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Archive for January, 2014

One Hundred Trillion Dollars

One Hundred Trillion dollars. Sound like a fortune, doesn’t it? King Solomon sort of money, no doubt. Well, maybe not so fast. You see, depending on whose dollar you’re talking about, it could be a king’s ransom or it may amount to less than the change in your pocket. Take for instance the Zimbabwe bank note pictured here. I have one just like it on my desk as I write, a 2008 Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe 100 Trillion Dollar bill. I got mine on Amazon for $1.74 plus shipping.

Zimbabwe, you see, experienced a phenomenon known as hyperinflation, which is where a nations currency – whether it’s called a dollar, a drachma or a peso – becomes worthless. The principle reason why inflation, and in extreme cases hyperinflation, occurs is this: : the government creates too much money. Money is not some magical, mystical item. If it has value, it does so for the same reason that all other things have value. It’s not valuable because it’s festooned with pictures of dead politicians, or its ornate engravings, or is signed by the Secretary of the Treasury, or tradition. Money, all money, is valuable because people impute value to it.

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Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, till there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!.Isaiah 5:8

Isaiah’s thundering indictment of Judah rivets the reader’s attention right from the beginning of the book bearing his name. The accusations fall like hammer blows from the prophets pen. Everything has become twisted, everything perverted: Worship, “I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting” (v13); Civil Society, “righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers” (v21); Business, “Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water” (v22); Civil Government, “Your princes [are] rebellious and companions of thieves” (v23); and the Judiciary, “Everyone loves bribes, and follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them” (v23).

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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.

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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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