Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"New Styles of Architecture, a change of heart..."

"The system that generates anxiety cannot relate to steadfast love."--Walter Brueggeman

This clause was enough to make me pay attention:  "In a world of scarce resources...."

And already we're back to Solomon and the theology of scarcity v. the theology of plenty (which alone puts the lie to the atheist chestnut that the scriptures are Bronze Age (or Iron Age, opinions vary) texts with no relevance to modern existence.  Then again, modern atheists are merely evangelicals insisting their position on God is the only one that should be allowed; that it another argument, but its also quite certainly an argument from scarcity, an argument for a theology of scarcity.)

Southern Beale quotes that from the American Enterprise Institute, who uses the opening rhetorical twitch to argue for, of course, limited use of scarce resources to actually help, you know, people.  But that is always the point in the theology of scarcity:  people are too damned expensive!  Other things must be protected first, especially, in the modern worship of the market as a great green god:  money. Because, you see:

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.
Especially by the people in power.  Consider these quotes as a partial response to the presumption of AEI:

People nowadays interchange gifts and favors out of friendship, but buying and selling is considered absolutely inconsistent with the mutual benevolence which should prevail between citizens and the sense of community of interest which supports our social system. According to our ideas, buying and selling is essentially anti-social in all its tendencies. It is an education in self-seeking at the expense of others, and no society whose citizens are trained in such a school can possibly rise above a very low grade of civilization -- Edward Bellamy

The ultimate aim of production is not production of goods but the production of free human beings associated with one another on terms of equality. -- John Dewey

I confess that I am not charmed with the ideal of life held out by those who think that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other's heels, which form the existing type of social life, are the most desirable lot of human beings -- John Stuart Mill

The gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for the people who break them ... It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of thier education, or the joy of their play. -- Robert F. Kennedy

We must recognize that we can't solve our problems now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power....[What is required is] a radical restructuring of the architecture of American society. -- Martin Luther King, Jr
Start with Bellamy's idea of education that must be something other than an education in buying and selling.  He calls that "an education in self seeking at the expense of others, and no society whose citizens are trained in such a school can possibly rise above a very low grade of civilization."  No education today reflects Dewey's idea:  "the production of free human beings associated with one another on terms of equality."  Education today is all aimed at getting a job, and being a consumer and a producer of goods, at seeking at the expense of others.  The most desirable lot of human beings is reflected back to us in "The Wolf of Wall Street" or the celebrity of Donald Trump and the Kardashians.  As Robert Kennedy points out, the GNP does not allow for the health of our families; indeed, the AEI says it can't:  resources are too scarce.  Triage must be performed.  Some must die, and so decrease the surplus population.  People are too expensive; the are just too damned many of you!

As my friend at Thought Criminal never tires of pointing out:  what atheist position is going to champion the ideals of Bellamy, Dewey, Mill, Kennedy, or King?  Stephen Weinberg fancies himself a moral avatar because he is brave enough to admit his selfishness, that he cares first for his family and then for his friends and really not at all for society at large.  Ethics understands this as an entirely unethical stance (has Weinberg even read Crito?); Weinberg proclaims it the new basis for ethics.  O brave new world, that has such ignorant creatures in it!

Let not the wise boast of their wisdom,
nor the valiant of their valour;
let not the wealthy boast of their wealth;
but if anyone must boast, let him boast of this:
that he understands and acknowledges me.
For I am the LORD, I show unfailing love,
I do justice and right on the earth;
for in these I take pleasure.
This is the word of the LORD.

You may want to dismiss that because it is a religious text that makes a religious claim.  But tell me what Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris has written that is of greater moral value than that; tell me what Bill Maher has said which contributes more to the moral discourse of humanity than those words.  Is it better to be anti-religious, or to show unfailing love and do justice and right on the earth, and to take pleasure in those things than in one's own sense of cleverness?  Which is better: the pronouncements of AEI on how to deal with scarcity, the ramblings of Stephen Weinberg on what he imagines ethics are, or this "Bronze Age" text:

Woe to him who says,
"I shall build myself a spacious palace
with airy roof chambers and
windows set in it.
It will be paneled with cedar
and painted with vermilion."
Though your cedar is so splendid,
does that prove you a king?
Think of your father: he ate and drank,
dealt justly and fairly;
all went well with him.
He upheld the cause of the lowly and poor;
then all was well.
Did not this show he knew me? says the Lord.
But your eyes and your heart are set on naught but gain,
set only on the innocent blood you can shed,
on the cruel acts of tyranny you perpetrate.

Jeremiah 22: 14-17 (REB)

Both texts from the same book of the Bible; both rest on the authority of God, but not on presenting  the commands of God.  The king who dealt justly and fairly proved he knew God; but the world rewards the king who sets his eyes and heart on gain alone, ignoring the innocent blood he sheds ("In a world of scarce resources....") and the cruel acts of tyranny such greed must perpetuate.  Justice and fairness, after all, require constant self-reflection, constant regard for the other and constant evaluation of one's motives and actions.  Stephen Weinberg's ethic starts and ends with regard for himself.  The cause of the lowly and the poor is of no importance to him whatsoever.  How does he deal justly and fairly with anything?

The theology of scarcity is that there isn't enough now to go around, so we must hoard what we have and protect it from other claimants.  We must regard them as savages who have to be eliminated.  The theology of scarcity is that we cannot share, because to share is to lose.  The widow who fed Elijah during the famine should have saved her oil and meal for herself and her son; even though it probably would have run out, and they would have starved to death.  But who can know the future, and who can trust in a world that is actually abundant?  Better to trust that there will never be enough.

Better?  According to whom?

After a while the stream dried up, for there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go now to Zarephath, a village of Sidon, and stay there; I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ He went off to Zarephath, and when he reached the entrance to the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks. He called to her, ‘Please bring me a little water in a pitcher to drink.’ As she went to fetch it, he called after her, ‘Bring me, please, a piece of bread as well.’ But she answered, “As the Lord your God lives, I have no food baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a flask. I am just gathering two or three sticks to go and cook it for my son and myself before we die.’ ‘Have no fear,’ Elijah said, ‘go and do as you have said. But first make me a small cake from what you have and bring it out to me, and after that make something for your son and yourself. For this is the word of the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of flour will not give out, nor the flask of oil fail, until the Lord sends rain on the land.’ She went and did as Elijah had said, and there was food for him and for her family for a long time. The jar of flour did not give out, nor did the flask of oil, as the word of the Lord foretold through Elijah. 1 Kings 17:7-16 (REB)


  1. A scarcity of resources. As the billionaire with 5 mansions who flew his family and nannies to Davos said, we gotta learn to live with less. Because a handful of people took everything else and never learned to share in kindergarten.