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Puritans!

I’m always amazed at how the terms “Puritan” and “puritanical” have become universal pejoratives applied to anyone or anything the speaker or writer deems a killjoy. Those who so easily hurl these terms about, have they ever read a puritan writer? Do they know anything about the puritans? I mean anything apart from pop culture references or their memories of reading The Scarlet Letter in 10th grade English class?

I was happened upon a financial commentary today by Art Cashin, a well know Wall Street figure. I don’t claim to know Mr. Cashin, but he seems like a decent sort of fellow. Today, however, he wrote something in his market commentary that irked me a bit, Cashin wrote, “To celebrate stop by the Boston Grog Inn and explain to the Puritan on the next stool that sugar can be dangerous before it’s distilled,” as though the Puritans were a bunch of teetotalers. Cashin seems to be confusing the Puritans, who were by no means teetotalers, with 19th century prohibitionists, who were by no means Puritans.

Of course, I can’t be too hard on Mr. Cashin. Even in supposedly Evangelical circles, the Puritans are often slandered. When I was at Knox Seminary, which advertised itself as a Presbyterian and Reformed school, I had a professor who took shots at the Puritans, whining about how they shut down theaters in England and lacked poetic imagination. Of course, since we all know how morally upstanding the theater is, I can’t imagine why any group of Christians might be concerned about it. As for poetic imagination, this technique was the basis for the professor’s method of biblical interpretation. Which went something like this: Develop a slick sounding narrative that’s to your liking and then impose it on the text of Scripture regardless whether the actual Biblical text supports it. So yes, my Knox professor was entirely correct. The Puritans did indeed lack poetic imagination. They actually attempted to interpret the Bible faithfully, horrible people that they were. It would seems as with Balaam and the Israelites, in seeking to curse the Puritans, my Knox professor blessed them instead.

As an object of ridicule, the Puritans have few rivals. That the world would hate and disrespect them should come as no surprise. Such has always been the reaction of carnal minds to those who seek to honor God and live by his word. As Christians, let us take care that we not adopt the prejudices and vocabulary of the world. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “puritanical” as “having the character of a Puritan.” Though usually meant as an insult, among Christians the word ought to be held in high esteem.

Misreading the Pope

To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. ― George Orwell

Whether motivated by honest confusion, a sense of embarrassment, or a desire to misrepresent it is hard to say, but much of the public commentary on Evangelii Gaudium (EG), Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, is considerably wide of the mark. By Francis’ own admission, the economic statements in EG line up with the historic economic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church-State, but many commentators today, especially if they happen to be economically conservative Catholics, seem shocked and dismayed by the document’s blatantly anti-capitalist language. “The pope didn’t really mean to attack capitalism, only is abuses,” or, “the pope isn’t talking about the United States,” they are wont to say. But the history of Rome is against them. In fact, given Rome’s long-standing hatred of free markets and free men, it is safe to say that the pope without a doubt intended to attack capitalism and most certainly had in mind the United States when he made his comments. It’s simply a case of Rome being Rome. Unfortunately most Americans, and perhaps most especially most American Evangelicals, are ignorant of both Biblical economics and Rome’s longstanding war against it. And being ignorant of Rome’s doctrines on this subject, they are easy targets for propaganda campaigns designed to mislead them about the principles, history and ultimate intentions of Roman Catholic social teaching.

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Summary:

Clark examines the ideas of two famous and influential 20th Century historians, Arnold Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Spengler likened civilizations to biological organisms. Just as living creatures are born, grow mature, decline and die, so too do civilizations. He believed that events in the history of one civilization could be seen as contemporaneous to events in another civilization due to their occurring at the same point the their respective societies’ lifecycles. Further, Spengler was a determinist. He held that the West – as with all civilizations – would decline and die. Nothing can be done to prevent this.

Arnold Toynbee attempted to sound a more optimistic tone. He rejected Spengler’s biological analogy and claimed that, while, yes, 25 of 26 civilizations have collapsed, this does not imply that the West is fated to follow their fate.

Did either one of these noted scholars prove his point, or is the jury still out? Given their methods, could either one of them have managed to prove his point? These are questions to ask while reading Clark’s analysis of their writings.

Finally, Clark offers his opinion on the state of the West today. Although he expresses disagreement with Spengler and Toynbee on several points, he is in agreement with them in this: the West is in the midst of a decline.

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine,” or so went the refrain of a popular 80’s song by R.E.M. Armageddon, at least in my experience, is, and has been for some time, big business. In fact, I don’t ever recall a time when I’ve not been regaled with some end-of-the-world scenario or another. As a boy, I recall watching The Late Grate Planet Earth in a darkened church basement. The mushroom cloud at the end tends to leave a big impression on a 10 year old. The Planet of the Apes featured a famous scene with the Statue of Liberty half buried in the sand. Mel Gibson first gained international fame as an actor in Mad Max where he played a lawman in post-nuclear holocaust Australia. More recently, the financial crisis of 2008 has spawned a “prepper” movement, whose members, believing that society is on the verge of a major breakdown, seek to mitigate the effects of the coming collapse by making ready ahead of time. Dystopian films and TV shows enjoy great popularity with audiences.

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Judge Not

Tonight in one of his show’s segments, Bill O’Reilly commented on some recent remarks made by Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. Robertson stands accused of making judgmental statements about homosexuality, commenting that it is sinful. Now I don’t have O’Reilly’s exact words, but his argument ran something like this: Phil Robertson passed judgment on homosexuality, saying it was a sin; The Bible forbids men from judging others, only God can do this; Therefore, Phil Robertson was wrong to make critical remarks about homosexuality.

This left me a bit puzzled. Think about it. Bill O’Reilly argued that Phil Robertson was wrong to say homosexuality is a sin. In other words, Bill O’Reilly judged Phil Robertson, doing the very thing he said we, as mere mortals, have no right to do. For arguments sake, if were we to adopt O’Reilly’s position, we would be forced to conclude one of two things: 1) Bill O’Reilly is God and was right to take Phil Robertson to task, or 2) he contradicted himself in his editorial and owes Mr. Robertson an apology both for his poor logic – his failure to see that his argument applied to his own words, for in criticizing Robertson he engaged in the very activity, judgment, he denied is permitted to men – and for making what are therefore, by his own standards, baseless, unwarranted, and impermissible comments about Robertson’s beliefs.

The truth is, O’Reilly’s argument is absurd. That is to say, it is self-refuting. Neither Bill O’Reilly nor anyone else can avoid making judgments. To criticize another for making judgments is not only unfair, for it asks the impossible, but also of necessity involves the critic in self-contradiction – in condemning another for passing judgment, the he condemns himself as well.

So the issue is not whether we ought to judge the words and actions of others, we all of necessity make judgments every day all the time. The issue is by what standard we make our judgments. Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” That is to say, we are to judge based on the Bible, the Word of God. And by this standard, it is right and proper to condemn homosexuality. Further, to remain silent in the face of sodomy and say nothing, is itself sinful. To actively defend it is to call good evil and evil good, and demonstrates a more perverse conscience.

Since the financial crisis began in 2008 – talk of recovery notwithstanding, we are still in the midst of this crisis; the debt situation, which spawned the crisis, is worse today than it was at the time of the original collapse – there has been no shortage articles and websites devoted to the current problems. What this author finds interesting is that despite the intense scrutiny given by many observers to organizations such as the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, almost no one in either the mainstream or alternate media seems to be interested in the activities of the what is probably the largest, the wealthiest, and certainly the most secretive organization in international finance today. I’m speaking on none other than the Roman Catholic Church- State (RCCS).

In a remarkable piece posted on the Berean Beacon website, The Financial Crisis and the Papal Economic Offensive, authors Richard Bennett and Ronald Cooper break the silence. They make the case that not only is the Western financial crisis ongoing, but that the policies of the Vatican, far from making things better, actually make the situation worse. The authors center their attack on the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Universal Destination of Goods (UDG). Although many people don’t seem to realize it, Rome has a very different view of private property than the Bible. In Scripture, private property is just that, it is private, the state has no part in regulating its use and certainly has no business in taking it to give to another. In Romanist economics, your property is yours until, well, someone else needs it. At that point, the needy individual has the right to take what is yours and use it for himself, or get the government to do the taking for him. In other words, Roman Catholic economics is socialist to the core.

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Evangelii Gaudium, the recent papal exhortation by Francis I, has been seen correctly by many as an attack on capitalism. Headlines and stories on the internet speak of the pope denouncing “unfettered capitalism” (see here and here), prompting no less a personage than Rush Limbaugh to weigh in on the matter. In his comments on the pope’s exhortation, Limbaugh stated,

“You know, the pope, Pope Francis — this is astounding — has issued an offical papal proclamation, and it’s sad. It’s actually unbelievable. The pope has written, in part, about the utter evils of capitalism. And I have to tell you, I’ve got parts of it here I can share with you. It’s sad because this pope makes it very clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism and so forth.”

Limbaugh’s full statement shows an admirable appreciation for capitalism and its role in producing prosperity. At the same time, he also betrays a profound naivety regarding the nature of the Roman Catholic Church-State. Limbaugh, who states in the article that he is not catholic – according to one source I found, he is a non-practicing Methodist – appears genuinely shocked that the Vatican would issue such a statement, and suggests that the harsh, anti-capitalist tone of the exhortation may be due to a mistranslation by leftists. I was unable to find the original language document for Evangelii Gaudium – I assume it is in Latin – to check it against the English version. But given the papacy’s long standing hatred of laissez-faire economics, there is no good reason to assume the pope’s translators got it wrong, and every reason to think they got it right.

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These days, all is not well at the home of the Happy Meal. Against the walkout rumblings among the ranks of fast food workers, President Obama played the populist, announcing his intent to raise the minimum wage from its current $7.25 to $10.10. To my knowledge, Obama’s push for a higher minimum wage hasn’t yet been given a cleaver name. So let me suggest a few. How about the Unaffordable Wage Act of 2013? Or perhaps the Mandatory Unemployment Initiative. The Effective Elimination of Entry Level Employment Effort sports a nice alliterative ring, does it not?

I’m a bit hesitant to opine against hikes in the minimum wage. For in some ways, it’s the more boring things an arm chair economist could do. I mean, who’s going to argue that minimum wage laws don’t result in higher unemployment? I doubt even a good Keynesian like Paul Krugman would take that stand. But while it is widely known that minimum wage laws result in unemployment, what is less well known is origin of such laws. And this makes writing on the subject worthwhile. For while most people are aware of such laws, few realize that this concept was introduced to the US largely through the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church-State.

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