Thursday, March 14, 2013

God's Politics and Mine

Wallis in Parts III and IV bites off a whole lot to chew on -- War and Poverty -- Two realities that have always been with us, and surely are evident in the world today.   Writing in 2004/5 Wallis of course is focused on the aftermath of 9/11 and the presidency of George W. Bush.  Charitably, Wallis does not see W as bad person, a hypocrite religiously.   Rather, W is sadly misinformed about what biblical faith is.  (And so are a whole bunch of other American Christians.)  Wallis -- rightly, in my view -- finds the civic religion of our time frightening, and dangerous.  

"The real theological problem in America today is no longer the religious Right, but the nationalist religion of the Bush administration, one that confuses the identity of the nation with the church, and God’s purposes with the mission of American empire."  (Kindle  2806-2807)

W is no longer President, of course.   But given the current President's use of war in Afghanistan and military drones a whole lot of other places, one is disappointed that we haven't moved farther away from war as an instrument of international politics.  It is deeply entrenched in us all.

In Part IV  Wallis makes some excellent points about where conservatives and liberals ought to be able to agree.  He points to 'conservative' values of promoting healthy families, teaching personal responsibility, and discouraging sexual promiscuity as values that everyone can and should embrace, for the good of the poor.  Liberals are right to point out where economic and social systems deny opportunity to the poor.  But as they do, they shouldn't be ashamed to also say "Amen" to some of the things conservatives value.

Wallis calls the church to stand with the poor, personally and politically. And he cites instances where people of faith, working together, have been able to achieve great changes in the world.

Along the way he makes good use of biblical material:  the idea of "Jubilee" in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Mary's Magnificat, the many voices of the prophets that excoriate the rich who oppress the poor.


  1. Ralph,

    In our Saturday meetup, I commented that I recently read a shocking claim that the world's 100 richest have 4x enough income to eliminate poverty. Here's what I was talking about:

    "The cost of inequality: how wealth and income extremes hurt us all"
    January 18 2013
    ..."The top 100 billionaires added $240 billion to their wealth in 2012- enough to end world poverty four times over.28"...

    28 and
    the top 100 billionaires added $241 billion to their income in 2012. The Brookings institute had estimated it would take around $66 billion annually to bring everyone above the $1.25 dollar a day line- see page 13
    (This footnote was revised 21 January 2013.)


  2. I hope we can agree on this.

    My Golden Rule:
    We ought to treat all sentient or conscious beings as we would rationally be willing to be treated if we were going to be in all of these being’s positions, and would be relevantly like them.
    This seems to be compatible with Derek Parfit's Golden Rule (G6):
    "G6: We ought to treat everyone as we would rationally be willing to be treated if we were going to be in all of these people’s positions, and would be relevantly like them."
    Parfit, Derek (2011-09-27). On What Matters: Two-volume set (Kindle Locations 6104-6105). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

  3. Derek Parfit has affirmed my version of the Golden Rule! I emailed him yesterday, and he quickly replied "I would indeed accept your widened version of G6, which applies to all conscious or sentient beings." Hip Hip Hooray!

    So, how about you, Ralph and members of this blog? Do you accept my Golden Rule (see my previous comment, above)? This is very important. I really want to know. What do you think, and how do you feel about it?

    1. From Jim Paulson --

      Unfortunately, this begs the question: What is a sentient being? What beings are conscious? Is your dog sentient? Probably -- anyway we tend to treat our pets well. Is it conscious? Self-conscious? In what way? Is a rodent sentient and conscious? A chicken? A fish? Where is the line drawn between sentient/conscious and not?
      I suspect that you (Steve) are trying to convince everyone to move into the animal rights corner. It's not so simple as Parfit's expanded G6, however.
      This all brings to mind your comment in an earlier e-mail, concerning the "false belief" of Jehovah's Witnesses that blood transfusions are wrong. It is not so obvious to me that that belief is "wrong" or "false". Like the Jewish and Moslem laws against eating pork, there is a logic to it, in terms of avoiding disease. This is evident from the many cases in which AIDS or hepatitis were contracted from transfusions, before tests for these infections were available. Moreover, the opposition of these people to blood transfusions led surgeons to develop procedures that are more sparing of blood, which has benefitted everyone.
      Now imagine a society that depends on killing animals for food, clothing and shelter. This could be the Inuit, or the Kyrgyz of eastern Afghanistan. People who live in places where growing crops is impossible. Such people might very well look upon vegetarianism or the animal rights movement as "false beliefs".

      -- Jim

    2. As in a democracy circle, it may be best for me to sit back and listen, for now, rather than argue or react. I will merely provide a few relevant facts to help answer some questions and inform the discussion/debate.

      Google provides these helpful definitions of my terms:

      Aware of and responding to one's surroundings; awake.
      Having knowledge of something; aware.
      aware - sensible - deliberate

      Able to perceive or feel things: "sentient life forms".
      sensitive - sensible - susceptible - tender - feeling

      “The Golden Rule” is among the subject headers in this subject index for the Bible, which includes a reference to the following passage about the ethical/humane treatment of animals:

      Topical Index: The Golden Rule - Bible words from Nave's Topical Bible

      Deuteronomy 5:14
      New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
      14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.;%20Deuteronomy%205:14,15;%20Matthew%207:12;%20Luke%206:31;%20Romans%2013:9;

      In response to my email, Parfit also quoted this passage from his book’s section on “The Golden Rule” (section 46, which we read/discussed in October of 2011) to show his support for my GR:

      “There are various objections to the Golden Rule. It can be difficult to imagine that we shall be in other people’s positions and shall be relevantly like these other people. And what we must try to imagine would often be deeply impossible. But that is not, as some writers claim, a decisive objection. Some thought-experiments are useful even though they ask us to imagine something that is deeply impossible. Einstein usefully asked what he would see if he were travelling at the speed of light. Though we could not possibly be the horse whom we are whipping, or the trapped and starved animal whose fur we are wearing, we can imagine such things well enough for moral purposes.”
      --Parfit, Derek (2011-09-27). On What Matters: Two-volume set (Kindle Locations 6146-6151). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

  4. Thinking aloud here . . . Jesus taught us to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." He was, presumably (because we have no evidence otherwise) talking about human beings -- how I should behave toward other human beings.
    So the first step Steve wants us to take in broadening this teaching is to include all sentient (I think that means capable of sensation, especially pain) OR conscious (I think that means having self-awareness, and perhaps ability to reason? or plan?) beings. Again, just to reference Jesus, I doubt if he would have thought in these sorts of categories, but that is probably beside the point.
    There is probably a whole lot of debate that Parfit and others are able to engage in here -- defining just exactly what "sentient" means (are my lovely tulips sentient?) and what makes a being "conscious."
    The steers who die so that I can have the belt and slippers I in fact just ordered this morning -- clearly sentient . . . I suppose "conscious" of something, whether it be being relaxed or wrestling with issues of right and wrong, I cannot say.
    It is true for me (having grown up in a city) that I probably could not bring myself to shoot that steer. But I am content to let others do it -- it is their livelihood, and they apparently don't have qualms about that profession.
    The hunters among us have a much more direct experience in such matters, and so perhaps have the best vantage point on the issue. I fished as a kid (my bass, caught when I was 10, hangs on the wall of my office, with a photo of me holding it the day he died), but I would have a harder time today.
    If I were a steer who had been breed and raised for the purpose of providing food and income to my owners, and if I could have an opinion on it, I would hope to be treated well when I lived, and killed easily and quickly. Of course, I am only imagining all that -- I have no clue what steers think or feel.
    There are some random thoughts on a complex issue!