, frantically running to and fro, pursuing the very goals our experts have set forth, while quietly dying to the insight gained by simplicity and satisfaction with life’s precious but fragile treasures. Their strident advocacy drowns out the the quiet wisdom whispered to the soul in contemplation and prayer, found only in reflection and the fertile soil of rich relationships.
The fecklessness of our experts is often utterly dispensable, if annoying, as our guilded guides waffle from truth to contradictory truth: “Take estrogen!” “Don’t take estrogen!” “All fats are bad!” “These fats are good!” “Sun causes cancer!” “Sun prevents cancer!” What is true today will be foolishness tomorrow — and nary a hint of humility will be heard from those who hustled us mere months before.
As our increasingly secular and superficial culture abandons the transcendent truths of faith and the tested wisdom of tradition, we search desperately for a lodestone upon which to ground our lives, and so trade trust and belief in transcendent and transformational absolutes for fear and the desperate desire to control the world which has become our enemy. We frantically cling to every proffered proof, no matter how foolish or feckless, seeking something upon which to ground and anchor our lives. As these sands shift dangerously beneath our feet, we lurch and stumble from fragile branch to broken rail, as we stagger along a path which leads ever downward.
Yet the allure of the experts can prove far more destructive than mere personal angst in a turbulent, fast-moving world: how many listened to the professionals who told us we could not lose in real estate? Leverage to the max, it can only go up! The consequences across the economy have been devastating — except for those who sold us this sage advice. These “experts” understood the game far better than the market, and walked away unscathed and wealthy, leaving only our wreckage in their wake.
Our dependence on the guidance of scientists, economists, educators, and technocrats proves especially toxic when their expertise becomes wedded to money and political influence. Under the guise of shielding us from the complexity of their disciplines, they evolve into closed guilds, guardians of a secret knowledge which we, in our harrowed and hectic lives, have no time and little interest in understanding. As our educational system — itself run by a closed guild — produces generations of students tutored in woman’s studies, postmodern deconstructionism, and the evils of the West, yet ignorant of logic, philosophy, and the rigors of the hard sciences, the problem is compounded. We increasingly are left with little recourse but to trust those who guard and disperse the hidden knowledge we no longer comprehend. Our gnostic masters dispense their wisdom; ours is but to nod, and obey.
Nowhere can this process better be seen than the unfolding drama surrounding the East Anglia email scandal. Centered on one of the three major centers for climate research and data in the world, the hacked emails and software code have ripped open the veil to show us the inner sanctum of science utterly corrupted and politicized. At issue is anthropogenic global warming (AGW) — the theory that recent warming trends in global temperatures are caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide from human activity, fostered by industrialization. It has long been a theory which struggled to pass the sniff test, placing undo weight on a trivial component of so-called greenhouse gases, while ignoring the enormous (and obvious) impact of solar activity, water vapor, and cloud cover. Yet for years we have been told — in increasing shrill and strident tones — that this theory is “settled science,” and there is an imminent crisis at hand.
It has been fascinating to watch this ball of yarn unravel. In what may prove to be the greatest hoax mankind has ever witnessed — most certainly the one with almost unimaginable financial impact globally — we are watching the “settled science” of AGW disintegrate. We read how data was manipulated to hide declining global temperatures and make them appear to be rising sharply (“Mikes nature trick“). The peer review process made sure no contrary or skeptical opinions were published, and efforts were made to delegitimize journals which published such articles. Proxy data such as tree-rings were cherry-picked to ensure that the data conformed to the AGW philosophy. FOIA requests for data were met with stonewalling and destruction of raw data. The homogenization of temperature station data — making adjustments to the temperatures to reflect changes in the surrounding environment, such as urbanization — showed shows striking and arbitrary adjustments to demonstrate a sharp rise in temperatures when no such changes existed in the raw data. Other major climate research centers are similarly stonewalling raw data requests. The data problems just scratch the surface; the software used to generate reports and alarmist graphs was incompetently written by amateur programmers — and could not even reproduce the graphs from the original data without massive software hacks and fudge factors — by the programmer’s own admission.
The response of climate scientists to these devastating revelations? Denial and attack. The response of the UN Climate gurus and American and Western policy makers? Denial and attack. The response of the media to this massive global meltdown of AGW “settled science? Silence.
Whatever the role of human activity in global warning, one thing is abundantly evident: the current “science” of AGW is not really science at all, but more closely resembles a pernicious, cultic religion. Its priesthood holds the secret knowledge about “climate change,” and we the fools who question or challenge them engender naught but condemnation, ridicule, hatred and disdain. For the priesthood and the true believers who bow to them, the payoff for guarding their secrets are huge: for our scientist priests, millions in research grants, often at taxpayer expense; for the evangelists (Al Gore comes to mind), the ability to engender hysteria with wild, apocalyptic climate claims while raking in millions on carbon trading and investments in “green” technology; for the politicians, the opportunity to further extend the control and power of government into every aspect of its citizens lives while pocketing huge political contributions from environmental groups and green industries.
We have been lectured endlessly by our postmodern mentors that religion is naught but ignorance and superstition, while scientific “facts” are Truth. But “knowledge is power,” as the saying goes — especially when the knowledge can be hidden behind a veil of secrecy, manipulated at will to conform to unchallengeable presuppositions and philosophies, then relentlessly drilled into our collective consciences through compliant and complicit channels of media, education, and politics.
The climate scientists are hardly alone in such gnostic gambits; evolutionary biology — whose “scientists” seem to spend most of their efforts proving that God doesn’t exist rather than demonstrating that their tattered and threadbare theories of evolution have an actual basis in reproducible science and genetics, and a demonstrable and reliable predictive value (which all solid science must have) beyond the the pure speculation and projection that comprises most evolutionary science. Think I’m being a crazy fundamentalist creationist? Try, as a scientist, to demand that evolutionists satisfactorily answer any host of devastating challenges to their theories: the irreducible complexity of biological subsystems such as the eye, the cellular mitochondria and intracellular protein factories; the entropy problem (complex systems tend naturally to disorder and chaos, not more complexity); the Cambrian explosion; the impossibly long odds that all physical constants stood at precisely the correct values at the instant of the Big Bang; the enormous problem of free will, higher intellect, and purpose in the human animal which has no precursors in lesser beasts. Challenge these — even with understated, respectful, and serious questions — and watch how quickly the ad hominem attacks begin, how quickly you will be excluded from “peer reviewed” literature, ridiculed and ostracized, and labeled as an ignorant creationist fundamentalist, an enemy of science — or worse.
In our repudiation of a world based on absolutes and transcendency, our free fall into secularization has ironically left us clinging to science as our sole absolute, our foundation in a world which no longer makes sense, in which there are no true absolutes. Yet science cannot bear such weight alone, detached as it has become from notions of absolute truth and the true nature of the creation that is man and his universe. It has become instead a tool of power, and manipulation, and deception. The ship of knowledge no longer has an anchor, and drifts aimlessly toward the rocks of self-righteous deception and the shoals of arrogance.
G.K. Chesterton, writing nearly a century ago, mused that “this is the age in which thin and theoretic minorities can cover and conquer unconscious and untheoretic majorities.” What was true then is ever more true today, as we relinquish our own convictions and the truths which come by faith and tradition for the perilous tyranny of rule by experts. True freedom requires absolute truth, with its liberating transparency and the humility of knowing we are not gods. Science detached from absolutes will not bring progress but peril, not truth but tyranny. In our quest for the Utopia which technology enticingly promises, to forget our foundational truths is to invite disaster and slavery.
Sadly, we are already well on our way.
Dredging Bottom at The Atlantic
Many of us have been struggling to understand the nature of our current economic meltdown. Was it greedy bankers, who made unscrupulous loans while passing the risks on to others? High-rolling hedge fund managers who resold the risky bundled securities and reaped millions? Politicians and political activists who pressured banks and lending organizations to make risky loans to minorities and low-income customers or be castigated as racists and bigots? Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the FHA?
Let the confusion end: The Atlantic has hit the news stands with a breaking revelation: It’s the Christians! To wit: Did Christianity Cause the Crash?
… recently, critics have begun to argue that the prosperity gospel, echoed in churches across the country, might have played a part in the economic collapse. In 2008, in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Jonathan Walton, a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside, warned:
Narratives of how â€œGod blessed me with my first house despite my creditâ€ were common â€¦ Sermons declaring â€œIt \'s your season of overflowâ€ supplanted messages of economic sobriety and disinterested sacrifice. Yet as folks were testifying about â€œwhat God can do,â€ little attention was paid to a predatory subprime-mortgage industry, relaxed credit standards, or the dangers of using one \'s home equity as an ATM.
In 2004, Walton was researching a book about black televangelists. â€œI would hear consistent testimonies about how â€˜once I was renting and now God let me own my own home,â€™ or â€˜I was afraid of the loan officer, but God directed him to ignore my bad credit and blessed me with my first home,â€™â€ he says. â€œThis trope was so common in these churches that I just became immune to it. Only later did I connect it to this disaster.â€
Whew! That was easy! Who knew? But is it really that simple? What are the facts on which this startling conclusion is based?
…Kate Bowler found that most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona --all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis.
Makes sense: these were rapidly growing areas of the country; with rapid growth and cheap credit, lots of homes were getting sold. And lots of new churches and churchgoers would be expected. So, these Sun Belt areas grew quickly, had a lot of new churches (some of which were the “prosperity” variety) and ended up with a lot of foreclosures. But surely there has to be more evidence than that…
Nationally, the prosperity gospel has spread exponentially among African American and Latino congregations. This is also the other distinct pattern of foreclosures. â€œHyper-segregatedâ€ urban communities were the worst off, says Halperin. Reliable data on foreclosures by race are not publicly available, but mortgages are tracked by both race and loan type, and subprime loans have tended to correspond to foreclosures. During the boom, roughly 40 percent of all loans going to Latinos nationwide were subprime loans; Latinos and African Americans were 28 percent and 37 percent more likely, respectively, to receive a higher-rate subprime loan than whites.
So, a lot of foreclosures occurred in the Hispanic and black communities — and the prosperity gospel was increasingly popular among these groups as well. Pretty damning, I’d have to say. Pretty much nails it down, don’t ya think?
Seriously, there’s really not much more to the “evidence” in this article than that. Sure, they mention that some of the banks were marketing to prosperity Gospel churches, and some pastors were a bit cozy with the banks as well, and seemed to be encouraging debt. But really, that’s about it. Perhaps some numbers would be nice: how many of these churches’ members actually ended up foreclosed or financially destitute? What percentage of foreclosed homes were purchased by these church members? If you’re going to make the claim that the prosperity churches are a major factor in the housing meltdown, wouldn’t some hard facts and numbers be, you know, reasonable to provide?
Oh, and here’s a little mental exercise for you: imagine their cover blaring forth: “Did African-Americans and Hispanics Cause the Crisis?”
Sigh. From a once-great magazine to garbage journalism, chasing Newsweek to the bottom of the literary barrel. What drivel. This is their cover story? Jeez.
Where to begin? The prosperity Gospel churches and their televangelists have always been favorite targets of the mainstream media and pundits who want to get a handle on “Christians” and what they think. They are easy targets because they have such high media visibility, and their preachers often have an ostentatious lifestyle which almost begs the accusation of greed and hypocrisy. And sometimes, as happened with Jim and Tammy Baker and Jimmy Swaggert, they hit paydirt.
What seems to go unnoticed is the the “health and wealth” churches, although culturally highly visible, are very much a fringe movement in Christianity, bordering on cultic at times, and are regarded by most mainstream evangelical and Catholic theologians and scholars as being heterodox at best, if not outright heretical — the antithesis of the core Christian doctrines about concern for the poor, the spiritual benefits of suffering, the dangers and bondage of debt, excessive materialism, and an unhealthy focus on wealth. They are widely ridiculed and little respected among most Christians in my experience, and I suspect their stated numbers of followers is inflated more than Obama’s “jobs created or saved” stats.
True, there will always be an appeal for a message that promises you wealth in the now and joy in the hereafter, and so it is no surprise that their congregations are often large. But neither is the teaching of these prosperity preachers solely devoted to wealth acquisition; there is a strong emphasis by most on morally upright living, self-discipline and spiritual development, and they often have ministries to the divorced, victims of domestic abuse, the homeless, and drug and alcohol recovery. Not everyone in the pew on Sunday is looking to cash in on God.
No, the real motivation behind this article has nothing at all to do with any serious attempt at understanding the housing crisis and its causes; it is a gratuitous slap at conservative Christians, and the nefarious politicians and preachers who supposedly exploit them:
Few of Sarah Palin \'s religious compatriots were shocked by her messy family life, because they \'ve grown used to the paradoxes; some of the most socially conservative evangelical churches also have extremely high rates of teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births, and divorce.
They just can’t help themselves, can they? What does Sarah Palin have to do with the housing crisis? And precisely what are these “extremely high rates of teenage pregnancies”, etc., etc.? Facts and hard numbers don’t matter when your proffering a political and religious hit piece. Or this:
There is the kind of hope that President Obama talks about, and that Clinton did before him --steady, uplifting, assured. And there is [Pastor] Garay \'s kind of hope, which perhaps for many people better reflects the reality of their lives. Garay \'s is a faith that, for all its seeming confidence, hints at desperation, at circumstances gone so far wrong that they can only be made right by a sudden, unexpected jackpot
The real “desperation” comes not from sincere-if-misguided congregants of some prosperity gospel churches, but rather from a dying journalism industry, which having lost all objectivity and the respect of their readers, have become naught but petulant, pathetic harpies hoping to score a journalistic jackpot at the expense of religious conservatives.
It’s not working, fellas — nobody’s listening to you or reading you anymore.
Perhaps the money we gullible Christians save by canceling our subscriptions to your sad rag can go towards a bigger home someday.
Speaking Truth to Power
Bishop Thomas Tobin opens a can of whoop-ass on Congressman Patrick Kennedy, on his “I’m pro-choice and a good Catholic, too” shtick:
“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.â€ Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. …
There \'s lots of canonical and theological verbiage there, Congressman, but what it means is that if you don \'t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you â€œless of a Catholic.â€
But let \'s get down to a more practical question; let \'s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?
Well, in simple terms … being a Catholic means that you \'re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.
Congressman, I \'m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, so let me ask: Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?
In your letter you say that you â€œembrace your faith.â€ Terrific. But if you don \'t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?
Bravo. Look, if you’re pro-choice, fine. But spare us the hypocrisy of claiming to be a “faithful Catholic” and pro-abortion at the same time. That dog won’t hunt, and it’s long past time our vaunted political leadership got called on it.
Is the current economic downturn just a painful recession, or is it something more?
At the risk of sounding apocalyptic (I’ve been doing that a lot lately), it seems that the conventional wisdom (that this is just a severe recession which will correct itself within 1-2 years) is increasingly naive.
Several essays I would recommend to you for your consideration.
♦ Ray Dalio: Recession? No, It’s a D-process, and It Will Be Long
When I first started seeing the D-process and describing it, it was before it actually started to play out this way. But now you can ask yourself, OK, when was the last time bank stocks went down so much? When was the last time the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve, or any central bank, exploded like it has? When was the last time interest rates went to zero, essentially, making monetary policy as we know it ineffective? When was the last time we had deflation?
The answers to those questions all point to times other than the U.S. post-World War II experience. This was the dynamic that occurred in Japan in the ’90s, that occurred in Latin America in the ’80s, and that occurred in the Great Depression in the ’30s.
Basically what happens is that after a period of time, economies go through a long-term debt cycle — a dynamic that is self-reinforcing, in which people finance their spending by borrowing and debts rise relative to incomes and, more accurately, debt-service payments rise relative to incomes. At cycle peaks, assets are bought on leverage at high-enough prices that the cash flows they produce aren’t adequate to service the debt. The incomes aren’t adequate to service the debt. Then begins the reversal process, and that becomes self-reinforcing, too. In the simplest sense, the country reaches the point when it needs a debt restructuring. General Motors is a metaphor for the United States.
Dalio’s interview is essential, IMO, to understanding where we are, and cutting through the haze and maze of a million pundits talking about a “recession.” His tone is particularly noteworthy, lacking in histrionics or talk of “catastrophe” — thus making him all the more credible.
♦ Jaque Attali, Wall Street Journal Europe: We’re Heading Toward a Global Weimar:
This growth of public debt, on top of private debt, can only lead to catastrophe: the bankruptcy of households, banks, even countries. What has happened to Iceland can happen to larger countries as well, if panic seizes creditors. Anything is now possible, including the collapse of the global banking system, whose losses would have grown beyond reach of rescue.
This panic could be set off by the realization of the insolvency of the system. It could also be set off by political or terrorist movements: A number of determined groups, with even limited means, could organize speculative attacks on banks, leading to their collapse.
Then we could arrive at a global depression. It could even be followed by hyperinflation, provoked by the immensity of the monetary means created since the start of the crisis; the depression would allow the debt to be reduced to nothing, to the benefit of the borrowers. The world would then be experiencing a depression ready for inflation, a global Weimar.
His proposed solution, however, should set off a few alarms:
… the world’s institutions should be reorganized. We can’t have a globalization of the market without a globalization of the rule of law…
… it’s quite obvious what should be done: Merge the G-8 with the U.N. Security Council, allowing the chief Southern powers, such as India, Brazil or Nigeria, to join in. Place international financial institutions under the protection of this restructured Security Council, and put it in charge of setting up real global regulation, to control financial institutions; to modify the Basel Accords, by suppressing “mark to market” models; and to organize the revival of the production of public goods (water, clean air, freedom) world-wide.
In the long run, the world will be organized around a new coalition of nations, sharing the burden of these challenges, not around a single country, as is the case today.
Can you say, “New World Order”, boys and girls?
♦ Donald Sensing: America is, in fact, bankrupt
Much moaning and groaning has been going on about how the $800 billion “stimulus” bill will saddle future generations with mountains of debt. And it will, though that’s not my main complaint … future generations were already saddled with not a mountain of debt, but a Himalaya range of debt. In fact, using Generally Accept Accounting Practices, a formal set of accounting procedures abbreviated as GAAP and the kind used to audit corporations, the total American federal debt actually is greater than the economic output of the entire world.
♦ Fortunately, Europe will save us — or not: High-risk, high volume lending to ex-Soviet block Eastern Europe is not working out so well: Eastern European currencies crumble as fears of debt crisis grow:
Hungary \'s forint fell to an all-time low on Monday, and Poland \'s zloty slumped to the lowest in five years on plunging industrial output. Half of all loans to the private sector in Poland are in foreign currencies so borrowers face a severe debt shock after the 40% fall of the zloty against the euro since August.
â€œWe \'re nearing the level were things could get out of hand,â€ said Hans Redeker, currency chief strategist at BNP Paribas.
♦ But at least you have your pension to fall back on: Maybe it’s time to cash out, buy gold, and keep it under your mattress. Pension Tsunami:
That approaching wave of pension debt is bigger than it looks. The purpose of this site is to provide an overview of the multiple pension crises that are about to drown America’s taxpayers.
♦ Richard Fernandez hopes we can, but doesn’t sound very confident: Avoiding the End of The World
One of the reasons government has a hard time managing complex systems is that politics treats events largely like linear systems. Politics interprets events in the context of its mythology. But if politics is in the best of times the art of lying to ourselves in the broad day, politics in crisis is the vice of lying to ourselves while we are falling off a cliff. And when fables meet a changing environment disaster is often the result. The second difficulty is that government is a ponderous, elephantine beast. Bureaucracies are nearly always behind the curve. Part of the requirement is to get ahead of the problem and cut out those parts of governance which contributed to the problem. But what to do when government is already part of the equation; when only government has the legitimacy to do some of things which need doing? It \'s like hoping a patient who shot himself can successfully self operate to remove the bullet.
♦ When all else fails, learn from the Soviet Union: Dmitry Orlov is an interesting guy, who immigrated from the Soviet Union at age 12 and traveled back many times during its disintegration and subsequent social collapse. He finds a lot of parallels between the Soviet social collapse and our current economic disintegration. He is decidedly a pessimist on where things are headed, but has some interesting and entertaining insights on how societies function (or don’t) after social or economic meltdown: Social Collapse Best Practices:
I was very well positioned to have this realization because I grew up straddling the two worlds â€“ the USSR and the US. I grew up in Russia, and moved to the US when I was twelve, and so I am fluent in Russian, and I understand Russian history and Russian culture the way only a native Russian can. But I went through high school and university in the US. I had careers in several industries here, I traveled widely around the country, and so I also have a very good understanding of the US with all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies. I traveled back to Russia in 1989, when things there still seemed more or less in line with the Soviet norm, and again in 1990, when the economy was at a standstill, and big changes were clearly on the way. I went back there 3 more times in the 1990s, and observed the various stages of Soviet collapse first-hand…
Here is the key insight: you might think that when collapse happens, nothing works. That \'s just not the case. The old ways of doing things don \'t work any more, the old assumptions are all invalidated, conventional goals and measures of success become irrelevant. But a different set of goals, techniques, and measures of success can be brought to bear immediately, and the sooner the better.
♦ And finally, proof that the world really is coming to an end: Playboy‘s going broke: The magazine has fallen on hard times, with flaccid sales and lack of market penetration. It’ll be a shame to see the Playboy Center fold … I guess no one reads it “just for the articles” anymore. Playboy, Posting Loss, Says It Would Consider Sale
None of these essays really consider another factor: the black swan — the unexpected and unpredictable occurrence which renders all prior assumptions invalid. Think: a major Middle East war, with shutdown of oil supplies; a large-scale mass-casualty terrorist attack or nuclear terrorism; a massive natural disaster, such as an earthquake which levels, say, San Francisco. With the world in its current economic state of instability, the effects of such an event would be amplified many times over.
These are, as they say, interesting times. They are a time for prayer, not panic; a time to reassess priorities; a time to prepare for future difficulties and uncertainty.
And a time, above all, for faith.