Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Theology of Corporations

            Perhaps J. R. R. Tolkein's most salient contribution to theology is the doctrine he called the principle of "sub-creation."  By it, he meant that we make according to the principle by which we are made.  That is, like all things else, we were spoken into existence by a multi-personal God acting in unity.  We are the result of the powerful and creative words of a plurality-in-unity.  That implies three important things:  (1) language, (2) community, and (3) mutual love are at the core of all reality.  From them, all created things arise.
         In Genesis 1: 1, we read that "in the beginning elohim," a plural word, "created" (a singular verb) "the heavens and the earth."(KJV).  That is, a plurality acting as a unity made the world, and He made it with words.  He spoke it into existence.  The same principle re-emerges later in the same chapter when God says "Let us" (plural) make (singular) man in our (plural) image   So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them" (v. 27).
         Note that the image of God is something said about no other creatures but the human creatures, and that this image is distributed across both sexes.  While each human creature possesses it, no person has it in its fullness.  Without others, male and female, it is incomplete in us.  In order to make it more full, in order to manifest it more effectively, we are to be communal, to work in concert with one another, just like our Creator, and we are to work the way he works, by making things with words, by speaking things into existence, things personal and impersonal, and things that singular and plural simultaneously.  Corporations fit that description quite fully. 
         As God made the universe with words, corporations are made with words, in this case, the precise legal language of incorporation, the result of which is that many persons become one, that one being both personal and impersonal, much like the universe in which it exists, a universe filled with persons and non-persons.  A corporation is, as we all know, a person at law, a personal entity replete with rights and obligations, composed of multiple persons, acting in concert, a marvelous thing sprung from words.  To revert to Tolkein, we make according to the principle by which we are made.
         When God made us, He placed upon our shoulders what theologians call the "creation mandate:"  We are to have "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" (v. 26).  "Dominion" here does not mean reckless exploitation.  It means the prudent stewardship by which we are to "be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (v. 28).  It means transforming the entire earth from an uncultivated jungle into productive and well-sustained garden.  Corporations can be, and ought to be, part of that mandate, part of that stewardship of productive sustainability.  Corporations, being in our image, have the same obligations we have, being in God's image.  We are to make the best of things, to cultivate the world in ever richer and more productive ways, always with an eye toward our Divinely imposed obligations and our Divinely bestowed opportunities.  We are to "fill the earth," leaving none of it less habitable or less productive than is possible, not even the deserts in all their native hostility, which nations like Israel have turned into a garden, a city, a workplace, a school, and a resort.  Much of that subduing was the work of corporations, doing what they, and we, were created to do.
         One of the central doctrines of Christianity is the Lordship of Christ.  As Lord, He is not the Lord of merely some things, but of all.  If He is Lord of all things, then nothing is properly secular.  Therefore, anything pursued in a secular fashion is at least partly, if not wholly, mispursued.  Our task, then, is to bring his Lordship wisely and prudently to bear upon all that we do, including filling the earth, subduing it, and making it what it was meant to be.   It means running a corporation as if Jesus were its CEO, as if the One who turned water into wine were still at work, turning deserts into oases.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Names of God and What They Mean

As Calvin argued in his Institutes (Bk. I, Ch. XIII), unless we contemplate God according to His self-revelation, only bare, empty, schematic notions of God will flit about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God.
Unless we contemplate God according to His self-revelation, we go astray; we go afield.  To avoid that detour, we need to take recourse to those names by which He calls Himself, and to the actions and personality associated with those Divine names -- of which there are many:  Elohim, Yahweh, and Jesus, among them.  With God, there is graphic and startling historical and personal particularity.  He is this, not that; He is Himself, not some other.  He says and does these things, not those, and not nothing.  Aristotle’s god, you recall, is nameless, voiceless, and uninvolved.  It is not the God of the Bible, not Yahweh, not Elohim, and not Jesus.  They can talk, act, and relate; it cannot.
The loss of God’s many names is the loss of God and of reliable windows into His fullness, which those names help provide.  As Biblical theologians, we must beware of the appalling loss of depth and meaning that the word “God” has suffered because in place of His names we employ philosophical taxonomy and methods, which assimilate and reduce God to nature and to the philosophical deductions we draw from it.  These assimilations, reductions, and deductions can be corrected only by the invasion of God’s authentic, articulate, and gracious Godness in all its historical and human particularity in Israel and in Christ.  Only the objective revelation of the Lord God Himself can successfully turn back our penchant to subdue and reduce His divine reality into some form of our humanly-controlled and humanly-generated subjectivity.  By our methodologically illicit subjectivity, He is shrunken to the boundaries of our own alleged intellectual autonomy and its attendant misunderstandings both of God and self.  The sovereign, transcendent, and uncompromised objectivity of God does not permit unregenerate sinners to understand Him apart from His revelation of Himself in his words, works, and names, without which no natural theology can validate itself.  We cannot steal, we cannot fabricate, knowledge of God behind His back.  He gives it or it is never gotten.  God’s character, and therefore His glory, cannot be accurately and reliably abstracted by us from His creatures and His creation.  To do so is to presuppose a functional dualism between God and Himself:  Recall that in Christ and in Scripture God reveals Himself, and not mere information about Himself.  He does so only to the redeemed.  To think that self-deluded sinners can know God on some other basis than God’s self-revealing, that other basis being their own wicked making and doing, is to separate God from the Word, which is Himself, and in its place to conflate God with nature, which is not Him, but merely comes from Him.  The Incarnation means that God Himself enters history in Jesus of Nazareth.  In Him, with Him, and as Him, the Word remains forever.
A partial list of the Divine names in Scripture follows.  It indicates both separately and collectively the multi-layered richness of His character and of His relationships with His people.
         Yahweh [Lord, Jehovah] This is the most commonly used name of God in the Hebrew Scriptures and seems to emphasize His omnipotence as the Supreme Ruler of all things and, as such, was too holy even to utter, a reluctance carried on by some even until today.  Yahweh” is translated very loosely as "The Existing One,” which suggests that He is to become known and will reveal Himself accordingly.  As the existing One, He is set apart from all the false gods who do not exist outside the minds of those who invented them.
Elohim [God, Judge, Creator] Though the etymological derivation of this plural word is highly controverted, its usage is less so.  It implies the functional sovereignty of God over all things, period.  He made them and they are His.  He can rule over them as He wishes.
Adonai [Lord, Master] Just as “Elohim” is plural, so also is “Adonai” (the singular being “adon,” which normally is used of human leaders or sovereigns, though not exclusively so).  In reference to God, the plural “Adonai” is frequently used, and is sometimes translated as “my lords.”  Sometimes “Adonai” was used as a substitute for “Yahweh.”
El Elyon  [The Most High God] This name expresses the sovereign majesty of God and His unapproachable superiority.
Jehovah Nissi  [The Lord My Banner, The Lord My Miracle] The word “Nissi,” which derives from “Nes,” meaning "banner," recognizes that God is the banner under which the ancient Israelites conquered their enemies.
Jehovah-Rohi: [God is My Shepherd]  As famously articulated in Psalm 23, God is the Shepherd Who feeds, protects, and pastures His flock and each of its members.  As shepherd, God also is our friend, companion, and ally.
El Shaddai [Lord God Almighty, All-Sufficient One] According to some scholars, this name derives from an ancient word for breast and implies that in His mighty power God is also, so to speak, the Great Provider of motherly nurture and nourishment.
Jehovah Rapha:  [God the Healer] As our Great Physician, God restores and heals His people, both inwardly and outwardly.
Jehovah Shammah [The Lord Who is There] This name for God name indicates that He has not and will not abandoned His people.  He is "The God who is There," to quote Francis Schaeffer.  Even if God's people now are in grievous trouble, they will be restored because He is there and has not forsaken them.
Jehovah Tsidkenu [The Lord is Our Righteousness] In the Old Testament, this name indicates that God has spoken to us and has become known as the straight and righteous One, in Whom is no bentness or twistedness.  His character is therefore the measure of righteousness.  For that reason, He also is known as Jehovah Mekoddishkem, the Lord Who makes us Holy, Who sanctifies us and sets us apart for His use, to which He has dedicated us.
Qanna [jealous] God is depicted here as Israel's husband.  He is a jealous God, desiring our praise, allegiance, and affection for Himself.  They are rightly His.
Jehovah Jireh [The Lord Who Provides] Even in our hour of deepest need and most extreme circumstances, and no matter what our plight, God will provide.  Because He is the great and sovereign God, He will supply all our needs, perhaps in ways we do not know and cannot anticipate.  As Lord of the whole world, He is never without sufficient resources.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"il primo Amore"

         The connection between ideas and actions is intimate and enduring.  Because ideas have consequences, and because bad ideas have bad ones, it matters what you think.   The differences between natural theology and authentically Christian theology lead, therefore, to differences in spirituality, and they are our focus.
         I begin with an important and fundamental difference:  the difference between the first mover and the first lover, or what Dante called “il primo Amore.”
         If, in some degree, worlds reflect their makers, then consider this:  A world in motion is far different from a world in love.  Aristotle’s first mover is not, and cannot be, the first and greatest Lover, though Dante’s God can be the first mover, if we think of Love as spiritual motion, the way Dante does.  For him, indeed, “love makes the world go round.”  For Dante, God can be, and is, precisely that, the prime Lover, because Dante knows Christ, and knows the God revealed in Christ.  Multi-personal, interpersonal, everlasting Love lies at the core of Dante’s world, but not Aristotle’s, even though Dante inherited much from Aristotle, he did not inherit a prime Lover.  That had to come from elsewhere.  Being an aloof, distant, abstract and sub-personal force, Aristotle’s god could not give rise to Dante’s.  The chasm between the two gods and the two worlds they create is beyond mere difference.  It is incompatibility.  Mere motion, on the one hand, and righteous, self-sacrificial affection, on the other hand, must not to be confused or conflated.  Neither must the Gods from which they spring. 
         Consider, too, the difference in spirituality that the character and commandments pertaining to the two Gods in view (if we can say that Aristotle’s god even has a character or imposes moral requirements):  The difference is between (1) moving, and causing, on the one hand, and (2) loving, communing, incarnating, and self-sacrificing, on the other.  As even a moment’s reflection makes plain, personality-less, morality-less, love-less, and word-less unmoved movers like Aristotle’s cannot give rise to the Divine Comedy or to the spirituality it entails.  Much, very much, needs to be added to it before the piety of the Divine Comedy or the revamped heroism of Paradise Lost emerge.  That “very much” is the Word become flesh, the incarnation of Christ.             

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What's in a Name?

         When American sports teams choose a name, they look for an icon of strength, an image widely known and recognized as impressive and awesome.  No major sports franchise calls itself the Custers (or the French).  If you want an impressive name, if you want to conjure up and awesome image, pick the Braves, the Chiefs, the Indians, the Vikings, the Bears, the Diamondbacks, or the Redskins.
Similarly, if folks want to name a city or a state, they usually pick a name of something that is known to be honorable, pleasant, or respectable, like Indiana, Indianapolis, Illinois, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Maryland, St. Augustine, or Sioux City.  Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I don’t recall any American city named after John Wayne Gacy, Al Capone, Adolph Hitler, John Dillinger, Bernie Madoff, Charles Manson, or Mark David Chapman.  I don’t know any streets named after James Earl Ray, but I know plenty named after Martin Luther King.  Almost every major city has one, and rightly so.
The really offensive part of the name “Washington Redskins” is not "Redskins."  Who or what has ever done more unrelenting harm to Native Americans than Washington?  And if you wanted a name that doubled the infamy, just take the name of the old baseball franchise:  “Washington Senators.”
The name “Redskins” now in use comes from an era when the team had a Native American head coach (which is one way of knowing what the team thought of Native Americans).  Out of respect and affection for their head coach, they named their team after him and his background.  He appreciated the affection and good will behind the gesture.   He knew it was not a slur at all.  Nor did the team change it into one in the intervening years.  The team still holds the ethnicity of that coach in high esteem, as well as it does those who share it with him.
The case is the same with the Cleveland Indians.  Cleveland used to call its baseball team the Naps, after Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie, clearly not an insult to him.  Then it changed its name to honor L.F. Sockalexis, a full-blooded Penobscot Indian and the grandson of a Tribal chieftain, a team name clearly not an insult either to Sockalexis or to his grandfather, modern hyper-sensitivities notwithstanding.  When you name your entire team after the ethnicity of your head coach or after a great player, you have not denigrated either one.  You have honored them by identifying your entire enterprise with them.  Similarly, Irish folks are not denigrated by Notre Dame, industrial workers by Purdue, or a different tribe of Native Americans by Illinois.
I don’t know who is advising the government on such matters, but, clearly, to strip the Washington Redskins of their brand name is simply to allow anyone who wishes to make money from it to do so, which guarantees to spread its usage quite widely.  Evacuating that trademark is not suppressing its usage.  That’s widening it, which is typical DC lunacy.  Now anyone who wishes can profit from that brand name and its icon, hardly an outcome likely to limit its usage or to assuage the alleged insult using it allegedly entails to folks with reddish skin.  And yes, I know that redskin folks aren’t really red, blacks aren’t really black, and whites aren’t white.  I also know that the politically correct try relentlessly to foist their overweening hypersensitivities off onto the rest of us whenever they can.   
But I wont accept it.  I'll just push back even harder.  I've got an NFL (Redskins) credit card.  Now that the government has taken away their trademark patent, I'm not going to use any other card, not if my money goes to the Redskins team.  I'm also going to the Redskins’ website to buy lots of their gear.  Soon I might have to go to the University of Illinois website and buy lots of their Fighting Illini gear, a designation soon to draw critical attention to itself.  Then maybe I’ll invest in Notre Dame's Fighting Irish gear.  All of which raises this question:  Do you suppose the government will make Indiana change its name?  Or Indianapolis?  Or the Braves and Chiefs?   What about people of size and the offensive San Francisco Giants?  And are Catholic clergy really going to be happy about the Padres or the Saints?
         For the record, I am 1/8 Apache, which makes me more Indian than Elizabeth Warren.  The Redskin name has no negative impact upon me whatever.  I’m also half Swiss.  But that doesn’t mean I am insulted because the Vatican hires Swiss soldiers to be the Pope’s guards or that those guards feature prominently in Vatican photography.   They do so because for many centuries the Swiss were considered Europe’s best and most reliable warriors.  I’m proud to have that prowess recognized.  Some of those warriors were my ancestors.  Some of that warrior blood still flows through my veins.  I might be a Protestant, but I’d gladly protect the Pope.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Jersey Boys:" A Review

        In most cases, if it has to do with Clint Eastwood, I’m for it.  From Rowdy Yates to the Republican Convention, I’m behind him.  I even bought a Thomas Kinkade painting because it shows Eastwood walking down the street of the little California town of which he once was mayor.  And “Gran Torino,” wow.
         I walked into “Jersey Boys” with high expectations:  I like Eastwood’s work on so many counts.  I like the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  And I lived for nearly 10 years in the towns and neighborhoods where much of the action takes place.  But “Jersey Boys” didn’t make my day.
         I try to be realistic.  I don’t expect many movies to teach lessons I endorse or to share my worldview.  As long as they tell an interesting story in an interesting way, I’m happy.    
I was partly pleased by “Jersey Boys.”  In an era when shock and offense too often replace intelligence, it’s one of the few R-rated movies where the sex and violence take place primarily off screen.  That’s fine.  I’m not complaining about that.  I’m complaining about what happens on screen, which is, in a word, stereotypical.  These aren’t fleshed out characters with interesting or individual things to say.  They’re stereotypes.  They could stand in for each other.  I’m not certain they didn’t.
From Clint Eastwood, who is famously the master of subtle, I expected, and I wanted, more.  The idiosyncratic nuance of Walt Kowalski -- hard headed, soft hearted, bigoted, and oddly principled -- is missing from “Jersey Boys.”  No character in it has subtlety.   Nothing in the entire movie has Walt’s layered, nuanced, multi-dimensional, texture or anything approaching it.  “Trouble with the Curve” did. 
         I suspect that Eastwood the director could have been Mad Max before Mad Max, as Eastwood movies before “The Unforgiven” attest.  After forays into spaghetti westerns, orangutan movies, and cop flicks, and after genre classics like “Dirty Harry” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Eastwood unleashed his real genius.   We learned that he has more finesse, more subtlety, and more nuance than almost any movie man of the era, whether before or behind the camera.  I’m glad Eastwood finally resisted those temptations and embraced art.  After “The Unforgiven,” the violence recedes; the nuance grows.  From him, we don’t get the spurting blood fountains of “The Passion of the Christ,” which could have been titled “Mad Max Goes to Golgotha,” or “Lethal Weapon in Jerusalem.”  Eastwood chose his own different path, and he was right.
         But in “Jersey Boys,” Eastwood’s gift failed him.  Subtle gone bad turns flat and boring.  Yes, and in a movie about The Four Seasons and their ostensibly inimitable front man, Frankie Valli, you can’t ask someone to imitate him and expect to succeed.  Were the replacement actually to succeed, the movie’s own premise would collapse.  Were he not to succeed, the movie itself would collapse.  In “Jersey Boys,” Eastwood got himself into a tight spot, maybe an impossible one.  While the whole move is based on the premise that there is no other Frankie Valli, for 2 ¼ hours we watch someone try to do what the movie says, and unintentionally proves, cannot be done:  replace the irreplaceable.
         And to turn the final scene of a pseudo-biopic into an outtake from a Broadway musical is, if not unforgiven, certainly unforgiveable.  That this scene stands out so starkly and incongruously from what precedes it shows that trying to give this movie the feel of a stage play all along just didn’t work.  Before the final scene was over, I swear I expected to see Gene Kelly dancing in the rain, which is not how a Four Seasons flick ought to end.
         I don’t want to see this movie again.
         I haven’t said that about a Clint Eastwood movie for many years. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Rules

These are the rules.  Learn them.  Follow them.  There will be a test.  It's called life.

You don’t create wealth by taxation.  Taxation just takes wealth away from some and gives it to others.  Redistribution is not creation.

You get more of what you subsidize and less of what you tax.   If you tax those who create wealth, you get less wealth creation.  If you subsidize illegitimacy and poverty (which go sadly and frequently together) you get more poverty and illegitimacy.  In other words, if you punish success, you get less success.  If you reward those who do not contribute their hard work, you get fewer folks willing to contribute hard work. 

Wealth creation happens more easily and more often in a stable economic environment.  Before folks lay their time, effort, and money on the line starting a new business and creating new jobs, they need to know that the rules of the game will be fairly and predictably applied and that the government won’t be tilting the playing field against them or doing magic tricks with currency, like flooding the marketplace with fiat dollars, thus making every dollar of every person worth less and less.

The condition of an apartment tends to follow its price.  If, by some legislative connivance, you put a price-ceiling on an apartment in order to keep down its rent, its condition will go down to that price point.  Virtually every rent-controlled housing project proves it.  Rent control is the parent of squalor and danger, not thrift or great neighborhoods.

The fundamental building block of a society is the family, not the allegedly autonomous individual.  Whatever undermines traditional families and traditional family roles tends to undermine the society as well.  Poverty tends to circle around broken homes.

The key to financial success is now what it always has been:  work harder than those above you; save your money; invest your money; and keep your family intact.

Whether you are a family or a government, don’t spend what you don’t have; make a budget; stick to it.  Good governments and good families are characterized by prudence and self-discipline.  Learn the important difference between a desire and a need.

To act wisely, you first must know wisely.  You must think with your head, not your heart.  Good intentions don’t mend the matter of foolishness at all.   

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Legalizing Drugs: Arguments that Do Not Work

If you say to drug legalization advocates that you want to find a way to limit the loss of innocent life that results from drugs due to impairment, they often invoke the loss of innocent lives that results from alcohol.  That response is beyond irrational.  They seem to think that because we permit A, and as a result deaths follow, then we ought to permit B, even though deaths follow.  The argument is a foolish non sequitur.  The existence of one death-dealing evil is not a moral or rational justification for the existence of another.

They argue as if they have little or no regard for the loss of innocent life.  They are quite happy to expand the list of potential victims as long as they themselves get to injure and befuddle their own minds in a cloud of reality-banishing THCs, in a hedonistic orgy of cowardly self-indulgence.  Amazingly, they use the death of innocents from alcohol as a reason to legalize drug use.  Regarding alcohol, they rightly identify the loss of innocent life as an evil, but they don’t offer any ways to limit that loss of life; they offer it as a justification for legalizing additional drugs.  It seems never to occur to them to ask this question:  “How many drugs can a society legalize and still remain a society?”  Instead of asking that question, they say, “We legalize alcohol and people die, so let’s legalize pot and have even more people die.  Why should killing others be limited to the drinkers?  Give us the chance too.”  Death means nothing to them, and their arguments prove it.  What matters to them is another way to get high.

Despite the occasionally deadly consequences of impairment, which they invoke regarding the drug alcohol, they still argue that taking drugs is a victimless crime.  But their argument regarding alcohol-caused impairment overtly says it is not.  Alcohol is a drug.  Because it sometimes causes death-dealing impairment, it is not victimless.  It is a death-risk taking enterprise.  The death it risks is often someone else’s.  If you point this out to them, they say that lots of things risk injury and death to others, yet we permit them.  But that response simply invokes the same stupid argument invoked above.  The fact that life has lots of risks, some of them deadly, is not a justification for adding even more deadly risks to the list.  The fact that life has risks already is not a reason to multiply them. Tell us why we ought to risk MORE innocent lives just so you can get high.    

Drug usage and drug legalization are not all-or-nothing issues.  The question is not “Should we legalize all drugs or no drugs?”  Wisdom is not found in the false assertion that “If we legalize one drug then we ought to legalize them all.”  That’s just the all-or-nothing intellectual extremism of an irrational and imprudent mind.  The real question is, as noted above, “How many drugs can a society legalize and still remain a society?  The answer is neither “all of them” nor “none of them.”  We might have to draw a line somewhere other than at either extreme.  Drawing lines is sometimes quite difficult.  But difficulty is no reason for declining our obligation to make reasoned and nuanced choices.

If I were an advocate of drug legalization, then I’d make this offer:  Let’s do for drug use what we did for smoking.  We started large campaigns, both public and private, to warn folks of smoking’s awful dangers and risks.  We limited its usage to certain ages and certain places.  We made no smoking ages and no smoking zones.  We limited its advertising.  We issued graphic warning labels.  As a result, the percentage of smokers has declined over the years.  To date, I have never heard even one drug legalization proponent suggest we do the same for smoking pot that we did for smoking tobacco:  Keep it legal; educate folks incessantly and tirelessly against it; and limit its use to certain age groups and places.  Legalizing it ought to go closely together with speaking out against it.

But think carefully for a moment about the principle and practice of limiting drug usage to certain age groups.  We do that because we consider some folks too immature to handle drugs (and alcohol).  We limit usage to some persons, or groups of persons.  We aren’t talking here about children or teens indulging legally.  They are too immature to indulge.  That is too destructive and dangerous a practice to permit.  So, for those folks, we criminalize it.  But if immaturity disqualifies you from use, then remember that immaturity is not an age but a condition of mind and character, things not well identified by age.  Age tells how long you’ve been on the road, not how far you’ve travelled.  Age restrictions are maturity-based assumptions.  Regarding many folks, those assumptions are both arbitrary and mistaken.  Some folks in their 50s are too immature to use drugs.  (One thinks here of the mayor of Toronto.)  Some in their 20s are not too immature.  Age is no reliable indicator.

But almost all thinking people agree that drugs ought to be prohibited for at least some.  By so thinking, they are selective prohibitionists.  They are for prohibition, but only in selected cases.  The real issue then is not “prohibition or no prohibition,” but where, and how, to draw the prohibition line.  They tend to draw it at a younger age; I tend to draw it at a higher age. Because both sides agree on prohibition of some sort, then now all we have to haggle over is where to draw the prohibition line, not if to draw it.  If you are against drawing any line at all, if you wish to legalize drugs even for children, you are beyond the pale of common sense.  You cannot be trusted with drugs. 

Please notice that those who wish to draw the line at a certain age practice prohibition despite their argument that prohibition leads to a black market and to violence.  What they think ought to be a convincing argument to others against prohibition they themselves reject in this case.  Yet somehow they are surprised to see others reject an argument they themselves reject.