The Politics of God and the Politics of Man

Lucas Land has an interesting discussion of Jacques Ellul’s book The Politics of God and the Politics of Man on his excellent blog What Would Jesus Eat?  Read the whole thing HERE.  Here is an excerpt:

In spite of all that can be said, in spite of every secular argument to justify money and the state and science and technology, to show that we are right to use these things, it is quite unbiblical to appeal to these agents of political power. (147)

Now, I might be only including this because of its connection to conversations here about the role of property in the Bible. I do think that it reveals something about the argument Ellul is making. It reveals something about our own trust in these things. These things cannot and should not be justified by Scripture. God weeps when Israel rejects the judges for a king. The relationship with money and possessions described in Scripture is uneasy at best. Science and technology are in some ways simply extensions of money, possessions and the state, but more in that when we talk about the book Sharing Possessions.

[The Church] has never to say to the state: This must be done. It has rather to tell it on God’s behalf what will in effect be done, what the state on its own initiative will undoubtedly be led to do. (85)

This recalls Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that the church is the “conscience of the state.” How often are we telling the state what to do? How often are we trying to coerce the state (or others) to do what we think is God’s will? Ellul and King both reveal that our job is actually to reveal the truth about what the state really is. This is the prophetic word that is spoken. It does not predict the future. Instead, it only reveals the truth of the nature of the kingdoms of this world. It says, “This is how Empires behave. This is their nature and you are no different.”

Love Wins

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The Dude Abides

I encourage y’all to go read Cathleen Falsani’s interview of Rob Bell, which is HERE.

Here is an excerpt:

I begin with the world that we live in right now and the simple observation that we can choose heaven and hell right now. I see lots of hell around me all the time. We all do. From greed to abuse to rape to genocide to exploitation of people who are vulnerable, we see this around us all the time.

And then I see people choosing peace and joy all the time, and experiencing extraordinary peace that transcends anything you can get your mind around. I’ve sat with people who are days away from dying of cancer and they are connected with a peace and a joy that is so extraordinarily real it’s almost like you can see it in the room.

So I begin there. I begin with this life, with what we see around us and I begin that way because that’s how Jesus talked. He talked about realities that are right here right now. And so my assumption is that love wins. Love creates freedom. Love always demands freedom. And so we are free to choose. And this freedom has consequences. You can resist and reject this love, both in your own experience of it and in the ways in which you refuse to extend it to others, and you can receive it and pass it on to others, which seems to me to be the center of what Jesus keeps bringing up. ‘Love God. Love others.’

So love demands freedom. Freedom has consequences and then it also creates all sorts of possibilities. And so my experience has been that the love of God that Jesus came to give us and show us and teach us about, when you say yes to it, all sorts of things happen that you could never have dreamed up on your own.

Love Wins

Trash

When it comes to making trash, we are Number One.

Americans produce more trash, by far, than any other people on earth.  The average American produces 29% more trash than the average person in Europe or Japan, for example.

According to the EPA, in 2007 Americans produced, on average, 4.6 pounds of trash per day.  In a year, the average American generates 1,679 pounds of garbage.  A family of four produces about 6,700 pounds of trash every year, which is more than the weight of a Chevy Suburban.  The amount of trash generated by the average American is 73% more today than it was in 1960. 

Of course all that trash has to go somewhere, so landfills are big business.  25% of all the trash generated in America ends up crossing state lines.  Unfortunately, a lot of trash from other places ends up buried in the soil of Virginia.  Of the nearly 16 million tons of trash buried in Virginia in 2007, 35% of it was imported from other states.

You can read more about our trade in trash and garbage HERE.

This is all unsustainable of course.  We can’t go on indefinitely cranking out a couple thousand pounds of garbage each year for every man, woman and child in America.  It will have to stop eventually, so why not now?

Consume less.   Recycle.

Love Wins

Expendable?

(Would it be) be ethical for our species to be sacrificed for the unimaginably vast happiness of some superbeings? Provided that we take the time to really imagine the details (which is not easy), I think the answer is clearly “yes.” There seems no reason to suppose that we must occupy the highest peak on the moral landscape.

I came across this quote from Sam Harris in a review of his new book The Moral Landscape, and I found it startling.   I’ve never understood why some people are attracted to atheism.  Agnosticism, provided it springs from honest doubt, I can understand.   But it seems to me that to claim with certainty that there is no God is to make a religious claim, given that the claim is unproveable and must therefore rest on faith.  Atheism then, at least to my small mind, must derive from ignorance, arrogance or stubbornness.  I include “ignorance” in that list because I have come across several folks in my life who called themselves atheists without understanding the meaning of the word.  Most were merely agnostic and one or two were theists who rejected Christian orthodoxy.  But for those who understand what it is to be an atheist and still claim the title, my sense is that they so strongly want there to be no God that they make a leap of faith into atheism and they hold their ground out of stubborness and arrogance. 

Which brings me back to Mr. Harris and his remarkable comment on Nozick’s “utility monster.”  Is humanity (along with everything else on our planet) so devoid of intrinsic worth that all we know could ethically be sacrificed to bring happiness to some “superbeings”?  And is this amazing proposition not just possibly true, but clearly true? 

I admit that I have not read any of the series of best-sellers being cranked out these days by the school of militant atheism.  Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others have certainly discovered a product that sells.  It seems that lots of folks want to be given scientific reasons to be atheists–as if atheism is something that can be proven scientifically.  From what I’ve seen of the work of Dawkins and Hitchens, their weapon of choice is not something like the intellectually valid Problem of Evil, for example, but rather the undeniable fact that the stories of the Old Testament are often shocking and nonsensical in the contemporary world.  Nevermind that the truth of that proposition does not negate the existence of God–not even the particular God Yahweh.  But I suppose an honest assessment of their work would require that I actually read it, and since I haven’t done that, any more on that topic will have to wait. 

I am confident, however, that the vast majority of theists and agnostics would agree with me that there is no imaginable scenario in which our world might be ethically sacrificed for the happiness of alien superbeings, at least not on the grounds that we might not occupy a sufficiently high peak on the moral landscape.  While nearly all of us would acknowledge that there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for another, we would not accept the notion that humanity might be expendable for the utility of some species that is “superior” to our own and whose moral code would trump our very existence.

But it seems to me that Mr. Harris’ conclusion is intellectually honest if premised on his atheism.  If there is no God whose existence binds the universe together, if there is no love which transcends our material existence, if the imago dei is not imprinted on humanity, then whatever importance we attach to our “species” is a mere animalistic survival mechanism or the wanderings of minds which haven’t evolved to a purely precise and rational operation.  And why such a world-view could be attractive to intelligent human beings is more mysterious to me than any theological issue could ever be.

Love Wins

What we need is here.

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

~Wendell Berry “What We Need Is Here”

Love Wins

Wiser

Nature wears out man before man wears out nature….  It seems wiser to be moderate in our expectations of nature, and respectful; and out of so simple a thing as respect for the physical earth and its teeming life, comes a primary joy, which is an inexhaustible source of arts, and religion and philosophies. 

John Crowe Ransom

Love Wins

 

Disappearing farms

Over the past century the U.S. has gone from having a predominantly rural, farm-based population, to having a predominantly urban population.  Over 80% of Americans now live in urban areas, and most of the 20% who still live in rural areas are not farmers.

Rural Americans have higher rates of poverty, lower wages and are less educated than their urban counterparts.

And, of course, there is no economic incentive to be a farmer.  It’s nearly impossible to make a living at it, particularly if the farm is operated sustainably.  Less than half of farm operators have farming as their primary source of income.  Think about that.  Most farmers earn a majority of their income from off-farm jobs.  Typically one spouse works a job off the farm to provide for the family, leaving the other spouse to manage the day to day operations of the farm.  55% of farms have total gross sales of less than $10,000.  That is gross sales, not profits.  The average farm in America operates at a loss.  77% of the farms in America have gross sales of less than $50,000.  Clearly farmers aren’t in it for the money.

So is there any wonder that young people aren’t taking up farming as their occupation?  Why would they?  It will put food on the table, but it won’t pay the rent.

Meanwhile the cost of farmland is being driven up by urban sprawl.  As the urban areas enlarge, they move into rural farm areas, driving up the cost of land and making it impossible for farmers to afford it.  Because it is impossible to pay for farm land with the earnings from farming, the land becomes suburbs.

The American Farmland Trust reports that 78% of vegetables and 67% of dairy products are from land threatened by development, as are 54% of poultry products and 91% of fruit, berry and nut farms.

If only these suburban non-farmers would plant gardens in their backyards.  But the vast majority don’t.  So the shelves of supermarkets are filled with imported food and the sun continues to set on the traditional American way of life.

Love Wins