Monday, July 30, 2012

Is Our Short Sightedness Leading to the End Times?

Are we worrying about the right things?

Yes, the economy is bad.  We need jobs.  But, believe it or not, there is something worse than no jobs.  Consider having no water for example.  If there’s no available water, literally no water, all the money in the world will do us no good.  Severe drought, melting mountain-icecaps, retreating glaciers, extreme weather patterns, global warming; are we really doing all we can to understand, let alone prevent, the human-factor from making things worse?

As an ordinary citizen, not a scientist, my observation is that something is wrong and things are not as they used to be.  My second observation is that, for years, honest-to-goodness, ordinary and well-meaning scientists have been trying to warn us: we’ve got to do something about global warming—at least make an attempt to reduce the human-factor in the global-warming equation.  However, as far as I can tell, there are certain powers (that stand to lose a lot of money and clout, if we actually took global-warming seriously enough to make a concerted effort at changing our lifestyle because of it) that continue to obstruct this message.

Take the way that our own state of Pennsylvania has handled the Marcellus Shale gas/oil deposits.  Instead of moving slowly and carefully, instead of beginning with a priority of preserving fresh clean water wells, and giving first priority to protecting nature, land, and livestock, the priority was money and profit for oil-companies in the name of so-called job growth.  I predict that this misplaced priority will come back to haunt us in the long run.  Isn’t it becoming all too obvious even for the most casual observer that our next series of international wars will not be over oil but over such basics as available fresh-water and food?

Yes, I know we need jobs.  But we are being way too short-sighted by reducing all decisions to the question of immediate profit (for certain industries, such as the oil-industry) in the name of job-growth.  Politicians, profiteering companies, and profiting land-owners who have gladly and willingly sold access-rights, and apathetic on-lookers, we’re all guilty.  Call me Chicken Little, but I say we are literally destroying our world—while a few are laughing all the way to the bank. 

For the sake of immediate gain and eager profiteering, we continue to make things worse with regard to earth’s ability to produce the basic necessities of life—clean drinking water, healthy food-crops, and livable land.  In short, around the world we humans are raping Mother Nature.  For example, China has some of the worst polluted land in the world, which is a direct result of their turbo-charged attempt to become a global economic power equal to that of the U.S.   Economically, they are indeed succeeding in doing so.  But at what cost have they succeeded—to their land, their people, and their natural resources—air, water, animal and plant life?

When the earth can no longer sustain what we humans demand of it, what then?  Yet we refuse to think that there can be, or will be, any severe repercussions to our raping of Mother Nature.

So be it.  But consider this: Jesus actually warned us that these things would happen in the “Last Days.”  Here’s what Jesus said: “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.”  Why, could it be because of the need for fresh-water and basic food necessities?  Note Jesus’ next line: “There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  But all this is only the beginning of the birthpangs.”  [See Matthew 24:4-8.]  Jesus also said this: “For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”  [See Matthew 24:21.]  Jesus knew.  He knew that we humans would trash this world and make it next to impossible to live on.  He also knew that there would be much change in the world’s climate pattern—many earthquakes and famine.  And all this is only the beginning of the end.

Am I being too negative, doom and gloom?  Well, look at us.  I mean, seriously, look at the news every night and ask yourself: In just this one issue alone—regarding the handling of earth’s resources—as a whole, globally, internationally, as well as nationally and locally, are we really heading in the right direction; are we really doing what’s necessary to fix what’s going wrong with our water, soil, air, and land usage?  If we’re honest, I’d suspect we’d have to say no, we are not.  We’re too splintered, special-interest-oriented, blinded by our own immediate wants and needs.  Watch and wait.  Is it too extraordinary to think that the day will come when either we or our children or our children’s children will have to say, “We’ve blown it; we have a mess that we cannot buy, work, or pay our way out of.”  What then, the apocalypse?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another Senseless Shooting in Colorado, but Why!?

We’re curious (not to mention furious).  We ask “Why?”  We wonder, what was his motive?

We want to make sense of the whole thing.

When tragedy doesn’t make sense, it is all the more painful and much more difficult to deal with.  The world has to make sense to us.  It has to have meaning.

Young lives cut short by a shooting madman.  And we have yet to hear why.  Nevertheless, we’re confident that, in time, we will learn.  His story, history, background, reasons, rationale, thinking, purpose, intent, motive, it will all come to light after much investigation.  It has to, because, we have to know why.

Meaning!  What does this mean?  It translates into the challenging question asked of many clergy, “If there is a God, why did God let this happen?”

Well, before we go any further, the immediate need of the families that have been directly impacted by this shooting is that of loving and caring presence and support.  They are hurting.  They are in trauma.  They have suffered great loss.  Our hearts and prayers go out to them.  They don’t need to hear rationales, explanations, or theological treatises on the nature of evil, death, and dying.  They need comfort, love, peace, and the presence of safe and caring people.  God be with them in this time of great loss and sorrow.

Yes.  About God, where is God in such times of tragic and senseless loss?

The truth is, God is here, with us, in our suffering.  There is good reason why one of the many names or titles or “handles,” if you will, that is given to Jesus, is that of the Suffering Servant.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” --> “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 4:12 and 2:18).

God understands our pain our loss and our suffering, in the person of Jesus.  This is why the incarnation, the person, life, suffering/death, and resurrection of Jesus are so central to the Gospel message: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me’” (Hebrews 10:5).  By means of the Cross, Jesus knows our loss and is intimately acquainted with our sufferings.  By means of the Resurrection, Jesus gives us Eternal Life, the promise of ultimate peace and consolation.

Life must make sense.  So must evil, pain, suffering, and death.

Don’t get angry at God.  Rather, turn to God for your answer, and receive true comfort, peace, and hope in the face of such seemingly senseless tragedy and loss.

Monday, July 16, 2012

CEO Jamie Dimon’s response to JPMorgan-Chase loss of almost $6 BILLION is inadequate; Mitt Romney’s response was no better, if not worse!

First it was a $2 Billion loss; then I heard $4 Billion.  Lately I’ve seen that it is almost $6 Billion?  JPMorgan Chase Bank has admitted to a $5.8 Billion dollar loss (will this number rise too?).  That’s Billions of dollars we’re talking about folks!

First question: Why has the number (of actual dollars lost) risen from $2 to $5.8 Billion dollars?  Because, the bank says, its traders initially tried to conceal the true amount they lost.  Oh really?  What a surprise!

Second question: How did this loss happen in the first place?  Apparently it was a trading-bet (or set of trading-bets) in the financial market-game that went sour.  Well isn’t that a shame.

Third question, I have to wonder: What if that same trading-bet (or set of bets) did well, gained instead of lost?  Would these same bank-traders have received bonuses instead of being fired?  Would they have been held-up as role-models for other traders to follow by example?  “We like results.  Do more of the same.”  Yet, is this not the same kind of banking-mentality that got us into this messed-up economy that we’re now in?

But here’s the reality.  Talk to anyone who works at a casino, for example, and the upshot is this: If you bet long enough and hard enough, your winnings will eventually become losses.  Ergo: Banks making bets in the financial market-game are no different: Great gains will eventually become great losses.  It’s that simple.

Here’s a bit of irony.  We cry foul and think very little of a man who causes his family to suffer because of huge betting-losses at gambling casinos, but we somehow think it a matter of business-is-business when banks gamble and sustain great losses in the trading-game, hurting millions of hardworking citizens along the way.  Why is this?

According to Corky Siemaszko of the New York Daily News, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney later dismissed the huge JPMorgan Chase loss as capitalism at work.  That’s it?  Capitalism at work, nothing more!  Let me ask you, do you think that a $5.8 Billion dollar loss is nothing?  And, by the way, do you know where you’re next paycheck is coming from, and do you have job security, and do you have all the income you need or want for your family’s welfare?  Is this really how capitalism is supposed to work?

Folks, we’ve got to de-sanctify Capitalism.  Capitalism is our Holy Cow.  Capitalism is Sacrosanct.  Oh Holy Capitalism!  It is to be received without question, accepted without doubt, and followed without scrutiny.  We worship Capitalism.  Yes we do.  And for that reason we are unwilling to change, modify, tweak, correct, or upgrade the system along the way—even when it is obvious that millions upon millions of people suffer from its sacred mantra: Laissez-Faire!

I saw Jamie Dimon’s response on BBC news.  Dimon is JPMorgan Chase’ CEO.  Here was his catch phrase, “We learned a lot from this.”  Oh really!  Whoopee Do!  So the man admits that he isn’t in total control and that he doesn’t know everything that there is to know about banking and the market system.  How nice, he’s learning.  A good show of humility too, I’ve got to admit that much.   But it’s not good enough.  Not for me, is it for you?

This same man has been fighting vehemently to reduce or to keep-back banking regulation.  This same man has been telling the public and congress that the banks know what they’re doing and so do not need Washington watch-dogs over their shoulders.  Laissez-Faire!! 

How about now, are we still to be convinced that Banks should be allowed to grow as big as they want, and trade as conveniently as they wish, with as little regulation as possible?  Are Bankers—especially those that run, lead, and manage our nation’s largest banks—really as trustworthy as, shall we say, Andy Griffith’s banker might have been in the fictitious town of Mayberry?  Folks, this is the real world we are talking about!  In today’s day and age, no huge institution or system, especially the banking system, should have free reign with little regulation.  Tell your congressional representative to stop cow-towing to the Wall Street/banking industry and start demanding more regulatory oversight.  Remember, Congress is supposed to represent the people!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Is Morality Now a Matter of Personal Opinion?

How does one determine right from wrong?

According to a book called Lost in Transition by Christian Smith, it seems that young Americans are not sure.  Apparently they lack the moral framework to adequately address moral dilemmas or even to know when they are being confronted with one.  Rape and murder are obviously wrong in their minds, but what about lying to one’s roommate, cheating on a test, or stealing a few dollars from mother’s purse?  Is there a moral sense in our young people in which these “lesser” forms of wrong-doing are thought of as immoral and therefore as something one must not, or should not do?  One interviewee put it this way: “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often.”  Alas, it would seem that questions of morality are not even on the radar-screen in the thinking of young people today.

Are moral choices now a matter of personal taste these days?  In our highly individualistic, independent, self-made, and self-determining society, it seems that the individual is the sole judge as to what is right or wrong—who’s to say?

Let’s think about it….

What is our source of Moral Authority today?  Who determines right from wrong?  Is morality revealed from “on high,” or is it discovered?  Or is morality simply inherited, imposed, shared, given, taught, something that we choose of our own accord?  It used to be clearly understood that God sets moral standards: “Thou shalt not…!”  Not anymore.  That being the case, who is to tell us what is right from what is wrong?  Is it the rich and powerful, the educated intelligentsia, the elected politician, the scientist, the media and trend-setting artist types?  Who?

What is the basis and purpose of morality?  Is it our happiness and pleasure, to feel good?  Why morality?  Is goodness its own reward?  Or is morality a means to a greater end?  If so, what is that end, what is the purpose of living a moral life?  In short, why should we bother with the moral question at all?

What is the measure of morality?  How do I know that I am being moral?  If what I am doing feels right, does that mean it’s moral?  Perhaps the measure of my success in being a moral person is whether or not it brings me happiness?  That can’t be, because being moral can often lead to great heartache and pain—telling the truth when it hurts, keeping one’s promise even at great sacrifice to one’s self.  So, obviously one’s pleasure cannot be an adequate measure of one’s morality?  So how do we know whether or not we are being successfully moral?

And finally, what does an appropriate moral framework for society look like?  Is it a common set of rules, laws, and regulations applied in the same manner by the same degree to the same people of one mind?  Must this moral framework be shared by all or only by a few powerful leaders?  Or, inversely, is morality only to be applied to the lower masses, with top powerful leaders being exempt from its standards?  Is morality only relative to person, place, and period, as one interviewee put it (when asked about questions of right and wrong): “I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it.  But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong.”  Should we conclude then that there is no unifying moral framework at all, no universal moral framework that is to be applied to all?

So what is America’s moral framework?  Is it freedom?  Is that it?  What are America’s essential moral principles?  Is it democracy and the right to happiness?  Is that all?  But what if my freedom becomes your enslavement or your right becomes my oppression?  What then?  And so, what is the basis of your moral framework?  And what is the authoritative source of your moral principles?  Do you live by them?  If not, what are the consequences?  If so, what are the benefits?

And, if there is a God, what might God have to say about our moral standards these days?  Hint: read what Jesus says in the Gospels and find out for yourself.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Are the fundamental assumptions of the American DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE no longer true?

The second paragraph of America’s Declaration of Independence begins with these words: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men….”

These are famous words that express the heart and soul of our government.  They serve as a rock solid foundation upon which our governing principles and practices are built—a foundation which we are eroding and dismantling.  How so?

Break it apart.

First questionable Foundational Assumption: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident.”

This is an expression of the belief-in and acceptance-of “Truth Absolute.”  Self-evident Absolute Truth is inviolable, unchanging, and universal—true for all people at all times and in all places.

But today we are relativists.  Today we believe in your truth and my truth, personal truth, social truth, cultural truth, relative truth.  It seems that few today are willing to embrace the idea of Absolute TruthRelative Truth is neither self-evident nor universal—it is time specific and locally defined, demarcated by situation and context—being contextual, it is subject to change.

Consequential erosion: If there is only Relative Truth, perhaps we humans really are not all that equal after all, and we need not support laws that presume as much (note how slaves were excluded from rights of equality at the time, then seen as somewhat sub-human).

Second questionable Foundational Assumption: “that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

See the words “created” and “Creator”?  Today these words must be struck-out.  For they offend many.  Today many believe that we are NOT created: we are evolved.  We are a chance happen-stance of inanimate, non-sentient substance smashing together and accidentally becoming.  There is no intentional First Cause, no Intelligent Design, and thus no premeditated and purposeful act of creation.  Thus, we are here by accident.  That being the case, we are answerable to no God, no Creator, no intelligent purpose or intent.  Therefore, we determine for ourselves what is right and good, as well as for whom and to what end.  We are our own gods.

Consequence: Might makes right—survival of the fittest.  There are in fact no God-given guarantees of so-called “unalienable rights.”  Our so-called unalienable rights are determined by humans for humans.  In effect, no longer granted by a Creator, rights are defined by those in charge, the powerful, asserted with the exercise of brute force with a winner-take-all mentality.  It is Nature’s way.

Third questionable Foundational set of Assumptions: “that among these [Rights] are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

But what is Life?  Who defines Life?  How is Life’s beginning and ending to be determined?  Answer: We humans define life.

Consequence: With no God in the picture, we humans determine Life’s beginning and ending.  And notice the mess we’ve made of it.  On the one hand, we expend billions of dollars in medical technology, medicine, and apparatuses to save preemie-babies born with heretofore fatal congenital birth defects, which, if they survive, will require a lifetime of special medical care and major expense above and beyond the average person.  Meanwhile, in the same hospital, in another room, we use the same medical expertise to take-out and throw-away unwanted healthy fetuses, casually discarding unwanted humans-in-the-making.  Likewise at the other end of life, we expend hundreds of thousands of dollars on 93 year-old Granny to extend her life a few more months if not a few weeks, while we let thousands of children and young adults die for lack of basic adequate preventative healthcare, due to their inability to pay.  So what does this so-called right to pursue Life really mean?

And what is Liberty?  Is it license to do what we please, when we please, how we please?  NO?  Who’s to say?  Isn’t it because you are bigger, smarter, taller, older, wealthier, and more powerful than me that you can stop me from doing what I want to do over against what you want me to do?  After all, are we humans not the one’s defining our own rights?  So, if and when I become more powerful than you, will I not then have the freedom to define what’s right for you in terms of what I think is best for us?  Isn’t that the way the game is really played?

And what is happiness?  Is happiness all about wealth—he who dies with the most toys wins!?  Is happiness pursued by amassing as much wealth and power as one can get—by any means?  Is happiness to be earned at the expense of others?  It makes sense to me, if the fundamental truth is now “the survival of the fittest.”

What are your Truth Assumptions?  Whether admitted or not, every society, every generation, everyone, begins with a set of a priori assumptions (fundamental Givens or Truths).  In effect, we do what we think, and act-out what we believe.

So what really are the fundamental assumptions of our American society today?  Are these assumptions true?  What are their practical consequences in terms of our chosen lifestyle and behavior?  Do these basic assumptions serve to unite us or put us at odds with each other?  Can two fundamentally differing world-views or truth-assumptions co-exist peacefully and constructively?  One has to wonder.