Charlie's Blog: August 2014


3 Acres and a Cow

All but the hard hearted man must be torn with pity for this pathetic dilemma of the rich man, who has to keep the poor man just stout enough to do the work and just thin enough to have to do it.

2008 was a pivotal year in my thinking. The big collapse happened in 2007 which gave us the memorable phrase "too big to fail." My belief at that moment was that the collapse would be minimal in its effects, but that began to fade out in 2008. This is because if those big players were too big to fail then the rest of us were too small to succeed. As I watched Obama extend most of the policies of the Bush era, I came to the realization that the new boss was the same as the old boss. Something was wrong with the world, and I began to conclude that my understanding of Austrian economics was insufficient to explain much less cure what was ailing our economy. The kernel of this rebellion came from my rejection of the Austrian idea that natural monopolies do not exist. But they do exist. We see it all the time. The big get bigger while the small get smaller. But we have heard this before. It is simply that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. This is the natural tendency of all unjust economies. The antidote to this is wider ownership of property.

How do the rich get richer? The most basic answer to this question is the same reason why we have weather. All weather comes from the uneven warming of the earth's surface. As a consequence of this unevenness, air and condensation create endlessly changing patterns. This is why the warming of the spring brings tornadoes to the midwest USA while the beginning of fall brings hurricanes out of the Atlantic. Likewise, the beginnings of wealth come down to random events. If two equal men in two equal houses suddenly encounter a meteor falling from the sky that demolishes the home of one of the men, their equality is ended. The man with the shattered home is now poor while the man with the intact home is now rich. Without a home, the poor man is now dependent upon the goodwill of his fortunate neighbor, or he can try and begin again with nothing. Or, he can remain homeless. The rich man can either choose to be generous to his unfortunate neighbor realizing the precariousness of his own situation. Or, he can choose to exploit the misfortune of his neighbor for his own benefit.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Why should the fortunate man bail out the unfortunate man? I can totally agree on this point. Why should my good fortune obligate me to remedy your misfortune? These things spring from religious viewpoints, but I think we can say that to take the rich man's surviving home and split it with the poor guy doesn't do either one much good. But let's say the rich guy cuts the poor guy a break and lets him crash in his tool shed in exchange for yard work. This benefits both people as they both get something from the exchange. The poor guy then takes his free time and energy to rebuild his demolished home. He is thrifty and industrious and his new home is almost complete. But suddenly, the rich guy sees that his cheap yard labor is about to be lost. This will not do. So, in the night, he puts a match to the poor guy's rebuilt home and burns it to the ground. Why did he do such an evil thing? Because his being rich depends on the perpetual misfortune of his poor neighbor.

If the poor neighbor knew of the treachery of his rich neighbor, he would probably respond to the treachery with violent and destructive actions of his own. So, the rich man lies to the poor man and says that he saw lightning strike his home, and it is really the poor man's fault for not having lightning rods installed. Whatever lie he tells, you see the rich man's prosperity depends not only on the perpetual misfortune of his poor neighbor but also on the poor man's ignorance. The poor man is perpetually misinformed and kept subservient. The poor man's liberation begins by escaping his ignorance.

This parable is just a story, and you wonder how it could possibly relate to the real world. But we see this story played out again and again each and every day. In various ways, the poor working man is kept in misfortune and ignorance. If you have ever noticed the fine print on a document, you will see this game being played out before your own eyes. Why does fine print even exist? Do we have a paper and ink shortage? And even when you read it, why does it use the most obtuse and inscrutable language requiring three years of training to fathom? The answer is simple. The fine print elicits commitment without understanding. It is a trick to take advanatage of you. Or as one working man told it to me, "The first step I would take in fixing the world is to outlaw fine print."

The way the rich man burns down the home of the poor man is through usury. Debt is the way to keep poor people working but always poor. Likewise, entertainment is the way to keep ignorant people's minds working but always stupid. I used to think that freedom would come with escaping from debt, but I see very clearly that the first step is actually reading. There is a reason that it was illegal in the Old South to teach a slave to read. Reading was freedom.

Poverty and stupidity go hand in hand which is why college education became such a prize. But once again, this process works even on those with college degrees. How do you make someone smart enough to do the higher level work but dumb enough to get duped on the debt? The answer is hyperspecialization. Colleges now turn out brilliant fools who can do the physics and calculus required for engineering but can't do the simple math concerning their college loan debt. I have heard of doctors who are tops in their fields drowning in debt and regularly duped by their stock brokers and financial advisors. What specialization does is make these people good at getting money and not much else. That they consequently blow money should be little surprise.

So, who makes out on all of this trickery? The answer is obvious. Look at the people living large but with clean hands. These would be the people in financial services. There are fabulously rich people who got that way by dint of hard work, brilliance of mind, and content of character. But there is much hard work and risk providing goods and services that the public will actually want to buy. But the one thing the public always wants is money. You don't have to stay awake at night letting your brain try and come up with a new and improved widget. People want money, and if you can find a way to sell money, you are set. The selling of money is known as usury.

Money is not a thing in itself. A man dying of thirst in a desert can't drink little green pieces of paper. He wants water. But it is more convenient to carry green pieces of paper than gallons of liquid refreshment. As long as there are people selling water in the desert, he can exchange his dollars for what he needs. Money is simply a medium of exchange. But along the way, people lose that mindset and begin to confuse money with the things that the money buys. They forget that money only has value in exchange and not in itself. The Austrian economist and the gold bug think that having shiny pieces of metal is superior to green pieces of paper, but the same truth still holds. Money is a medium of exchange and nothing in itself. But it is very handy and easier than barter. As such, it is a neat and useful trick that makes life better. Unfortunately, the financial mind is not content with that single trick. New tricks emerged to supplement that magic of money as exchange and usury was born.

Imagine you wanted to buy a pizza that was selling for $1 per slice. That seems fair. Now, imagine it was selling for $20 a slice. That doesn't seem fair. You'd have to be very cash rich and pizza poor to ever consent to buying a pizza at $20 a slice. But let's say the pizza seller merely offered to rent the pizza to you. You could pay $1 a day for the slice you ate. Well, that is the most absurd thing ever. You are paying the rent on a thing which no longer exists because you ate it. No one would ever consent to such an absurdity. You would do without before you ever consented to that. Yet, that is exactly what people do each day when they buy pizza and other meals with their credit cards. They end up paying rent for things that no longer exist. That is a very neat trick. You have to wonder how people can be so easily duped. The real kicker is when they also rent that pizza for $20 a slice instead of just $1 a slice. This is because credit gives the illusion of being cash rich while advertising creates the illusion of being pizza poor. Since there are enough people who pay in cash to keep things in check, pizza never gets to $20 a slice. But things like cars, houses, and college degrees inflate far beyond a reasonable price such that they become the equivalent of $20 pizza slices.

This edifice of usury collapses when those who take on the debt cannot repay the debt. This is why the financial markets collapse. It could be the tulip bulb market, the stock market, the housing market, or the college degree market. When the indebted can no longer pay the creditor, the creditor is left with the reality that you can't get blood from a turnip. This is what happened in 2007. Subprime mortgages could not be paid back when interest rates rose. The world of make believe collided with reality. Unfortunately, the USA chose to prop up make believe by soaking the rest of us to keep the illusion going. As I write this, a citizen's share of the US debt is $55,473 per person. This means that an infant born at this moment in a hospital here in America already owes over $50K in debt. You can keep up with the debt here. This figure does not include what the infant owes to the state he or she was born into. I can say with a reasonable level of confidence that these debts are not ever going to be repaid. The USA will do like Argentina and default at some point in the future.

Usury is a sin. You don't hear this much anymore except in Islamic countries that still prohibit it. Usury enslaves. It beguiles people into a slavery with chains forged by their own greed and consumption. If you could only enact one law that would be a remedy to all of the economic and financial turmoil that exists, it should be a law forbidding the charging of interest on a loan.

There are two economies. The first economy is the real economy of goods and services that people need to survive, function, and flourish. The second economy is the make believe economy of usury, derivatives, credit cards, financial instruments, and financial engineering. You can see the relation of real to the make believe in the diagram below:

This diagram is from 2010, so it is dated. But the small circle at the bottom of the world represents the real economy while the larger circles represent the make believe economy. The make believe economy dwarfs the real economy. This isn't a problem until that make believe economy tries to make a claim on the real economy. This happened in 2007 when all those CDO's and other exotic instruments collapsed. The working person in Real World USA was unaware that his failure to make his house payments would cause the collapse of some big banks and "necessitate" the bailout of other banks. No matter how complicated financial instruments and markets can become, they still must rest on the simple foundation of reality. Reality always has the last word.

Is this fantasy world of finance unsustainable? Absolutely. You cannot get something for nothing. Somewhere, someone must pay. As such, the fantasy world of finance is merely the theft of real goods and services. When the thief runs out of goods to steal, his fate immediately becomes that of his victim. In a just world, this fantasy world of finance would not exist. But the world is unjust, and this folly continues and collapses on a regular basis.

What is the answer to this problem? The most basic answer would be economic justice. Put a stop to usury, derivatives, money printing, and other forms of financial tricks. The Austrians think the solution lies in abolition of central banking, but their solution does not go far enough. The complete solution would be the abolition of modern banking which is based on usury, fractional reserves, and the like. The gold standard would remedy some of these problems, but it also creates new ones. But all of this is academic because even the people with the solutions are unlikely to be in the power to implement them.

For the individual, the answer is the one many are doing now in various forms. The answer is to create your own economy. This is really what distributism is all about. "Three acres and a cow" was the slogan of the distributist movement. Basically, it means having enough property and capital to achieve a measure of self-sufficiency. For me, I might substitute it with "an acre of land and a solar panel." But these are just different ways of creating your own economy.

The creation of your own economy is a simple matter. As far as possible, you want to withdraw from the unjust economy and the fantasy world of finance and retreat to the real world of self-sustainability. This is what the monks did back in the day when they retreated from the savage world to their monasteries. Within those monastic communities was a self-sustaining economy, a division of labor, work, produce, leisure, culture, liturgy, prayer, and all the rest.

Critics of distributism make the same fundamental criticism. It isn't that it doesn't work. It is simply "old" and "outdated" and "antiquated." To retreat from the modern world strikes many as primitive and stupid. I'm sure the monks seemed a bit crazy for their lifestyle except in comparison to being a perpetual victim of rape, pillage, and plunder in the barbaric wider world. And today, many with no religious inclination at all are following their own monastic impulses. Minimalists, tiny house dwellers, preppers, homesteaders, the Amish, home schoolers, and people in the Free State Project all have the same impulse to create their own economies and everyone thinks they are crazy. But in their small ways, they are succeeding. They are not changing the world, but they are defying it.

There are steps that people can take in creating their own economy. The first and most elemental step is to cleanse the soul and mind. As someone put it, "Free your mind, and the rest will follow." People should get back to reading, and they should reappraise what they value in life. I don't think it is a coincidence that religious people have a strong tendency to reject the wider world in favor of doing it themselves. Developing your religious side goes a long way to teaching you about the things that really matter. I would also add that it helps to turn off the TV, the bad websites, the smartphone which makes you dumb, and all the rest in favor of actually growing your soul and mind with good reading.

The second step is to eliminate non-essential things in your life. This means downsizing and downshifting. You don't need a McMansion and a $30K SUV. Since you value truly important things like faith, family, and becoming the best version of yourself, you realize you don't really need all those things that keep you from the important things.

The third step is to get out of debt and stay out of debt. I know this sounds impossible in this age of home mortgages, student loans, car payments, and credit cards. But as much we can condemn the usurer for his usury we must also lay blame at the feet of those who borrow. Much of your extra time, money, and energy is skimmed off in varying proportions to pay the interest on your accumulated debt. As one co-worker told me, he did the math on a mortgage and calculated that he would have paid for the house he wanted three times over the course of his life. Debt is the primary way that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The fourth step is to own your own home with enough land to grow much of your own food. The purpose of property is to establish and maintain your life. Unfortunately, people have reversed this thanks to mortgages and McMansions such that that their lives are spent establishing and maintaining their property. Property should serve you. You should not serve property. A modest dwelling owned without debt with a garden, livestock, and alternative energy like solar and wind should provide a significant amount of self-sufficiency. The freedom of this project is enormous and cannot be overstated.

The fifth step is to own your living. This means owning your own business, working a trade, or being part of a cooperative or employee owned enterprise. Working for others puts you at their mercy. Working for yourself gives you a level of freedom and dignity and control that no paid job will ever match. It is worth pursuing even if you fail a few times. But if you are self-sufficient and debt free, you can take risks you would never take if you owed money to some bank.

These are radical steps, but they are not new. Others have done the same things while others are doing it again. The broader globalized economy is basically a sham and a trick being played on everyone else. If you doubt this, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were before the collapse in 2007. The three acres and a cow lifestyle is a simpler lifestyle. But it is more sustainable and stable in the short term and should be more prosperous in the long term.


For the Church Shopper

My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.

You are not satisfied. I understand. You go to church after church, but you just can't find a church that does it for you. Maybe it is the preaching or perhaps the music. But every church you go to leaves you unsatisfied and wanting more. There always seems to be something missing, but you just can't put your finger on it.

Other people can't understand your dissatisfaction. They think you are consumerist and selfish. You go to liturgical churches and plain churches. You go to hip churches with music that has a good beat that you can dance to. You go to churches that look like mausoleums. Others look like yuppie bars and stores at the strip mall. You have preachers dressed like stand up comedians, bikers, hippies, beach bums, and waiters. Thanks to the Protestant Revolution, there is a church that caters to just about any taste, fashion, or whim that you could possibly imagine. You have tried them all, and they all come up short.

Other people don't understand, but I understand. I get it completely. I could criticize your church shopping as just some selfish infantile reaction, but I won't. You just want to be fed, and all these churches leave you starving spiritually. I think this is a perfectly understandable reaction. I would feel the same way in those churches. They do not do anything for me either.

I would like to suggest an alternative for you. Have you ever considered the Catholic Church? I know. You were told that the pope is the antichrist. The Church of Rome is the Great Whore of Babylon. The Catholic Church is a cult. It is also a relic, a dead church, and a place full of soul killing rituals. I was told those things as well. Then, I went and looked for myself, and I realized that all those things I heard about the Catholic Church were lies. I felt angry because of the lies. I had been cheated and denied. My eyes were opened to things hidden from me since childhood.

The Catholic Church is much like Protestant churches. You have music, readings from Scripture, preaching, prayers, and what have you. If you have ever attended a liturgical church like an Anglican, Lutheran, or Episcopalian church, you won't see a whole lot of difference. We call those churches "Catholic Lite" mainly because they are less filling. So, what does the Catholic Church have that those other churches don't have? We have the Real Presence.

The reason those other churches leave you hungry is because your soul desires to feed on the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But you are given a sermon and some juice and crackers instead. This will not do. This can never satisfy. Churches try to fill the hole with entertainment. This is why so many churches begin to resemble concert halls and theaters. Preachers resort to psychological manipulation and showmanship. But it all fails to fill that hole. And maybe you get a juice and cracker meal each quarter if ever. This is because they can only offer a counterfeit to the real thing.

In the Catholic Church, they have the real thing. This would be the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as found in the Blessed Sacrament. When the priest performs the consecration, the wine and the bread become the actual body and blood of Christ. When you eat the body and drink the blood, you have actual communion with Christ. You are probably wondering what kind of craziness I am sharing here. But I am simply sharing what it says in the Bible:

 "I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” 
JOHN 6:48-57 NAS
This belief has been a bone of contention between Catholics and Protestants since Luther. In fact, it has been a bone of contention among Protestants with Luther believing in the Real Presence, Calvin believing in just a spiritual presence, and Zwingli adhering to the much broader and widely accepted viewpoint that it is just juice and crackers. Who is right? Well, Zwingli was right. It really is just juice and crackers. Protestants do not have the Real Presence. This is a mercy because to eat unworthily would lead to dire consequences. So, the Protestants are left with the counterfeit that is merely a memorial and a symbol.

Where the Protestants get it wrong is in the belief that Catholics only have juice and crackers as well. This is the condemnation Catholics receive as being "cookie worshippers." This is why the Protestant revolt lead many to break into tabernacles and desecrate consecrated hosts. These actions are horrible insults to Our Lord and Savior.

This begs the question. Are the consecrated elements the actual Body and Blood? Let the Scriptures speak:

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.
JOHN 6:60-66 NAS
When Jesus tells them about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He upset a lot of people including His own disciples. These disciples were so upset that they left Him. Jesus never says that his language is just a metaphor. He never says it is just symbolic. He never tells those disciples that they misunderstood Him. He really meant it. St. Paul reiterates this when he writes in 1 Corinthians 11:27, ". . .whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord." The Church Fathers also testify to this belief in the Real Presence. Here is St. Augustine:

That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God IS THE BODY OF CHRIST. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, IS THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend HIS BODY AND BLOOD, WHICH HE POURED OUT FOR US UNTO THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.
Sermons 227

This was the belief of all Christians. Finally, here is Martin Luther on the subject:

 Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that is is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.
Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous. 
Luther’s Collected Works, Wittenburg Edition, no. 7 p, 391
The belief in the Real Presence has been consistent in Christendom since the time of Christ. It is the belief of the Eastern Orthodox and the Coptic Church. The Real Presence is not some later invention of some heretical church. It was always there from the beginning. The denial of the Real Presence was only found among heretics and the Protestants.

With the Real Presence, you see why Catholics would want to have a reverent liturgy, a beautiful cathedral, and all the rest. It makes sense. How else would you treat the actual Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ? Conversely, you see how diminished so many Protestant churches are today. Why build a palace for juice and crackers? This diminished quality of the Protestant church is why you are so dissatisfied, Church Shopper.

The hunger you feel is for that true bread which is the actual body of Christ. No Protestant church can offer this. This is why every church you attend that does not have the Real Presence will leave you hungry and thirsty. Your soul desires that true communion with Christ. Your soul will accept no substitute.

My advice for you, Church Shopper, is to visit with a priest and attend Mass at your local Catholic parish. You cannot take the eucharist until you have met the requirements for acceptance into the Catholic Church. But you can be in the presence of Our Lord. I did this for a year before becoming Catholic, and those times when I could not take the eucharist were better than anything I ever experienced in a Protestant church. When I could take communion, it was the best thing I ever experienced in my soul, and that experience is undiminished even now. Attending Mass is the most important thing I do all week. I would sacrifice any job or engagement to make that appointment with my Lord.

You won't find satisfaction anywhere else. I have been everywhere else, and it isn't there. People have sacrificed careers, freedom, family, and even their lives to get what is in the Catholic Church. They could belong to any Protestant church with much less grief. But there is no substitute for the Real Presence. The Catholic Church has what you want. I recommend that you go and get it.


Valley of Tears

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

I feel much grief these days as I read about Christians and others persecuted in Iraq by ISIS. This is added on top of a war in Ukraine, a war in Israel, a war in Syria, ebola in Africa, and the general economic malaise back here in the USA that makes the future dim for millions of Americans. Right now, life is bad for a lot of people. The reality is that it has always been this way, and it will remain this way until the end of time. This life is a valley of tears.

There are churches here in America that preach a new heresy. This heresy is known as the Prosperity Gospel. It is an insidious message because it teaches a Christianized version of the positive thinking message where faith and positivity are commingled. If you believe, the good life of material blessings are yours to have. This is the reason you hear certain religious people say, "Have a blessed day." It seems like a nice sentiment unless you happen to be dying from cancer or just lost your job. But it comes from a perverted place. Salvation is not a spiritual matter but a material matter. And, if your life isn't blessed, you must be lacking in faith.

The Catholic faith rejects this false gospel of prosperity. When a Protestant steps into a Catholic place of worship, he or she is struck by imagery that is unsettling. There are stations of the cross on the wall. There is the Sacred Heart of Jesus pierced, surrounded by thorns, and burning. There is the Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced by seven daggers of sorrow. There may be a statue of a martyred saint holding the means of their death such as the grill that cooked St. Lawrence. Then, there is the Crucifix which is a scandal to all Protestants who prefer an empty cross that keeps the nature of it as an abstraction.

The Prosperity Heresy is antithetical to Christianity. I don't see how anyone can read from the Scriptures each day or preach from them each week and draw the conclusion that Christ died, so you can have a McMansion and a Mercedes-Benz. Many on the Protestant side also find this sham gospel to be repugnant to the spirit and teachings of Christ. But itching ears are plentiful, so people wanting the good life in the here and now instead of the hereafter lap this stuff up propelling megachurch pastors and televangelists to their own prosperity. Beyond the churches, this heresy goes under the label of The Law of Attraction. It is identical to the heresies of the prosperity preachers except it has less religious ornamentation.

The danger of this heresy is twofold. It tells those that are materially affluent that they are "blessed." God favors them. Conversely, those who are not well off but are poor and suffering begin to think of themselves as cursed. Because they endure suffering, God must hate them. This is a terrible thing to tell someone. When I mentioned starving kids in Africa to a prosperity believer, he replied that they lacked faith and must have deserved the torment they got. This callousness is damnable and repugnant.

God loves the poor. Not only does He love them, He says they are are blessed in the Beatitudes. Poverty and suffering are hard to endure, but it would be better to be poor and suffering than to be one of the rich and the cursed. The New Testament is replete with praise for those who suffer and endure while it condemns those beguiled by the comforts of this life. The economy of prosperity does not match the economy of God.

The good life of this world does not bring happiness. The regular self-destruction of celebrities who find wealth and fame to be unbearable should show that riches and comfort are no comfort at all. As Oscar Wilde put it so well, "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

What matters most in the world is your soul. Gaining the world and losing your soul is a horrible bargain. You can have everything in the world and have nothing. You can have nothing in this world and have everything. There comes a point in every person's life when they have to decide what matters more. Is it better to be good or to be rich? Is it better to be the rich man or Lazarus?

What everyone wants is to be rich in both body and spirit. This is the reason for the prosperity preaching. The wish is understandable since this is the wish of all Christians. But the difference between a Christian and a heretic is that the Christian understands and accepts that this cannot and will not happen in this life. This world is fallen and not yet redeemed. The few pleasures we have in this life are merely respites and rest from the sufferings that we endure. As St. Paul writes in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service." Christians are living sacrifices offered up in union with the Lord Himself. Jesus tells us to take up our crosses and follow Him. I don't think people fully grasp what that means. It means to actively choose a life of suffering and to endure in that suffering until the end for His sake. To be blessed by God is to suffer.

If your religion rejects this teaching on suffering, do everyone a favor and stop calling it Christianity. Call it something else, but don't call it the Christian religion. If you insist on calling yourself a Christian, then read the Bible you claim to follow and not just the parts that you like. Then, tell me how you can reconcile a suffering Messiah and martyred saints with this prosperity teaching.

It is no coincidence that this prosperity heresy would find a home among the Protestants. The One True Faith has been plagued by heretics from the beginning resulting in schism and divisions that existed long before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door at Wittenberg. But these heresies came and went, and it was thought that Luther would fade out like the Gnostics, Arians, and Albigensians before him. But as Hilaire Belloc points out, Protestantism with its thousands of denominations prospered precisely because it was wedded to property and commerce. The German princes supported Luther because they saw a way to loot and pillage without the Catholic Church to keep them in check. John Calvin removed the prohibitions on usury which made the Dutch and all those who held to his teachings massively prosperous in the centuries to come. And Henry VIII looted monasteries in jolly old England and gave the stolen property to the lords that would be allied with him and his new Church of England. The god of mammon is a tenacious force to reckon with, and the fruit of the Protestant Revolution lives on today. The Gospel of Prosperity takes the Protestant worldview one step further which is why it always gains new adherents even as the old adherents end up in disgrace and misery.

To be truly Christian is to reject the big hair, the cosmetic surgery, and the theme parks. You find these things abhorrent, and you count yourself fortunate that you were not beguiled by lies. There is no end to this lie. When the prosperity preachers of today also come to disgrace and ruination, another generation of liars will take their place. You are truly Christian when you not only despise the poison these vipers pump out, but you also feel sad and sorry for them. You pray for them. You hope they see the errors of their ways before it is too late.

So, who are the truly blessed? Here they are:

These women weep as they are forced from their homes in Iraq by the barbaric forces of ISIS. They suffer because they are Christians. They are tormented by hunger and thirst and pain and fear. Many like them have been murdered, raped, and forced to watch their children killed. It is difficult to see images like this and conclude that Islam is a religion of peace and mercy. Let us put this thought from our heads. The followers of Muhammad have always been murderers just like their prophet. To be a moderate Muslim is merely to be silent as your brethren slaughter the innocent. But mark my words, it will be a blessed day for these poor women, and it will be a day of doom for their tormentors on the Day of Judgment. These women will find comfort. Their unrepentant tormentors will never know comfort ever again.

I know people who suffer considerably less than the refugees in Iraq. Their pain is more mundane. This would be the pain of a terminal illness, a dying relative, a lost job, a special needs child, a divorce, and on and on. People without Christ try to cope, but all of their strategies turn out to be mechanisms for numbing the pain. They abuse drugs and alcohol. They throw themselves into work and projects. They turn to crazy cults, pop philosophies, and sham religions. Or, they spend their days in cynicism and despair trying to puncture the balloons of joy that anyone might feel on the cactus thorns of their disappointment. If you can't be happy, you can take pleasure in bringing misery to others. And when that fails, there is the self-inflicted mercy killing known as suicide. God is never chosen. Anything but God.

It doesn't matter if you are a Christian or an atheist. You must come to one inescapable conclusion. Life is misery. It is suffering. If all you can hope for in life are a few pleasant moments derived from food and drink and fornication, then you are a fool. I don't see how this is any different from being a cow waiting for the trip to the slaughterhouse. This is what the atheist life amounts to. The only answer the atheist can offer in reponse to the meaningful suffering of Christianity is the meaningless suffering of nihilism. Without God, life has no meaning, no purpose, and is not worth living.

The atheist and pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer wrote,

 It would be better if there were nothing. Since there is more pain than pleasure on earth, every satisfaction is only transitory, creating new desires and new distresses, and the agony of the devoured animal is always far greater than the pleasure of the devourer.

There is one thing you can admire about Arthur Schopenhauer. The man was brutally honest. This does not mean that he was correct. It means that he was truthful about the condition of life without God. In this quotation, he sums up what life in a fallen world is all about. We are endlessly dissatisfied. Our pursuits for pleasures are futile. We become monsters to avoid becoming victims. This is the human condition. But is it better to be the devourer rather than the devoured? Is it better to be evil rather than good?

Christians endure their torments far better than the world endures its pleasures. The world eats until its insides burst out, and its appetite persists even in its self-destruction. All of it is for naught. Shakespeare captures this beautifully in Macbeth,
Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
We all know of at least one successful fool who has gained the world and lost his soul. Macbeth gave in to the way of the world and became a devourer. He took what he wanted by illicit means, and he was left with misery and an ignominious end. It doesn't matter whether you have a pleasant life or a painful life. What matters is your soul. Nothing matters more than your soul. That is the part of you that lives on forever.

Life will never be anything other than what it is. It is a valley of tears. This may seem depressing at first, but it will bring you comfort as you accept it. Once you accept life for what it is, you are freed from its cares and concerns. You hope in a better life to come as you journey patiently through this one. This is what it means to be blessed. You are freed from the illusion that you will ever make a heaven of this hell. You accept the cross, and you offer it all up to the Lord. You are in the world, but you have turned your back on it in your soul. You accept that you don't belong here, and you work and wait for what is to come. May you be truly blessed in this valley of tears.


Lady Poverty

The Lady whom I shall serve has no other suitor, no poet has ever sung her praises, and no knight has ever fought her battles; for I will be the faithful lover of the Lady Poverty, whom all men else despise.

"That's your work phone. Right?"

I had to laugh. I knew what was coming. In the age of the iPhone and a hundred flavors of Android with front and rear cameras, I still use an old flip phone. Even women on public assistance have smartphones, but I still use a phone with buttons on it. Clearly, I can afford a newer and snazzier phone, but I refuse to buy one. I can make all kinds of utilitarian arguments for owning an old flip phone over a smartphone, but they really come down to one thing. I refuse to pay for a phone that I don't need. My current phone is still usable, and I don't want to pay for an expensive data plan. Now, you can call this thrift, or you can call it cheapness. I call it voluntary poverty. Voluntary poverty is when you choose to live with what is necessary, and you eschew the rest with the aim of giving it to the less fortunate.

Some people prefer the term "minimalism." Others prefer the term "voluntary simplicity." I prefer to call it what it is. It is poverty, and it is voluntary. Poverty by itself is scandalous, but the addition of the voluntary makes it even more scandalous. This is why the stranger asking about my phone was so incredulous. Knowing it was by choice, he could not fathom why anyone would choose to live with less. It goes against the consumerist mantra of today's culture that you should always upgrade to the best that you can afford.

I part company with the minimalists because they preach fewer things, but they always want those things to be the "best" which usually means expensive and with an Apple logo on it. I part company with those in the voluntary simplicity camp because they seem consumed with saving the planet, so they pay more for organic food and Dr. Bronner's soap. It isn't cheap living like a hippie.

Voluntary poverty is living with what is necessary and no more. This makes it relative since people have different needs. For instance, I need a computer and a cellphone which are luxuries in some parts of the world but necessities in present day America. But I don't need a smartphone or a tablet, so I don't have either of those. If we constrain necessity to the barest essentials, I could get by with food, water, clothing, and shelter. But life is more than mere surviving, so I also need books and transportation. For me, I think my life is pretty rich. I don't feel materially deprived at all. This is why I laugh at those who laugh at my poverty.

I wonder often if this is how St. Francis felt. He was definitely someone who practiced voluntary poverty as he renounced a sizable number of worldly goods as a rich young man to go barefooted and bareheaded in a rough habit. He loved poverty so much that he referred to it as Lady Poverty as if she were the fairest maiden that ever lived. I don't live anywhere close to the radical poverty of St. Francis of Assisi. But I like how he altered his personal economy to prize what others despise. Like those who choose a lifestyle of minimalism or voluntary simplicity, you discover in poverty a freedom that eludes the typical consumerist chasing after more and better. You begin to see that all that stuff just doesn't matter.

Economists and the like will tell you that people need material things to be happy. They reason that want breeds misery and despair. But their case falls apart when they see a surf bum enjoying a level of leisure and health forbidden to a high paid office worker. Greed knows no satisfaction. Corporations know this which is why they spend billions yearly stirring up those passions in hopes that people will be beguiled in satisfying them with that company's products. But as the ancient philosopher Epicurus discovered, needs are easily met. Wants are what always scream for more.

To live voluntary poverty, the first and most basic step is to get rid of all the things that you don't need. If you have two of something, get rid of one and keep the other. Sometimes, you don't even need the one. You can keep paring down these things quite a bit. Then, look at the things that are left. Do you really need a designer handbag when a basic one will do? Take the expensive things and trade them out for cheaper. You can probably get your money back or sell them online. For instance, you could get rid of your new thousand dollar Macbook Pro and buy a refurbished Acer Chromebook from Walmart for less than $200. You can give back your snazzy smartphone and buy a used Nokia dumbphone on eBay. There are many ways to live with less.

If this causes you to wince in pain, you should consider yourself a consumerist. It makes no difference if a husband sleeps with a hundred women on the side or just one high class callgirl. He is still an adulterer. Lady Poverty will tolerate no mistresses. Voluntary poverty means being willing to part with anything if necessity demands it. So many minimalists think they are not consumerists when the reality is that they are consumerists willing to settle for the best instead of the most. This is more of a compromise with the reality that they had to downsize in the recession than an embrace of Lady Poverty. I have to wonder if minimalism will die when the good times return.

The aims of voluntary poverty are one part corporal mortification and one part charity. By living with less, we overcome concupiscence which is the desire of a lower appetite against a higher desire. It's not wrong to want nice things, but it is wrong when you know people who are dying from starvation. The difference between the price of a regular pair of sneakers and a pair of Air Jordans can be the difference between life and death for a starving family somewhere in the world. Why not choose a shoe that is just as good and feed that family with the difference? Or, do you want to keep buying mansions for Michael Jordan's family? Whenever you make a purchase, you should ask yourself if you could do with less and help someone who has less than you.

Voluntary poverty is a radical life choice. It isn't for everyone. Some people can't live without a Mercedes and a Rolex. I completely understand. What I would urge you to consider is that many people can't live without food or water. This would be everyone. This includes you. Not everyone was fortunate enough to live in a prosperous and free land like you. Deprived of certain opportunities, you would be just as poor as the poorest people around the world. And we can attempt to demonize these people believing they indulged their appetites which made them poor. But this is to excuse our own indulgences in materialism and consumerism which can be every bit as impoverishing in both body and spirit. To live voluntary poverty is to acknowledge that there is something sick about a world that would let people suffer and die while others indulge in buying what amounts to a label on a product. Voluntary poverty is simply reordering our priorities, so that our resources go to serve a higher good over a lower good. The good feeling you get from helping others feels way better than the good feeling you get from buying a pair of sneakers to make a rich man richer. Lady Poverty is a beautiful maiden when you get to know her.


Charitable Honesty

. . .speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.

We live in strange times. On one side, we have the internet with its numerous chat rooms, message boards, comboxes, social media, and blogs where you can say or write virtually anything with the most extreme invective and bile one can muster. On the other side, we have political correctness where just the way you say something can lead you to an onslaught of extreme invective and bile. Nothing captures this dichotomy better than the Russian roulette way celebrities post on Twitter always being one tweet away from career disaster. Ask any radio shock jock, and he or she will tell you that words can make you or break you. But whenever anyone commits a gaffe which as defined as "accidentally speaking the truth," their defense is that they are only being honest. Maybe they intended the offense. Maybe they didn't. But this leaves us with a dilemma. Is it better to speak? Or should you just keep your mouth shut? The answer to this dilemma is charitable honesty.

Most people tend to follow the path that can only be described as "charitable indifference." We can refer to this as being polite, but the truth is that most people don't care to speak the truth. Speaking the truth carries consequences. So, they let it slide. This saves them a lot of drama and hurt feelings. The result is a certain fakeness akin to what you would find in a car salesman. The defense for this disingenuous is that they are "being nice." Politeness becomes the standard for charity, but it is really a selfish strategy to avoid the conflict.

The mirror opposite of charitable indifference is "brutal honesty." These are the people who go around "telling it like it is." These people have a thick hide such that they become indifferent to other people's feelings completely. So, they will tell a woman that she is so hideous that they skipped the ugly stick and dropped the whole tree on her. When you call these brutally honest people out on it, they always defend themselves by saying they are "being honest."

The problem with these people is that they put honesty and charity at odds with each other as if they cannot coexist. You are either going to be nice, or you are going to be honest. But you can't be both. But you can be both. This is known as speaking the truth in love or "charitable honesty."

Charitable honesty is when you tell the truth for the benefit of the other person. That person may or may not be offended. The goal is not to offend. People who are brutally honest actually intend to offend. They want to lay in a lick on someone and absolve themselves with a claim to truth. But they really don't care if the other person benefits from the truth. This meanness is never excusable no matter how true the words may be. Someone who is charitably honest will say the same thing but without the bile. Here are two examples:
Charitable Honesty--"Your fornication will bring you misery."
Brutal Honesty--"You are a cheap whore."
The person who is charitably honest deals with the sin. The person who is brutally honest attacks the person. A Mexican friend of mine said it best when he translated a Mexican proverb for me. "Preach loudly. Correct softly." The way I understand this is that we stand high for the truth in the general sense, but we are gentle in applying that truth on the personal level. The Catholic Church demonstrates this when it stands without compromise for right and wrong, but it offers forgiveness to those who have done wrong. Most criticisms of the Catholic Church come down to the Church being too hard or too soft. The irony is that those criticisms often come from the same mouth. It infuriates these critical people that the Catholic Church will call out their sins while at the same time offering absolution to sinners that the critic despises. The result is that the Church is "too severe" and "too forgiving" at the same time. Naturally, this puts the critic up as being morally superior to the Church.

It is contrary to charity to ever despise another person. It is also contrary to charity to be indifferent to that person's flaws. The rule is to always leave someone better than worse. As Blessed Mother Theresa put it, "Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier." This is the goal of charitable honesty. You seek the good of the other always. Neither the brutally honest nor the charitably indifferent do this.

We have lost this sense of charitable honesty in our culture today. People who are charitably honest have a quality that I have come to call the "Catholic Guilt Ray." Fulton Sheen had the Guilt Ray as well as Mother Angelica. Pope Francis has it. The Catholic Guilt Ray has a quality of scorching your hide, but you don't hate the person for it. You don't get angry at them. You just feel the burning in your own conscience, and you repent. You seek forgiveness, and you resolve to mend your ways. Truly good people have a way of making you good, too.

You can only tell people so much, so if they don't listen, saying it louder or stronger is not going to make any difference. In fact, it will only harden their hearts further. It is at these times that the most charitable you thing you can say is to say nothing. Silence can be just as deafening as words. Even Jesus chose to be silent in those moments when words would do no good.

Always endeavor to speak the truth in love. Don't be fake, and don't be nasty. Speak when it will do some good or remain silent when speaking will do no good. Always seek the good of the other. This is charitable honesty.

Pray and Work

Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you.

There are many blogs on the internet. There are so many that come into existence and go out of existence that it is impossible to get an accurate count of them. They cover a wide range of topics, but the topic that I return to again and again is the subject of self-help. The advice is varied from being more manly to being more minimalist, but they all aim in some way to improve your life on planet earth on the individual level.

On the collective level, we have wars around the world, a shattered economy back home, high taxes on working people while the rich escape those taxes, unemployment, and college graduates struggling to pay off student loans with menial jobs after four years or more of high tuition and unpaid internships. It is dispiriting and depressing. What can you do about it?

I don't have great advice to give. This is because people want some magic wand that they can wave at these problems and make them go away. Over the years, I have expended great amounts of mental energy trying to figure things out, but I realize now in middle age that I don't have the answers to life's problems. They are bigger than I am. It takes all I can to keep my own life running in some decent fashion. I am no good at telling other people what to do since I rarely follow my own splendid advice. It wouldn't matter because that advice doesn't amount to much anyway.

As I whittle away the bad parts of my thinking, I realize that the only good advice I have left to give people are two words--pray and work. They seem so modest, but they are the only things I have ever found that work. Any additional advice are just corollaries to those two words. When my wife tells me about someone in desperate straits, I always ask the same questions. Are they Catholic? Do they go to Mass? The answer is always no. It seems that people will try anything else other than God. God is always the last answer. He is not the first answer. He is the last answer. People will journey down every other dead end path, but they won't turn to God. I know because this is precisely what I did. I suspect that God lets people waste their time and even their whole lives before discovering this.

My wife has a catchphrase for this--anything but God. People will try anything else no matter how stupid before they try God. It could be atheism or pagan witchcraft or drugs or whatever. We have celebrities that will try Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Scientology, Kabbalah, Wicca, or any other religion or philosophy. But how many become Christian? How many become Catholics? Yet, what has any of these pagan paths yielded? Have these people become better people?

I was watching a program with a particular celebrity showing off her mansion, and I could not help noticing the sizable Buddhist statue she and her husband had. Apparently, he is a big devotee of the Buddhist religion even though it is certain that he was not raised in Buddhism. But that is the neat thing about being Buddhist. You can renounce your worldliness and materialism without actually renouncing your worldliness and materialism. You can be on the spiritual path and still be filthy rich. You can have that cake and eat it, too.

Jesus ends any such idea when He talks about the narrow path. There are few that find it. The reason they don't find it is because they don't want it. They are too concerned with the cares of the world to tend to the emptiness of their souls. The result is that it doesn't matter whether things are well or terrible for you because it all results in emptiness and despair.

I understand that people have problems. Everyone thinks their problems are unique, but when you hear and read about all the problems that I do, you realize that there are no exceptional cases when it comes to problems. When we suffer, we think we suffer alone, but this is not the case. God knows our suffering. He is intimately acquainted with what troubles us. He is always there ready to help. As St. Francis de Sales wrote:

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and everyday.
He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.

If you have problems in your life, my advice is to pray and work. When I was a Protestant, I did a lot of praying but not a lot of working. When I was an atheist, I did a lot of working but not a lot of praying. But as a Catholic, I realize that you have to do both. Prayer and work go together. I think this is what God wants from us. He wants us to put all of our energies into those two activities.

I'm not into lifehacks, tips, and tricks. There are always better ways to do things, but they lull us into thinking that all problems are simply a matter of discovering better tricks. But I don't know of any lifehacks to combat the Ebola virus. If you find yourself dealing with that, you better be praying and working on a cure.

People don't want to pray. They choose to meditate, and I have to wonder what the good is in that. Meditation is about as beneficial as taking a nap. Similarly, people don't want to roll up their sleeves and go to work. They are always looking for ways to avoid work which leads to tricks and gimmicks usually at the expense of someone else's work.

I think if your life is a mess you should go to Mass or at least a church that you believe in. Start where you are at and pursue it as hard as you can. I have encountered people of various faith traditions including people in 12 Step programs. Turning to God has always made a positive difference in them. Pray every single day. Then, go to work on trying to solve your problems. Prefer labor over tricks and gimmicks. If you pray hard and work hard, your life will get better. You will be happier even if all you get is a clear conscience and the knowledge that you did all that you could.

When I read all of those other blogs, their advice seems entirely antithetical to the pray and work advice I give. Much of it comes down to becoming Zen Buddhist and finding ways to not hold down a 9-5 job somewhere. If you do work a job, their counsel is that it should always be a "paid to play" position. This is usually keeping a blog for money. Needless to say, I reject that advice. If you live your life for your sake, you will lose it. Your life should be lived for some higher purpose. Your life should be a sacrifice. This is done through prayer and work.

Pray and work. That is what I tell people now. I will listen patiently to people as they unburden themselves. I offer up a prayer for them. But I always tell them the same thing. Pray and work. Tend to those two things, and everything else will fall into place for you.


Mea Culpa

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault; 
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

Regular visitors to my blog will notice that a decade of my writing has vanished. This was not accidental. I have spent the last decade as a proud atheist and a loudmouthed libertarian. I have posted the vilest garbage and sought to offend as many people as possible in the electronic pages of this weblog. The impulse for this sin came from an anger towards God and my fellow man, and it was my aim to at least make others feel the same anger that I felt. Then, God did something I was not expecting. He was good to me. He was good to me at a point in my life when I deserved it least. This has left me with a deep feeling of regret and remorse.

I changed my thinking about things two years ago, and I officially became a Roman Catholic a year ago. My blog has reflected this change in thinking, but the effect has been an attempt to turn a filthy public restroom into a sanctuary. Since my blog has always been about me, I didn't care. My only rule has been to be honest. But the knowledge of all the vile things I have written over the years burns in my conscience. My most popular posts have been things I would never write now. The result is that all of that bad writing has been a weight upon me. People send me emails telling me how much they agree with some garbage that I wrote, and I wince because I absolutely despise the writing now.

I am a sinner. I have sinned. I confess to you, my readers, that I have greatly sinned in the words that I have posted here. I ask for God's forgiveness and your forgiveness for my many transgressions. Please forgive me.

I do not think it is possible to be too extreme in your devotion to Our Lord and Our Lady, and I commit this blog to a greater devotion to them. I was a terrible person, and this made me a terrible writer. It is my hope that as God makes me a better person that He will make me a better writer. I am removing the old and putting on the new. And if you came to this blog in search of the old, I am sorry to disappoint you. Trust me, it wasn't worth reading anyway. But I hope that what you find here now will be better and more satisfying and will fill your mind and soul with what is true, good, and beautiful.