The Bad News

bad for the enemies of God, that is

It used to be fashionable to say “you gotta believe in something; it doesn’t matter what, as long as you’re sincere.” That wording went out with the leisure suit, but the sentiment lives on. In one sense it’s as lame as double-knit polyester. If you accept that it doesn’t matter what you believe, you make it impossible to believe sincerely. In another sense, it means “You commoners gotta believe in something so I your king can manipulate you more easily.” But it does matter, in the second sense as well. The elite think materialism is a fine belief system, for the masses in Hicksville; in so far as the Hicks embrace orthodox Christianity, the meritocrats are aghast. It’s violent, ignorant, fundamentalist, bigoted, intolerant, but mainly it’s hugely inconvenient for the would-be rulers.

Call it The Teachings of Jesus, the Good News, or the Kingdom of God, it’s fundamentally irreconcilable to the foundations of contemporary society, and society knows it. Big-government liberalism is hostile to the Good News; Dog-eat-dog capitalism is too, as is it’s-my-body libertarianism.

The εὐαγγέλιον subverts the state, the market, and the individual in so far as these claim universal authority, and some of the implications are pretty subversive. You can’t do what you please with your own body; the state isn’t the supreme authority, or supremely important; the market is not humanity’s arbiter and standard of value. For example:

  • Pornography is legal, market-based, and nominally voluntary, but everyone involved in its production and consumption is doing wrong, debasing our culture, degrading each other, and destroying themselves.
  • Short-term loans at usurious rates are legal and profitable, but it’s an immoral business. The “lender” is taking advantage of the foolish and uneducated, cheating the poor, and imperiling his own soul. At the last judgment, does he think to show Jesus the victim’s signature on a contract?
  • The family precedes the state, and is the fundamental unit of society. Marriage isn’t an institution of the state, and can’t be redefined. Wrong doesn’t become right and right wrong because the judge says so, or because a lot of people want it to be so, not even if they vote.

Not in Kansas

Things are not merely what they are made of. A machine is a collection of parts, the steel forging a collection of atoms. Is a woman her chemical composition, her unborn child an aggregation of cells? No. Reductive materialism seeks to make us all resources to be used. But you aren’t “just a drop of water in an endless sea,” and water isn’t really H2O. H2O is non-material theorizing. Water is the reality, from which the “reality-based community” often seems distracted by its abstract formula.

Not everything important can be weighed in a scale. No matter what Mister Market puts on the other side for balance, some things are incommensurable. Yet this radical fungibility is the basis of the global economy. An ISO9001 factory in Mumbai is an ISO9001 factory in Schenectady. A part made in Guangzhou is a part made in Detroit. A dollar is a dollar, no matter how it’s acquired. Utilitarianism is part of the sandy foundation of our “civilization of production and use.” In that “civilization,” man is to be re-made (by the state, of course) for the business model, instead of the business model being made for man. But men and women are not human resources. The goods at Walmart are not the only Goods, and different Goods can’t be aggregated, substituted, or equated to dollars. Money is not time, still less eternity.

Faith is not intellectual assent, it’s what motivates action. If a nominal Christian goes to church every Sunday while a nominal atheist sleeps late, but their behavior is indistinguishable Monday through Saturday, then the church-goer is a functional atheist – maybe more an atheist than the guy who’s always pestering his friends with his no-God non-Gospel. The atheist at least thinks seriously about God and acts on his conclusion.

It matters what you believe and what you do about it. Atheists realize this, though Atheism is not a rational response to the world as it is; you can see this by spending some time with atheists. It seems to me they’re either not quite rational, or more often not quite atheists. Islam is “false in its claims and pernicious in its moral and political consequences.” Prosperity theology is bunk. Computers are not going to become intelligent and save us from our folly. Nanotechnology won’t let us live forever young. “Spiritual but not religious” is simply vacuous. You can be wrong, even if you are sincere, even if you mean well. We will all die, and then be judged by God for what we’ve done and left undone.

So what’s the good news?

I can’t just do as I please? I’m going to be judged? That all sounds kind of bleak and, you know, judgmental. The good news is, God offers us everything and wants very much for us to accept it. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection makes it possible for us to be forgiven and to live. Without that, we’d have no hope. With that, nothing life throws at us can do us any lasting harm.

Build your life on Jesus’ teachings and you build on a solid foundation in the Kingdom of God. Build in this world and rely on the state, or the market, or yourself, and you build on sand. Don’t listen to the people who say it doesn’t matter what you believe.

UPDATE 17 August 2011: Caesar and Mammon Don’t Love You. Jesus Does.

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6 Replies to “The Bad News”

  1. God lets us choose, so He ties his own hands as much as a parent whose child has gone to college has their hands tied about protecting their baby– and it doesn’t matter if they’re twenty!– from making bad choices and hurting themselves.

    A few quibbles– because paragraphs of agreement are so dull, y’know?
    All these systems are for people, people aren’t for them; they’re not inherently good or bad, they’re good or bad because of their involvement with good or bad. (Treating humans as things: bad. Perverting sexuality: bad. Perverting marriage, which is an image of the relationship between God and the Church: bad.)

    Short term loans at high interest are bad when it’s for something important. When it’s because they want to go out partying the weekend before payday, not so much. (IIRC, in the times of Jesus, asking for a loan was basically begging while holding on to your dignity by offering to pay it back.)

    Businesses are finding that a factory in China isn’t like a factory in India isn’t like a factory in Detroit; even factories in different places in the same country are different, depending on the people. (Am I the only one worried about cars built in China, given their cut-corners-and-don’t-get-caught ethos?)

    So far as we can tell, water *is* H20– and I am short, freckled and chubby. Doesn’t really convey water or me. The crucifix in my daughter’s room is a two by three sculpture with a man, arms spread, and the cross-bar set at the top third. Really doesn’t tell you what it is, does it?

    While I agree about utilitarianism, I think– and this may be biased by the quality of folks I associate with, since I also worry about “bioethics”– that disrespect of folks from the opposite direction is a problem. Workhouses aren’t bad, and social support isn’t good, in and of themselves– their relationship to people is the sticking point. (Workhouses, again from memory, split families and exploited the folks, rather than helping the families that had no place else to go get back on their feet in an efficient and effective manner.)

    I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the theory that God will be more welcoming to the atheist who is good and is honestly “angry at Him for not existing” than someone who claims to be Christian and acts like your thought experiment. (call it the Aslan theory)

    1. Four now for five on payday isn’t usually a problem, and if it gets to be a problem the guys can take care of it themselves while I look the other way. The problems come when this is made a business model subject to marketing, rational profit maximization, etc. I kind of (and kind of not) think something similar about gambling. The ancient military crap game had a purpose, and wasn’t exactly gambling in the contemporary sense – something to do with redistributing loot, and monetizing unique high-value items. Move the dice from a 100BC Roman military camp to a 2010 Casino outside Cleveland and it’s a whole different thing. But I digress.

      Workhouses were originally a good thing, I think. Someone noticed the beggars of London weren’t dying of hunger, but of exposure, disease, and violence. Since society is feeding them anyway, he thought to give them shelter. Their work would defray the additional cost and they’d be off the streets. By Dickens’ time it had become abusive.

      I too worry about car parts and sub-assemblies made in China. Even more I worry about Chinese products that end up in our food supply. There’s no way we should be eating stuff made in China.

      Water is H2O, but it’s not merely H2O. Things, certainly people, are more than what they’re made of. As a non-Catholic, I’m still sorting out the implications this has for Sunday communion.

      That article you link should be widely read. We somehow find ourselves with a system that has no place for some too-large fraction of us. There’s no trade they can learn that will repay the cost of teaching it to them, no job they can do that’s worth a living wage to anyone. Their economic utility is nil, but they’re our fellow citizens and God’s children. I’ve been thinking about this and not getting anywhere. What is my obligation to these people? What are the unemployable supposed to do, go to prison? Live on some government “disability” check? Go live in India? I was struck by President Obama’s remark about us and the people of India standing shoulder to shoulder. Hope he’s not talking about pay and employment.

      “…paragraphs of agreement are so dull, y’know?” ;-)

      1. I think it’s not so much that their economic utility is nil, as that the system prices them out of the market. It’s not reasonable, anymore, for a high school kid to expect to hire on at a menial job for about some fraction of minimum wage, sleep in a bunk house, get fed by his boss and go home on weekends. My parents both did this– although they mostly slept at home, as they were working for neighbors. Why isn’t there an option for “summer camp” type work forces?

        I know that legal pickers were largely forced out of the business because picker houses got regulated out of existence. I know hiring an extra worker costs a WHOLE lot more than their pay check. I know that if you try to follow the law, starting a business out of your house is incredibly expensive. This is a recipe for leaving a lot of folks unable to do anything.

        We’re being protected to death.

  2. Good post. And much of the problem is that the elite have become so comfortable, so lost in luxury, that reality is something that happens to other people.

    That’s why God lets wars happen.

    1. Thanks. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s hard not to think things will have to get worse before they get better.

    2. More: Though I’m pessimistic, I’m kind of up-beat about it all somehow. Regarding my religious sentiments I feel like a dog going for a ride in the car. Where are we going? Dunno; not my problem – the Man has to drive, not me. Will it be dangerous? Maybe. “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me,” so who cares? I’m going in the car with the Man, and I’m sticking my head out the window, unless the Man rolls it up.

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