Memebuster no. 8: Jodie Foster is an ignorant Marxist! Or is she???

A particular meme has been circulating social media fast and furiously:

jodie foster

If she really said this, it would be quite easy to break down why she is wrong. However, there’s no reason to do this. There’s no evidence she actually said it.

In fact, in a Detroit Free Press article, she characterizes herself as “not a very publicly political person.” If that’s the case, there’s no reason to criticize someone who has been falsely attributed to a controversial quote.

Are employers bloodsuckers?

I found myself reacting viscerally to a Mark Shea post, in which he writes that the “Pope has unkind words”

…for “bloodsucking” bosses and prosperity gospel crap. I love this guy so much! Turns out denial of a just wage is still a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. And you still cannot serve God and Mammon.
Mark is referring to the Pope’s homily that contemplates the daily readings of May 19th.
I find myself in the awkward position of having to defend the undefendable, which in this case are those bosses who are supposedly “bloodsuckers”.
Mark and I agree on two things. I agree that if one is to be a good Christian, one must serve the Lord alone. I also agree that prosperity theology is a bunch of nonsense. All one needs to do is observe the lives of the saints, from Peter to Maximilliam Kolbe, to dispel that idea.
Now let’s look at the idea that the “denial of a just wage is still a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance”. He’s referring to the emphasized passage in James 5:1-6:
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.
As a Christian, I agree with this passage. At the same time, it points more to an employer lying to workers or engaging in fraud than being unwilling to pay a particular wage. For example, suppose at the beginning of the month I agreed to pay you $12 an hour for a certain amount of work, but I hand you the paycheck I only pay you $10 an hour, and I tell you that there’s nothing you can do about it. That would definitely be fraud, and I would have a big problem when I die.
Having said all of this, does this passage call for a “just wage?” It all depends on what one believes as “just.” However one may define it, it would have to square with Jesus’s parable of the workers in the vineyard:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16) My emphases

I recognize that Jesus is trying to make a point about what the kingdom of heaven is like, not on how to run a vineyard. However, if God created all things, and from God comes all truth, it would be reasonable to conclude that the actions of a landowner who is analogous to God in a parable by Jesus would be considered appropriate.

In Austrian economics, a just wage is the wage to which the buyer and seller of labor agree. That is consistent with what the landowner did with all of the workers in the parable. And I may be mistaken, but I don’t think the workers received health care.

The primary problem with what both Mark and Pope Francis argue is that laws imposing “just” or “living” wages hurt the very people they want to help. As David Gordon writes in his review of Tom Woods’ The Church and The Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy:

In a free market, workers earn the value of what they contribute to the product—in technical language, their “marginal value product,” discounted for time. Employers who pay less than this will lose their workers to firms that find it profitable to offer better rates. An employer will not pay more than the discounted marginal product because this is all the employee’s labor is worth to him.

What then happens when the law or labor union coercion compels employers to raise wages higher than the market rate? Unemployment results: workers whose marginal value products fall below the higher rates will be discharged, or not hired in the first place.

Of course, I have already demonstrated this truth on my handy-dandy notepad.

If I, as a Catholic, always need to act within truth, I need to be mindful about what it is, including what is learned through the study of economics. As Tom Woods writes:

[C]ause-and-effect relationships that constitute the theoretical edifice of economics are not a matter of faith and morals. They do not fall within the range of subjects on which a Catholic prelate is endowed with special insight or authority. Catholic laity cannot head up petition drives against them. They are simply facts of life. Facts cannot be protested, defied, or lectured to; they can only be learned and acted upon. There is no use in shaking our fists at the fact that price controls lead to shortages. All we can do is understand the phenomenon, and be sure to bear it and other economic truths in mind if we want to make statements about the economy that are rational and useful.

Furthermore, the more people understand how economics actually works, the less there will be a tendency to demonize employers as “bloodsuckers.” Rather than searching for scapegoats, which left unchecked ultimately leads to violence, we could have far more productive conversations on how to reduce the shackles of the state that inhibit the entrepreneurial spirit and job creation. Therefore, I have to confess that I find myself troubled when a pontiff refers to certain people as “bloodsuckers,” even though they may include employers who deal with workers honestly.

It would be wonderful if workers could find themselves with jobs that pay them wages with which they could live a more comfortable life. What would help them is if entrepreneuers had the freedom to accumulate capital that could be deployed to provide the maximum material benefit to consumers, therby leading to higher productivity and higher wages.

Name calling won’t.


Book review no. 3: The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism, by Robert Barron

Apologies for the delay in providing new posts. I have been traveling for work, and have not been able to spend a lot of time on the site.

Because I’m not sufficiently versed in theology and philosophy, I’m providing more of my impressions of this book rather than a review of it. I simply don’t have the intellectual tools to do more than that.

Priority of Christy

Nevertheless, I found the book to be quite interesting. Bishop Robert Barron explores the weaknesses of the theology of liberal modernity, and suggests a path towards a “postliberal” theology that is centered on the uniqueness and strangeness of Christ.

Barron does this in five ways.

  • First, he explores how liberal theologians discuss Jesus symbolically and as a historical figure. In short, Barron finds wanting the liberal theologian’s two tendencies of showing Jesus as someone less than divine, or ignoring Scripture or doctrine that doesn’t fit within a very specific understanding of Jesus as a historical figure. Rather, Barron seeks a theology whose doctrines and narratives complement and reinforce each other.
  • Second, he develops a Christology that is “iconic.” Through this approach, one contemplates the “particularity and spiritual complexity” of Jesus as shown through the New Testament to get a glimpse into the nature of Christ.
  • Third, he develops a “christocentric epistomology,” through which he argues that “if all things hold together in Christ, then the deepest truth of tings must become fully intelligible only through Christ.”
  • Fourth, he contemplates God’s trinitarian nature and the noncompetitive manner in which God exists with and in the universe. He argues that “precisely because God does not need the world, God is capable of an utterly selfless gift on behalf of the ohter, breaking the rhythm of economic exchange that effectively undermines ordinary gift giving.”
  • Finally, he seeks to show the ethical implications of this christocentric metaphysics by “painting icons” of four saints: Therese of Lixieux, Katherine Drexel, Edith Stein, and Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

I like the approach Barron uses to develop a line of thinking that is “postliberal.” By naming his theology this way, he acknowledges the contributions liberal theology may have made, but nonetheless seeks to reconnect it with its classical sources, such as the Church Fathers and Aquinas.

I recognize that this overview merely skims the surface of what this book addresses. As I mentioned, I’m not conversant enough in theology and philosophy to provide any more than I have. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in exploring how Catholic theology can proceed beyond how it is presented in liberal modernity.


Millions of Muslims are becoming Christian

The National Catholic Reporter has a fascinating essay about the recent increase of Muslims converting to Christianity. Researchers estimate that there were between 5 million and 16 million “Muslim Background Believers” in 2010. In the US, it is estimated that 20,000 Muslims convert to Christianity a year.

Dudley Woodley, a Fulbright scholar of Islam, published five primary reasons why Muslims are drawn to Christianity, based on interview with 750 MBBs:

  •  The lifestyle of Christians. Former Muslims cited the love that Christians exhibited in their relationships with non-Christians and their treatment of women as equals.
  •  The power of God in answered prayers and healing. The Jesus portrayed in the Quran is a prophet who heals lepers and the blind and raises the dead. Often, dreams or visions about Jesus or a man of light were reported. (Some also have dreams of the Bible or of the Virgin Mary, who is revered within Islam.)
  •  Dissatisfaction with the type of Islam they had experienced. In his article “How ISIS Is Spreading the Gospel,” David Cashin of the Zwemer Center observes, “I have often referred to Islamic radicals as ‘proto-evangelists’ for the Christian faith.”
  •  The spiritual truth in the Bible. Muslims are generally taught that the Torah, Psalms and the Gospels are from God, but that they became corrupted. These Christian converts said, however, that the truth of God found in Scripture became compelling for them and key to their understanding of God’s character.
  •  Biblical teachings about the love of God. In the Quran, God’s love is conditional, but God’s love for all people in the Bible was especially eye-opening for Muslims. These converts were moved by the love expressed through the life and teachings of Jesus.

As exciting as it is to see Muslims convert to Christianity, I confess that my excitement is tempered because those who have converted have had to live through hell because of the U.S.’s insane foreign policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The U.S.’s counter-terrorism policies in the region in general, and its policy of regime change in Libya and Syria in particular, has caused untold suffering among countless innocent people. Those policies are the key drivers behind the refuguee crisis swarming Europe. Further, the U.S.’s indirect support of ISIS has caused unnecessary havoc within eastern Syria and western Iraq. But for our involvement there, many of those who have converted would have lived far less traumatic lives.

And yet.

It is indeed hopeful to see new blood in the Christian faith. The article shows many MBB’s continuing to have peaceful relationships with Muslims in their communities. They do so “as a witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ”.

That is beautiful.

May we Christians learn from them, and always act as witnesses to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ with everyone we meet.



Memebuster no. 7: A New Atheist’s charitable criticism of Christianity

Well, not really.

jewish zombie

I don’t mind snarkiness when it is well informed. As you can see, I can get pretty snarky myself. However, I really don’t like snark when it isn’t well informed. What can I say? I’m funny that way.

I could talk about how the Bible ought to be read, how theology helps interpret it, how the Bible includes different types of literature to communicate various religious truths, what those truths actually are, and so on. Yet in the back of my mind I have to ask myself if I would be wasting my time if I was talking to the writer of this meme? Looks like that person’s mind is already made up.

In the interest of time, all I’ll say is that there is a way that the Bible ought to be read, that theology helps interpret it, that the Bible includes different types of literature to communicate various religious truths, and there are particular religious truths. To those who are interested in learning more about what Catholicism actually believes in, read this. To those who aren’t interested, don’t.

Just don’t expect me to take uninformed snark seriously.

Memebuster no. 6: Conservatives are today’s scapegoats

The author of this meme makes it abundantly clear what he thinks of convervatives.

demonic conservatives

I’d like to address than from a different perspective than the point-by-point rebuttal approach that I’ve done in the past.

The author wants to give the reader the impression that there is this group of people that are called “conservatives” that have been so wrong in their thinking that, at a minimum, they should not even be considered worthy to be involved in political debate. After all, look at that track record!

It doesn’t really matter whether the statements in the meme are correct or not. What matters is whether the reader feels indignant towards conservatives after reading it. From that perspective, it’s a pretty effective meme.

The best way to interpret it is through the mimetic theory developed by René Girard. Mimetic theory holds that individuals develop their desires through observing the desires of others, namely models who they admire and emulate. Conflicts arise when the model and the model’s imitator desire the same particular goal that cannot be shared between the two. If neither gives up the goal, the desire of one becomes the mirror of the other. The conflict will be resolved only through the death of one or the other.

This analysis can be expanded to look at conflicts within a broader society. A societal conflict, which culminates in community-wide violence, will only be resolved when the community believes that the death of one of its members led to the resolution of the crisis and eventual “peace”. The scapegoat usually is an outsider, a weakeling, who doesn’t fit the mold of everyone else within the community. The scapegoat is usually dehumanized before being killed. Therefore, the death of the scapegoat usually doesn’t lead to a great deal of regret to those who murdered him or her. This scapegoat mechanism underlies the mythologies, rituals, and prohibitions of primitive religions.

Now let’s go back to the meme and apply Girard’s mimetic theory to it. Today, liberals and conservatives have been fighting over one thing: control over the federal government. Nothing else matters. As for the statements within the meme, it doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not. What matters is the impression this long list leaves to the reader. The goal is for the reader to ask to him- or herself, “Why should I listen to someone who has been so wrong for so long?” After all, all conservatives have is fear, no reasoning.

This meme reflects the mirror image of the very fear that conservatives supposedly have a monopoly over. It demonizes them and sets them up as scapegoats. If we could only get rid of those fearful conservatives, liberals plead, we would finally have peace. Yet the argument, when brought to its logical conclusion, will only lead to the very opposite of its intended objective: civil war.

P.S. A good way to get introduced to Girard’s thinking is to read I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightening.

Memebuster no. 4: Nobody can deviate from the norm

I’d like to make two points before I begin. First, this will be more of a rant than a refutal. Second, I am in no way a Trump supporter. (I’m more of a “none of the above” kind of guy.) Nevertheless, this meme just can’t be ignored.

Stoopid voters

What stuns me about this quote is the sheer hubris behind it. Like most hubristic thought, it is an obnoxious mixture of extreme arrogance, and, frankly, sheer stupidity.

Mr. Borowitz is aghast that so many people are “ignorant enough to vote for Trump.” But the same question can be asked about those who vote for Bernie Sanders. After all, history has clearly shown that socialism simply doesn’t work, and never will. Ludwig von Mises demonstrated this as far back as 1920. Yet as far as this quote shows, Mr. Borowitz doesn’t seem to be the least bit interested in avoiding socialism. But then again, his words put far too much weight in placing the only factor in creating Trump voters on the “educational system,” whatever the hell that means.

But what’s particularly galling is that Mr. Borowitz apparently believes that there are people with sufficiently superior minds who know how to fix the educational system. In this case, it is to avoid people from voting for future Trumps. The totalitarian instinct behind such a perspective is astounding, not to mention thoroughly dangerous. Under this view, kids are no longer children of parents but inputs into a “system,” from which come adults who would think in a particular way. That way, presumably, would prevent them from considering a Trump-like candidate as someone to seriously consider.

The next question, though, is what would this system consider as a worthy candidate? Given our incredibly narrow left-right dichotomy (I refuse to call it a spectrum, which presumes a breadth of opinion) in American politics, it would be fair to think that an appropriate candiate would be a progressive. Never mind the immense damage progressive policy has done to American life in general and American politics in particular, the goal of this system would be to create a progressive voter who, at the very least, would not be “ignorant.”

So to prevent people from thinking of Trump as a viable candidate, one would need to create “an educational system” that will instruct (not inform, let alone educate) people to think, then vote, in a very specific way. Anyone who deviates from the norm would be considered an ignorant rube who needs to be shut out of proper society.

Such thinking should be considered terrifying and uncivilized. However, it is held by far too many who consider themselves among the elite.

Memebuster no. 3: That pastor is a selfish SOB, so let’s punish all Christians

The creator of this meme is apparently indignant of mega churches and their rich pastors.

tax the pastors

First of all, it can’t even get its facts straight. According to US census data, one in five – not three – children live under the U.S. poverty line. Also, notwithstanding a church’s tax-exempt status, the IRS has clearly stated that a minister’s income is subject to income tax.

Second, the meme makes the incredibly brazen assumption that mega churches do nothing to help those in need. While the pastor’s house does look grand, we know nothing of what he and his congregation have done to help the poor. In fact, David Beito’s book From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967 makes the compelling case that before the welfare state, there was a vibrant culture of mutual aid societies to assist the poor and the working class. (Listen to Beito’s discussion with Tom Woods about his book here.) To presume a lack of charity is itself uncharitable.

Third, there is no reason to believe that taxing churches would actually alleviate poverty. If anything, a strong argument can be made that the opposite is true. The welfare state traps the poor into a state of dependency.

Finally, the concept of poverty in America is a relative one. As Thomas Sowell points out:

Most Americans with incomes below the official poverty level have air-conditioning, television, own a motor vehicle and, far from being hungry, are more likely than other Americans to be overweight.

This isn’t the grinding poverty that people think of when considering the poor. It would be great if the poor became less so, but taxing churches would do nothing towards pulling them out of poverty.

So what’s the key argument behind the push to tax churches? Envy. For those who make this argument, it is wrong when people who have “too much” exist when there are people who have too little. What makes it particularly galling is when the “wrong” people, like pastors, have it so good. Yet taxing churches would do nothing to alleviate the anguish of those who are truly in need, and would hurt church members who have either done nothing wrong or who have been doing the hard work of reaching out.

Jesus calls Christians to find him in the least of our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:40). While we all can look in the mirror and see if there’s more that we can do, the meme calls for nothing but the satiation of the emotions of the envious.