Prophetic Economics 01

The Social Sciences are the study of human nature. It includes things like history, archeology, geography, sociology, government and political theory, psychology and so forth. But they are based on Western assumptions, so it all rests on the pretense of reasoned analysis and objectivity. While these sciences recognize that human nature is flawed, they assume it could be better and the whole point is to study how to make it better.

In particular, economics pretends to objectivity even as it manifests wildly conflicting forecasts based on the competing theories. People who study economics take their science too seriously, pretending that if they could just fix some basic theoretical disputes and come up with a unified model of human economic behavior, they could solve humanity’s problems.

Obviously I disagree, but it comes after having studied economics for a long time. You see, I studied it from the cynical point of view that comes from rejecting Western assumptions in the first place. My rejection wasn’t wholly conscious at first, but I was far down that road before I took those college courses. I understood what the professors and books were trying to get across and made some of the highest grades in each class, but I didn’t swallow most of it.

So I neither recommend such education, nor will I attempt to summarize it for you. Rather, I’ll give you a contextual digest of what I believe matters most right now. Those who have studied economics will recognize some of this.

You can grow an economy without credit, but it takes longer. Without debt, wealth grows much more slowly and requires far more work. Biblical Law says you should avoid greed in the first place and realize the shepherd’s call in trying to benefit everyone, because that is your own best interest long term. To put it bluntly: If you can’t embrace that moral necessity, then you’ll always be tormented on some level in this life, and you’ll likely end up in Hell after you die. What you do in this world must serve genuine human need, and Biblical Law sums up that need in the term “moral social stability” — a manifestation of shalom. So the goal is not some imaginary economic efficiency, as if the economy was just a machine. The economy is a living thing that must be nurtured according to its needs, or it will not help you make the most of this life. So don’t juice it up with large doses of credit steroids or it will sicken and die before its time. Treat it with respect.

Economies all die sooner or later, but it can be done gracefully and cooperatively (and they usually give birth to new economies). If you don’t place the image in your mind of an economy as a living being with sentience and its own will, you will never understand it. They belong to the civilization in which they stand, and they are only so healthy as the moral climate of the civilization itself.

Ours is hollow and nearly dead. It’s a science fiction horror monster. Still subject to the moral fabric of the universe as expressed in Biblical Law, even as our global economy dies, we can still harvest what little good is available.

So the starting point for you individually is to remind your flesh that it will not get everything that it wants. It’s not supposed to. You have to understand that there is a permanent disconnect between your instinctive wishes and what God says is in your best interest. No matter how much we grant to the flesh, it cannot be satisfied. Annoyances are the norm; navigate your best path between them. Find a peaceful place so you can learn to live with them and be grateful. The power of joy is inside of you, not in the things you have.

You won’t get that from the academic study of economics. What it will tell you is that the debt system is what is most at risk of collapse. There is a tremendous mass of notional debt with nothing of value behind it. At some point, the sheer volume of debt will drag big finance to a halt as the debt servicing falls too far behind. What keeps the system alive is the perception that the debts are being paid back at some profitable level. Perception at the upper levels does lag reality; most of the big money pushers don’t know when to back off because it appears too profitable. Even the factor of inflation that lowers the value of a particular debt doesn’t change the very real loss of the consumers’ power to repay. Their income doesn’t keep pace with the inflation because of a systemic cultural bias among financiers that pressures employers to hold wages down. Having an MBA degree means you see things only from the financiers point of view.

As previously noted, this is a bad time to be in debt. Resolve those obligations as best you can, because each one represents a dependency and vulnerability to the ravages of plutocrats scrambling to save their vulnerable wealth when this system breaks. Do what you can to shield your assets and resources from repossession, because that’s coming. However, always bear in mind that the one thing no one can take from you is what’s inside of you. Things may get so ugly as to result in a literal form of slavery; the laws can change without notice because the plutocrats are the government. On top of that, most laws have loopholes that allow all kinds of new tricks not yet declared illegal. Prepare your mind for the worst in those terms. Nobody can predict how debt obligations will be shifted to new owners and how financiers will attempt to squeeze the last bit of value from them. It will likely be chaotic.

Beyond that remains the exchange of things that don’t require debt. I find it improbable that our economy will be reduced to barter. There are simply too many options that even local governments can take to keep things moving. This lower economy will take on a life of its own. Individual actors will have a stronger influence at this smaller scale. This is where you and I can exploit the power of Biblical Law, using its power to harvest something better than mere survival. By preparing beforehand to operate without the cushion of borrowing, your instincts take a different path entirely. The whole system of running a household or business means the terminology takes on a wholly different definition.

You are likely to perceive two ways in which a Biblical Law approach will benefit you. First, this is how God operates, so He’s going to steer reality in your favor. All of those things nobody can possibly understand and control will fall your way. Of course, God also retains His inscrutable purpose and your individual hassles will reflect His plan for you, but you can’t do better than doing this God’s way. Second, your attitude will influence others. So if your landlord sees your determination not to push the burden off unfairly onto him, perhaps he will seek ways to keep your rent within your budget. When the ultimate ownership on paper starts jumping around, the managers on the ground will often have a freer hand to deal. But you’ll notice that both of these two ways of benefit are linked, because staying in God’s favor means He moves in the hearts of others to favor you, as well.

That’s it for now. Ask questions if you have any.

Prickly Failure

I am human and there are limits to what I can do.

I confess there are a handful of people I don’t want to see; I struggle to be polite when I do see them. For a couple of folks in particular, I won’t even try. But I feel at peace because in each case I offered plenty of chances to seize onto my nice side. It wasn’t hatred at first sight. Very few people in my life so far have possessed such talent and spite as to infuriate me right away, and I haven’t seen any of them in ages. I generally approach everyone with an attempt to show them my Father’s love. And those who are on my bad side can always find terms of peace; I don’t enjoy animosity.

In this, I don’t stand on principle. I operate from the heart-mind.

At one time I moved among those who spoke often of “standing on principle” but I found it painful to operate their way. It burned in my heart even when I could pull off the results these people claimed I should seek. I was never really a part of that world, but they were all around me. I continue to see and read of their social encounters when “standing on principle” and it’s often pointlessly rude. They claim it’s necessary to preserve their God-given rights, but I counter that it’s not the God who made us that ever spoke of “rights” as they mean it.

It’s the wrong question. We should be thinking in terms of dominion and boundaries. The only time I yell and act forcefully is when someone threatens something I cannot surrender morally. It’s not about rights but about calling and mission. It’s not personal; it is morally contextual. I’m not trying to put someone in their place and make them adhere to some imaginary standard of justice arising from a heathen culture. I’m simply acting as my God demands, and most folks will certainly consider it inconsistent because they are trying to force God into a rational box. The Spirit of God doesn’t program us like computers.

I have no expectation that I can fix any part of this world. We live in a damned system, so I have no intention to trying to roll back imaginary violations against this foul system. I’m not going to use law and Constitutional rights to bludgeon other people who cross such man-made boundaries. If I can create a better atmosphere for smoother cooperation, I will. I’ll meet them halfway or whatever because it’s about people, not some mythical objective standard.

By the same token, I’ll be damned if I buy into the goofball middle-class bureaucratic “niceness” that quivers in fear at somehow violating their sacred social consensus. The social system around me is damned and I won’t pretend to care either way, but I also won’t go out of my way to start a fight. I’ll seek social stability on God’s terms, not man’s.

I’m often embarrassed to be around those rights activists because it looks like an excuse to spread hatred.

Perverted Professional Standards

There’s a burden on my mind about church leadership.

I’ll pick the occasion of Tullian Tchividjian’s professional meltdown for my opinionated screed. The linked story includes more detail than most accounts in the popular media. Let’s pretend it’s accurate, though I am no fan of the site. What matters is not so much this famous pastor’s experience as the entangling mess that made this whole thing worse than it should have been.

First: Don’t confuse pastors with elders, and don’t confuse deacons with elders. In the Bible, there have always been Two Witnesses, the king and the priest. Part of our problem is a horrific confusion over what those words mean, so perhaps it works better if we say sheikh and shaman. That helps you understand that the Bible is an Eastern document that presumes you already grasp that humanity is hard-wired to live in that moral milieu. Studying the Bible means first and foremost that you learn how to think like an Ancient Hebrew and ditch that Western intellectual model.

This link is typical enough of mainstream evangelical thinking about qualifications of a pastor. Right away we see that it confuses elder and pastor. I suppose it would require a genuine revolution with actual bloodshed before we get organized religion to do what’s right so I don’t expect this to change. But a pastor should be the ritual leader, a priestly function that calls to mind the higher meaning behind the symbolism we use in our worship and practice. The elder is the household ruler — the Bible presents the church as a defacto extended family household. The only time you see the two offices merged is when the church body is too small and too new to this whole game-change. Someone who operates in missionary mode approximates what the Apostles did and they were typically both pastor and elder until things got rolling. A deacon is a male or female attendant who helps both pastor and elder get things done, bearing some middling measure of authority.

The pastor is generally a full-timer, set aside for his mission. The elder might be full time as well, if the body can afford it, but he’s often a retired fellow who is already respected enough to rule. Pastors are appointed; elders arise naturally. In Judea, the first churches already had a protocol for selecting who among the various family chiefs would become the senior elder. The working relationship of the pastor and elder varied just as it might for an ancient sheikh and shaman.

But because Western Christianity has been doing it wrong since at least the time of Constantine when he suckered the church into participating in secular politics, we see some serious and painful side-effects. Not least is that a church organized as a Western bureaucracy or corporation will always be the wrong shape and size to meet genuine moral and spiritual needs. It cannot possibly do the work of God, not on purpose. His miracles will happen, but largely in spite of the perverted model.

The next most obvious flaw is the Western Myth of the Great Man. This is wholly absent in biblical thinking. While that linked list of qualifications is a proper quotation, it’s not a proper understanding of most of the Bible passages mean, because they are pulled from the specific context in which they were written. Still, it’s not hard to figure that you don’t want corrupt and violent thugs running the church. Charisma is the last consideration, not the first. Paul fought with that because he had precious little of it and people struggled (especially cultural Gentiles) with responding to him as a man of divine authority. I challenge you to tell me about the pastor of some monster church whose position doesn’t depend on charisma first. Paul would never make in Western Christianity.

On top of this, the profession comes with a false aura of moral superiority. The one bright spot in Tchividjian’s story is that he refuses to run and hide. I’ll let you decide whether that’s because of chutzpah or because he’s honestly trying to do the right thing and buck the broken system. I don’t take issue with his divorce or pursuing a fresh romance; I take issue with the apparent moral standards of his new girlfriend given her choice of costumes. I suppose we should wait and see if she improves on that. Still, his words approach the proper response to this mythology of church leaders as better than the membership. Biblical leadership is a matter of moral character, not performance to some artificial standard that few can sanely match. I can testify that being placed on a pedestal like that is a primary factor in temptation.

Not least is that you will try to hide things that normal people do. This is exacerbated by the perverted view of human sexuality held by most of Western Christianity, a view that arises from heathen mythology, not Scripture.

I’m starting to see glimmers of truth here and there in non-traditional churches, but nowhere near enough. Things are shifting quickly and I cannot guess how far or in what direction it will go, but what we see in the mainstream is ripe for collapse because it can’t keep up with the pace set by God’s wrath. It’s built on the wrong foundation and the flood will come and wash their sand away.

Context and Separation

No other human has the authority to decide for you what is the will of God.

People do have the authority to exclude you from things He has placed in their hands, by whatever means necessary. The only question, then, is discerning the boundaries of dominion. We rightly reject the notions of justice and dominion that arise from traditional European and American custom as arising from a heathen background. All divine justice is rooted in Ancient Near Eastern feudal law and custom because that was God’s Law ever since the Garden of Eden. Once you understand that ancient system, it’s not hard to discern where your boundaries end and those of another person begin.

So long as you respect the boundaries as God revealed them, the worst someone can do is ostracize you. That ends up being the sum total of New Testament church discipline, as well. That’s because the earthly legal authority vested in the Covenant of Moses ended at the Cross. It was forever afterward a record of the peculiar expression of divine justice, a critical source in understanding God and what eventually made the Cross necessary. The Covenant was meant to fail in a certain sense, but it did embody a reflection of God’s moral character.

Under the Law of Moses, the community could carry out various forms of punishment, up to and including capital penalties executed in various ways. But even then, the execution rested on the violator remaining in physical custody of the covenant community. Should the perpetrator flee the jurisdiction of that community, pursuit was generally prohibited. An awful lot of Mosaic penalties depended entirely on the violator trying to stay within the dominion of the covenant. A great many penalties consisted of withdrawing covenant covering, treating the violator as outside the covenant protections. It meant they were no longer regarded as family. The idea was the protect and promote the stability of the covenant community.

Very few violations were such a serious threat as to justify execution. It was not a question of some threat to “law and order” as the phrase is used today, but a threat to the fragile human unity of a tribal community. Everyone under the covenant was considered the same as blood kin in one degree or another. All covenant members were your covenant family, and the closer their kinship, the greater their liberties in your human existence. Close kin could make demands distant relatives could not. Someone who could hear you snore at night knew you better than someone who rarely saw you. They were more likely to be merciful where you needed it and strict when you crossed the line. Everyone understood this instinctively.

One of the biggest threats to a stable tribal society was adultery. The expectation of not having to share sexual intimacy outside the marriage partnership was powerful. It helped to create a level of trust wholly necessary for a stable society. In a close-knit tribal society, the greatest threat of sexual rivalry came from your nearest neighbors, who were your closest kin. The sense of betrayal would create an intolerable emotional pressure cooker. The Law of Moses granted the women some ownership over her husband’s sexual fidelity, something quite new in that part of the world. Either husband or wife as the wronged party could forgive and the community was required to abide by it; this was frankly the most common outcome. However, either wronged party could also demand stoning as the penalty for catching his/her spouse in the act. The difference depended on whether the spouse had worked much to develop that level of trust in the first place.

And what of divorce? Jesus said it was not really the way God intended things to be, but that Moses granted a man the power to divorce a wife who simply didn’t please him. However, the restrictions on divorce were pretty high, much higher than with surrounding nations. That’s because the context placed an awful lot of power in the husband’s hands. He gets rid of a woman and it means darned little, but for his ex-wife it could mean the end of her hopes for any kind of normal life. The man had to insure that she could at least survive and not simply toss her out on the street. Further, he had to give her a certificate of divorce that allowed her to remarry. She was a fellow member of the covenant.

And what of this other form of marital separation called “putting away” (Ezra 10)? This is simply the practice of separation, typically without a proper certificate. While a Hebrew man could elect to use this when his spouse was an adulteress, in Ezra it applied to women who had not converted, and thus remained “foreign.” These women were not protected by the Covenant. Try to remember that an awful lot of translation from Hebrew and Greek Scripture into English was guided by the Western church based on all kinds of non-biblical moral concepts. Western Christians try to assert their heathen legal traditions on a par with Moses. When God said in Malachi that He hated “divorce” it was actually the practice of removing a woman from her covenant privileges — a mere separation without that certificate of divorce. God cared about the fate of the woman.

While a legal divorce still wasn’t what God had in mind, it was better than what many other Ancient Near Eastern nations did. Our problem today is that we are utterly lacking in any of the context that goes with Jesus’ teaching and with Moses’ Law. We don’t have a cultural background that takes marriage anywhere near as seriously as did the Hebrew people. (Note in passing: Hebrew culture didn’t idolize virginity the way Western Christian culture seems to do.) What we have is a legalistic tradition that raises some imaginary objective standard to the place of God. It’s the same as idolatry, because it worships a god who doesn’t actually exist.

When Jesus referred to worshiping Mammon (such as in Matthew 6), it wasn’t just a throw-away line about greed. It was an established rabbinical reference from ancient times, well before the Hellenized perversion He faced every day. The ancient concept that comes to us under the name of Mammon is materialism, a much broader false philosophical orientation. It includes the kind of legalism that arises from materialistic assumptions. Thus, Jesus was using that ancient nickname for the very core of Pharisaical teaching that was little more than Aristotelian logic, a worldview that said if we can’t test it with our senses and our reason, it wasn’t important. Pharisaical legalism tried to make written Law into something that could be tested that way. Their teaching was the direct result of Moses’ Law perverted by non-Hebrew philosophical assumptions about reality. Hebrew intellectual traditions were inherently mystical; proof was written by the finger of God in the soul that heard His truth. Legalism about divorce is just as much a worship of Mammon as greed is.

Apostle Paul offered dire warnings about spreading your sexual favors around, too. If you have sex once, you are bound to that partner in some unique moral sense. Your life doesn’t end if you can’t carry through on all the moral implications of sexual union, but you have certainly lost something you can’t get back. He also advised his church members to allow a pagan spouse to leave or stay in the marriage, but it was not a legalistic ruling. He also knew that at some point, it could become impossible to continue in a really bad marriage, and that Ezra wasn’t just being a legalistic butthead, though English translations make it seem that way. Those foreign spouses who converted could stay. Paul was trusting God for the power of mercy to awaken pagan hearts. He also worried that this new Christian religion would become known for threatening social stability by breaking up marriages. How many different nasty rumors can you imagine starting from that sort of thing?

So if your spouse hinders your divine calling, how much distance is enough to please God? You are obliged to consider ways to tolerate some level of tension between what you know ought to be and what you can actually do. How many different ways can you disengage and still keep the social structure running along? If you aren’t already led by the heart, you cannot possibly know anything about any of it in the first place. You cannot know the will of God unless your heart rules over your life because God doesn’t speak to the intellect, only to the heart. You cannot defer to someone else’s judgment for what God requires when you stand before Him.

And if you obey the heart, no human on earth has any business telling you it’s not the voice of God.