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Templeton Project: Nurturing Christian Disciples

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Nurturing Christian Disciples.”

See also:

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Consumer Choice and Society

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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Those who like to celebrate the contemporary capitalist economy frequently do so in terms of choice. Some are quite open that it is consumer choice that excites them, the ability to pick and choose among an immense variety of products, according to one’s whims and desires. Others, more conscious of the shallowness implicit in reducing man to simply a consumer of goods, are wont to point out that even though our society itself may be preoccupied with material possessions, we ourselves as individuals are free to occupy ourselves with better things, with cultural or spiritual goods, for example.  While of course this is true, one might wonder why so few people seem to manifest much interest in these latter types of goods. But perhaps the real problem here is the attempt to reduce human choice solely to the individual level. It is true, of course, that individuals do have the freedom to choose. Our wills were created by God to desire goods, but we have the freedom to choose among goods, to choose appropriately or not, to make choices that do not interfere with the attainment of our eternal salvation, or that make this more difficult or even impossible to attain. This does not mean, of course, that we must always choose the highest goods; rather, as the collect for the Third Sunday after Pentecost in the traditional Roman rite puts it, in such a balanced way, that “we may make use of [transeamus] temporal goods so as not to loose eternal goods.”

But there is much more to say here than simply to exhort one another to make good choices. For we exist not merely as individual choice-making consumers – even when our choices might be of the most laudable kind – but as members of society, and as such, invariably influenced by that greater social whole. In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, St. John Paul II offered a penetrating discussion of the connection between individual choice and the society or culture around us. He wrote (in section 36)

The manner in which new needs arise and are defined is always marked by a more or less appropriate concept of the human person and of the person’s true good. A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of the person which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to human instincts…then consumer attitudes and lifestyles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to the person’s physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.

Here John Paul makes clear the connection between individual choice and the concept or picture of human good which a culture projects. Consumerism is not simply bad choices made by consuming individuals, for these bad choices do not occur in a vacuum. They presuppose the fundamental things that a society values, what it produces and what it teaches about human needs and goods. John Paul notes four matters that require attention, “the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.” For now, let us focus on just one of these, “the formation of a strong sense of responsibility…among people in the mass media.”

Here advertising immediately comes to mind, and it is surely one of the most potent methods of teaching that any society makes use of. Advertising rarely teaches by precept, but more subtly creates illusions as to what is a good or satisfying or exciting life, and what products are necessary to share in such a life. It is not simply the promotion of a particular product, rather it is generally the promotion of “artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality,” for the sake of convincing the public to buy new products or new kinds of products.

It is true that the ability of advertising to influence consumer choice is not unlimited. There have been notable instances of marketing failures because of consumer resistance. But I do not think that anyone looking honestly at our economy today could fail to see that for the most part it is characterized by “artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality,” which convince people that happiness is to be found in the possession of more gadgets or of some particular gadget.

However, it is not simply by advertising that the mass media influence culture and public opinion. The media as a whole present an image of “consumer attitudes and lifestyles” that, more often than not, “are objectively improper and often damaging to the person’s physical and spiritual health.” They do this by the contents of their shows, certainly, but equally as much by the very images they offer, of apparently successful and happy people, and even by the news items they focus on and the way they analyze news events.

In response to this John Paul rightly highlights the need for “educational and cultural work,” the formation of a strong public recognition of man’s true good and, on the other hand, awareness of those false goods which directly appeal to human instincts and fail to subordinate our “material and instinctive dimensions to [our] interior and spiritual ones.” In this connection both the Church and educational institutions at all levels can play an important part. But he also notes “the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers…, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.” Here we can ask if the very structure of economic life can contribute to the correct formation or to the deformation of our understanding of the human person. In considering this, if we recall the definition of capitalism offered by Pope Pius XI in his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, as “that economic system in which were provided by different people the capital and labor jointly needed for production” (sect. 100), we might begin to see why a society’s ordering of its economy has profound implications for its cultural, intellectual and spiritual health.

Under capitalism, when separation of ownership and work is the norm, there exists a class of persons, the owners of capital, for whom the economy is not so much a way of supplying mankind with truly necessary and useful products, with real means of satisfying genuine human needs, as it is of making and selling anything that people can be persuaded to buy, of working to create “artificial new needs” in order to promote sales of their products. Hilaire Belloc explained this in a striking passage.

But wealth obtained indirectly as profit out of other men’s work, or by process of exchange, becomes a thing abstracted from the process of production. As the interest of a man in things diminishes, his interest in abstract wealth – money – increases. The man who makes a table or grows a crop makes the success of the crop or the table a test of excellence. The intermediary who buys and sells the crop or the table is not concerned with the goodness of table or crop, but with the profit he makes between their purchase and sale. In a productive society the superiority of the things produced is the measure of success: in a Commercial society the amount of wealth accumulated by the dealer is the measure of success. [1]

The small producer is intimately connected with his product, and generally has some interest or pride in workmanship beyond simply how much money he can make. But necessarily those who are one or more steps removed from the productive process will tend to look at their product as simply something to be sold, and sold not necessarily because it is necessary or useful, but because advertising can persuade people to buy it. Under capitalism, “the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers” will be unusual, because the cultural climate will focus on “the amount of wealth accumulated,” not on the inherent quality of the product or service.

St. John Paul notes also “the necessary intervention by public authorities.” In many people’s minds, this raises the specter of a Soviet-style command economy. But this is a groundless fear. Any type of economy requires a legal system to support it. Capitalism, as much as any other, both shapes the legal environment and depends upon it for structure and support. For example, were it not for the unprecedented powers and rights given to corporations by courts and legislatures since the second half of the 19th century, advanced capitalism could hardly exist. None of this was inevitable, however, but rather the result of corporate influence over government and the general cultural attitudes endemic to a commercial or consumer society.

But a legal system could also work in favor of a distributist economy, an economy characterized, as much as is feasible, by a joining of ownership and work, private ownership for the most part, but private ownership of such a kind that producers are generally interested in more than how much money they can make. “The man who makes a table or grows a crop makes the success of the crop or the table a test of excellence.” Of course he needs and expects to make a sufficient return on his work to support himself and his family, but the ever-present connection with real work and real products tends in the opposite direction from the capitalist separation of ownership and work. Moreover, we should note that ownership in a distributist economy need not be individual proprietorships, but can be employee cooperatives. Such cooperatives will generally be necessary for production which requires large-scale machinery or large capital investment.

Of course, due to our First Parents fall into sin, distributist owners will also be affected by greed, by a temptation to cut corners, and so on. This is part of the human condition. But there is a huge difference between a system which facilitates greed, which promotes a desire to cut corners and defraud customers, and a system that does not encourage such evils. Capitalism promotes sin, distributism does not.

Right now the power of capitalists, particularly as embodied in corporations, is overwhelming. For the most part, distributism must manifest itself in nooks and crannies of the economy. We should seek these out and help them to grow. But there is another thing we can do: we can refuse to allow the culture of capitalism of colonize our minds. We can reject “new needs and new means to meet them” which are not “guided by a comprehensive picture of the person which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones.” We can distinguish in our own thought and life “new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality.” We can thus carry out, in our own minds, in our own families and among our own friends and acquaintances, some of the necessary “educational and cultural work” that John Paul calls for. In short, we can take small steps to break down the oppressive ideology of consumerism which surrounds us and live in the freedom of that truth which can set us free.

Notes:
[1] An Essay on the Nature of Contemporary England (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937) p. 67.

Templeton Project: Discipleship and Apologetics

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship and Apologetics.”

See also:

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Beginning with the next article we will engage in a series on Christian discipleship.  Nancy Ischinger will begin this series with an article, “Nurturing Christian Disciples.”  Following this piece will begin a series on “Discipleship in Matthew and Christian Apologetics and Witness.”  Discipleship will be viewed from the perspective of our main theme and concern about civil conversation with atheists and unbelievers.

Michael G. Tavella

September 23, 2019

Templeton Project: Of Anger

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Of Anger.”

See also:

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Anger is a dangerous emotion that can lead to harmful speech and actions. It is also destructive to the heart and soul of a human being. It can be as petty as a reaction to our not getting our way or as seemingly noble as a response to injustice.  Either way, anger is never an appropriate emotion in any situation.  Justice is better served by love of one’s enemies (See Mohandas K. Gandhi on satyagraha)  This stance may seem incredible to you, for anger is a natural human response to frustrating and outrageous behaviors of other people.  It seems an appropriate response to evil. Some would say it is a healthy response to certain situations.  This therapeutic view became popular in the 1960’s and has clung to “The Culture of Self-expression.”  Other ways to resolve anger of the heart need to be sought.

Several classical Greek and Roman writers were critical of anger and placed limits on its expression. In the New Testament anger is frowned upon.  Jesus directly addresses the subject in the Sermon on the Mount.  He says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5: 21-22 ESV) Brother refers only to disciples, to those in the Christian community; but, a Christian also should not be angry with those beyond the Church. Another text will indicate this point. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5: 38-39 ESV)

In Ephesians Paul writes, “Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4: 26 ESV)  The apostle places clear limits on the expression of anger. A little later he writes, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear it.” ( Ephesians 4: 29 ESV)  And then he says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgives you” (Ephesians 4: 31-32 ESV) The limits seem to abide no exceptions. Paul is instructing the Christian Church in proper behavior among brothers and sisters in Christ; but, the restraint of anger also counts as the appropriate behavior among those outside of the Christian community.

In the Book of James we find a critique of the misuses of the tongue.  “. . . the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.  The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” (James 3: 6 ESV)  The tongue ” . . . is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (James 3: 8b-9 ESV)  Anger and the misuse of the tongue go together.

One may say that God expresses anger, why can’t I?  Paul refers to the wrath of God (Romans 1).  Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. The wrath of God is not a human emotion, but a reference to God’s judgment against sin. In the scene in the Temple no particular emotion is ascribed to Jesus.  One could say that anger is not mentioned, but Jesus expresses it in His actions. Again, His anger is an expression of the judgment of God against sin that the Son of God is certainly authorized to pronounce by word and action.  We are not so authorized.

It is clear that in the New Testament anger is condemned. Hear also words from the Old Testament:  “A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.” (Proverbs 6: 12-15 ESV)

With this wise advice from the Scriptures we conclude by saying that anger and its expression in speech and action are to be avoided and certainly in the case of our witness to and apology of the Christian faith.  No provocation justifies anger, though we weak and sinful human beings are tempted to harbor it and express it. Lord Jesus, have mercy!

Michael G. Tavella

September 18, 2019

Practical Distributisim: The Cost of Comparative Advantage

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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The advocates of Free Trade deals between countries frequently cite the fact that more products are made available at a lower cost to consumers as proof that their idea makes economic sense. Their explanation of how this works rests on the idea of Comparative Advantage,[1] the idea that one country can produce a good at a lower opportunity cost than other countries. Based on this idea, if the industries in one country focus on those products where they have the lowest opportunity cost, and import products where they don’t, this provides an abundance of lower priced goods for everyone. For the advocates of Free Trade, price [2] appears to be the ultimate test of what is economically good. They scoff at opponents and critics of Free Trade as if their criticisms of it are completely without merit. Even some economists who have dared to question Free Trade, still try to uphold Comparative Advantage as a reasonable idea.[3] The reality is that the Free Trade ideology ultimately rests on Comparative Advantage. Therefore, it is prudent to examine the criticisms of it to see if they do, in fact, merit consideration. I believe that history has proven that they do.

The United States of America used to have a much more robust manufacturing industry. Critics will immediately respond that there is actually a growing manufacturing base in the U.S.,[4] but let me explain what I mean. It is true that certain types of manufacturing are growing in the U.S. However, these are not the same types of manufacturing jobs as in the past. Historically, U.S. manufacturing employed all levels of workers. High skilled and high educated workers developed and designed products, but our manufacturing industries also employed the low to average educated who worked on the assembly lines and did those aspects of manufacturing work that did not require higher levels of education. Over the last thirty to forty years, we have increased the jobs requiring high levels of education and outsourced jobs for those with an average education.

“The mantra that we’ve lost good-paying jobs to China is exactly wrong,” said Michael Hicks, an economics professor at Ball State University who has studied manufacturing in Indiana. “We’ve lost the bad-paying jobs to China and gained good-paying jobs.”[5]

These “bad paying” jobs supported large numbers of middle class families across the country. The “good paying” jobs were precisely ones that those displaced by this shift were unqualified to get. Essentially, the U.S. manufacturing industry has said that, unless you can get a degree in science or engineering, don’t bother applying to them for a job. The callous disregard of this large, middle class group of workers has caused economic and political tremors in the U.S. in recent years. Why were these hard working people turned out by their employers? The reason is Comparative Advantage. Our largest manufacturing employers are focusing only on those areas with the “lowest opportunity cost” to them. This is done without regard to what happens to their fellow citizens, and then they wonder why U.S. citizens don’t have much loyalty to domestic products.

Industrial heavy hitters who were able to develop and grow during an age of protectionist tariffs, now demand Free Trade on the basis of Comparative Advantage. Tariffs used to provide jobs in the U.S. as foreign manufacturers would open factories in the U.S. to avoid paying them.[6] As the threat of tariffs disappeared, so did the jobs.

… “industries where the threat of tariff hikes declines the most experience greater employment loss due to suppressed job creation, exaggerated job destruction and a substitution away from low-skill workers.”[7]

However, this issue goes beyond assembly line jobs. Comparative Advantage, and its necessary Free Trade deals have spread across all aspects of production in every country that has adopted this economic ideology. What happens, though, when the foreign supply lines are threatened? We have already written about how natural and economic disasters in other countries have impacted the availability of products of supposedly “American” manufacturers. The truth is that this is not as rare an occurrence as some may believe. It is easy to forget, though, when these amount to not much more than an inconvenience or an annoyance to us. For example, past flooding in China has resulted in shortages of computer parts for U.S. computer manufacturers. Because these types of events ended up being a temporary annoyance where people had to wait extra time for these parts, few seemed to really consider the greater implications of such a dependence. The fact that our supply chains have not significantly changed in the decades since those incidents shows that those who had enough foresight to raise an alarm were not taken seriously.

The reality is that the same warnings given about too much dependence on foreign manufacturer of critical technology apply to other critical areas. The same warnings have been raised about this type of dependence for things like medicines.[8] It does seem that a lot of these articles focus specifically on the dependence of Western countries on China. There are two reasons for this.

The first and most obvious reason is that China has become the biggest manufacturer of critical computer technology and medical supplies in the world. European and North American companies have outsourced the manufacture of these critical needs to China; a process that has been enabled by the cooperation of their governments. This is despite the fact that China is widely recognized by these governments as consistently violating basic human rights and having sub-standard working conditions that would not be accepted in their own countries, and these supposedly capitalist companies are moving their production to a socialist country. Some advocates of Free Trade say that China has moved to a more “corporatist” form of business model that is (by implication?) more compatible with capitalism. The reality is that corporatism is a socialist economic model that was adopted by the Fascist and Nazi regimes as part of their socialist economic plans.

However, the warnings against this type of dependence was ignored and, with the unfortunate outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, we are once again having to deal with the reality of this issue. The realities in this case are the same. There are both annoyances as our supplies of non-critical products are delayed.[9] There are also more serious consequences as this circumstance has raised the possibility of critical drugs and medical supplies might also be at risk.[10]

However, let’s consider another serious implication of what Comparative Advantage has done to us. It appears that even some of the manufacturing requiring high skilled and highly educated workers have also been outsourced. We seem to forget just how much of our society has become dependent on computer technology. This goes beyond our government offices, our communications networks, and the systems that run our economic industry. The advanced weapons systems used by the defense forces of Western countries are also completely dependent on this technology.

Even though our economic powerhouses have viewed China as an “economic partner” for several decades, I find it hard to believe that the military and intelligence departments of Western countries look at China as much of a partner. However, those departments rely on computer technology made by the companies that do. As a result, our most advanced weapons and defense systems, as well as our communications networks,[11] are all dependent on advanced computer parts made by a potential adversary.  Is this a real threat?

In 2011, it was reported that the “Government Accountability Office found that counterfeit routers with high failure rates had been sold to the Navy, and that counterfeit microprocessors had been purchased by the U.S. Air Force for use on F-15 flight control computers.”[12] A “scientist at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom claims to have developed a software program proving that China — and anyone else — can, and is, installing cyber backdoors on some of the world’s most secure, ‘military grade’ microchips.”[13]

You might think that this is a lot to blame on an idea like Comparative Advantage, but then you have to answer the question of why we no longer make these computer components for ourselves. The U.S. used computers designed and built in the U.S. to put men on the moon. This was not that long ago. Today our most advanced communications and defense systems are dependent on technology we might design, but no longer make. The same is true for medicines and medical supplies. We use computer components without even thinking about it, in our phones, in our cars, and in our home entertainment systems, and these components are all made by a foreign power that is philosophically opposed to the ideas that founded our societies. How did we get to such a place? We got there because our largest industries, and their partners in government, are believers in the theory of Comparative Advantage and have worked together to implement Free Trade agreements to make that theory a reality.

Notes:
[1] https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/glossary/comparative-advantage/

[2] https://practicaldistributism.blogspot.com/2015/08/price.html

[3]  https://economistsview.typepad.com/timduy/2010/07/why-is-the-american-jobs-machine-broken.html

[4] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/01/america-is-still-making-things/512282/

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.cnbc.com/2015/02/05/the-rise-of-made-by-china-in-america.html

[7] Pierce, Justin R. and Schott, Peter K. “The Surprisingly Swift Decline of U.S. Manufacturing Employment”. National Bureau of Economic Research, American Economic Review, Vol 106(7), Dec. 2012, Revised Jan. 2014
https://www.nber.org/papers/w18655.pdf

[8] https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2019/01/exposing_the_risks_of_americas_dependence_on_china_for_medicine.html

[9] https://financemarkethouse.com/2020/02/18/apple-admits-the-coronavirus-will-cause-a-global-iphone-shortage/

https://abcnews.go.com/Business/coronavirus-outbreak-puts-chill-us-businesses-apple-starbucks/story?id=68639376

https://www.just-auto.com/hot-issues/coronavirus-hits-the-auto-industry_id636.aspx

[10] https://www.wired.com/story/the-coronavirus-is-a-threat-to-the-global-drug-supply/

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/healthcare/biotech/pharmaceuticals/coronavirus-pandemic-threatens-to-cut-pharmaceutical-industrys-lifeline/articleshow/73753415.cms

[11] https://www.cnet.com/news/chinese-spy-chip-reportedly-found-in-server-at-major-us-telecom/

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/04/china-planted-chips-on-apple-and-amazon-servers-report-claims

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-10-04/the-big-hack-how-china-used-a-tiny-chip-to-infiltrate-america-s-top-companies

[12] http://www.allgov.com/news/us-and-the-world/counterfeit-computer-chips-from-china-compromised-us-military-equipment?news=843552

[13] https://www.military.com/defensetech/2012/05/30/smoking-gun-proof-that-military-chips-from-china-are-infected

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk5oLLdTkq0

Title photograph by Thorsten Lindner.

Templeton Project: Dialogue and Personality

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Dialogue and Personality.”

See also:

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People differ, a well-known truth.  In dialogue and witness it is good to be aware of this and to observe and learn about the person with whom you are speaking. In no way is such close attention to the other to lead to a patronizing or contemptuous opinion of that person.  You may learn about an individual’s concerns, burdens, fears, and joys, if you listen and do not stereotype.  Such knowledge should not be weaponized to use against a person, but to help come to a greater understanding of the other.  We should care about our neighbor and even our enemies.

We should try to understand the unbeliever and atheist.  The atheist may be a convinced secular materialist that comes from the conclusions he forms from his education and reading.  Other atheists may bear a deep sadness in their lives that prevents them from believing in God and His Christ.  Questions of theodicy often play a role. How can a good God permit the evil that is in the world? is the central question. Due to life experience, people who have believed in God become unbelievers, though a tragic event in one’s life does not necessarily lead to atheism.  Some peoples’ faith after a tragedy can actually be strengthened, often after great struggle in which they are torn between belief and unbelief.

But, what if you meet up with one who is actually evil?  Pray that the works of the Holy Spirit may work in you.  They are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.  You must also be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.  The evil can be very cunning but can be won over.

When engaged in apologetics, be concerned for the person or persons with whom you are speaking.  Be careful of hasty judgments.  Do not be dismissive of them.  Remember that souls are at stake, nothing less.

Michael G. Tavella

September 17, 2019

Hildegard of Bingen, Abbess

Mansplaining Mansplanation

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Splice Today by my old philosophy professor Dr. Crispin Sartwell from back in my Penn State days which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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Please have a little himpathy.

Allow me to mansplain the international situation to you in broad strokes. I’ve really got a lot to say, as I range from Caracas to the Uighur regions of western China, Rodrigo Duterte to Amy Klobuchar, UFOs to polar bears, quantum mechanics to tornadoes, Game of Thrones to the Women’s World Cup. You may assert with some accuracy that my base of knowledge on these matters is thin. Nevertheless, my certainty about them and much else is impressive, especially to me.

I am all man, and have enough pride and self-confidence to make pronouncements about almost anything. And I make those pronouncements in a rich baritone voice that seems to be construed by people like you, among others, as emanating authority, no matter what I’m actually saying. I’m grateful for this, and would hate to see it end. But now campus feminists have identified mansplanation as a central dimension of patriarchal oppression.

Mansplanation is all I have left, really. Please, leave me this last soiled vestige of dignity. Have a little himpathy. Perhaps I offer valuable insights, perhaps not. Either way, I’m going to mansplain some stuff to you. I can’t help it, really, and to reach the point of being a quasi-effective mansplainer was hard work; I had to spend long minutes gathering up certainties and formulating the sort of dogmata that, according to me, cannot rationally be gainsaid.

Hearing myself talk, I sometimes sound awfully certain to myself. Reaching the point where I could convey that impression effectively took some doing. My status as a mansplainer is an achievement, in other words, perhaps my only one.

If you knew me well, you’d know that my mansplanatory tone is probably the least problematic thing about me, all in all. So I express myself mansplanatorily. So what, really? At worst, it’s liable to be kind of irritating. And at best the manformation I am providing is himformative. Now perhaps certain phenomena, even mansplainability itself, will remain forever unmansplainable, or possibly inmansplicable, but you never know until you try, and you’re never really done until you admit defeat, which a real man such as myself never does.

Perhaps people of all kinds can learn the art of mansplanation. I can teach you, but I’ll have to charge. Meanwhile if you run into me and I’m pontificating about Hindu nationalism or vaccinations, just mansplain some stuff right back at me, or ’splain with whatever prefix you care to use as you drive your point relentlessly home.

If it’s any comfort to you, I’ll probably lapse into silence, eventually. I’d like to be the sort of mansplainer who knows when the time for mansplanations is over, though members of my gender of my age are notoriously bad at noticing things like that. And look, sweetie. If you weren’t so entirely ignorant, I wouldn’t have to mansplain this stuff to you, would I?

I remark in conclusion that there are also a couple of very big reasons for manspreading, which at some point soon I will share with America. The international situation, meanwhile, is very much a mixed bag.

This article can be found here.

Templeton Project: When We Differ

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “When We Differ.”

See also:

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Dialogue may produce the resolution of differences or decrease the differences (It may, in fact, increase differences, but it should never do this, because we have spoken and acted poorly). When we differ with our neighbor or enemy about certain essential things, what then do we say and do?  We must live together in peace, if at all possible.

The Founding Fathers wrote a constitution that provided both for free exercise of religion (Note that free exercise of religion takes in a much wider ambit than freedom of worship) and for no-establishment.  No-establishment is different from separation of church and state.  Any institution in society must have a relationship of some sort to the government.  Total separation is impossible.  No-establishment has to do with the prohibition of an officially established church, protected and supported by the government.  Legislative statutes and court decisions decide what this means over time.  Originally, the Constitution prohibited only the Federal goverment from establishing religion.  In later court decisions, the states were also prohibited from establishing a religion.  The last disestablishment of a church occurred long before these judicial decisions were made (Massachusetts, 1833).

Even when we disagree on essential matters with others, we Christian are called to live in peace with atheists and unbelievers and all people. We are to disobey human laws that contradict the law of God. We are to work for the rescinding of laws that oppose the law of God.  The Book of Revelation describes a time when Christians in Asia (modern Turkey) were refusing to offer sacrifice to the emperor for which some of them paid with their lives.  John, the prophet, who wrote the book based on his visions, called the Christian communities to resist but without violence. The complete defeat of evil will take place at the end of the world.  God would vindicate the saints and martyrs. Non-violent resistance to evil (Gandhi’s Satyagraha) is an active mode of opposition.  Violence is unacceptable.

When laws are enacted that would have us transgress essential beliefs, we are to disobey the law, no matter what the consequences.  Where and when free exercise is protected, we are to live in peace with our unbelieving neighbor and continue our efforts at greater understanding.  We must continue witnessing to the faith so that others may believe.  We are to win over hearts and minds to Christ.  Remember that the Church grows, not only during times of tolerance and favor, but also during times of persecution.  We are to do the will of Christ in all circumstances.

When Christians are the majority, we are never to persecute religious minorities. Such a policy is in complete opposition to Christ’s teachings and His own sacrifice on the cross.

Michael G. Tavella

September 13, 2019

St. John Chrysostom, Bishop

N.J. lawmakers want to protect residents from other states’ red-light camera fines

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now (you can find all of my articles and posts on traffic cameras here).  They are consistently controversial and violative of basic rights as described in the article below.

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Jay Lassiter drove back home to Cherry Hill last month after burying his Marine Corps veteran father at Arlington National Cemetery. A few days later, he got a surprise in the mail.  It was a message from Washington. And it wasn’t a sympathy card.

It was a speeding ticket. Two more had come by the end of the week. The Metropolitan Police Department said cameras had caught his Audi speeding on New York Avenue (twice) and on Rhode Island Avenue. He owed $400. Yeah, he was speeding, he said, but in his opinion at least, a 35-mph speed limit on one stretch of road felt as if it should have been set at 55 mph. And besides, this never would have happened back home. New Jersey doesn’t have automated speed cameras.

“Why are we obliging another jurisdiction doing to us what we’ve determined is illegal to do in New Jersey?” said Lassiter, a 46-year-old LGBT activist and freelance writer. (He did pay the fines.)

“Why are we obliging another jurisdiction doing to us what we’ve determined is illegal to do in New Jersey?” said Lassiter, a 46-year-old LGBT activist and freelance writer. (He did pay the fines.)

But if a few New Jersey lawmakers get their way, the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission will stop giving residents’ identifying information to out-of-state agencies — including those in Pennsylvania and New York — trying to cite drivers for speed- and red-light camera violations. South Dakota did the same four years ago.

New Jersey ended its five-year red-light camera pilot program in December 2014 after 25 communities recorded hundreds of thousands of violations. The state did not renew the program.

The cameras are controversial. Officials in communities that have them say they promote safety and discourage drivers from running red lights. Those with laws banning the cameras say the devices are more about making money than safety and infringe on driver’s rights. Both perspectives have support from traffic studies — depending on who was funding them. Judges across the country have thrown out tickets. In 2012, the Chicago Tribune uncovered a bribery scheme between one red-light camera vendor and a city official.

The number of communities across the country that use red-light cameras has been falling. In 2012, more than 530 communities used them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. About 420 have them now, according to a September report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which supports the cameras.

In Pennsylvania, only two municipalities use automated red-light cameras — but one of them happens to be the biggest city in the state. In Philadelphia, 32 intersections have them, and in Abington Township, Montgomery County, three. Both municipalities send all net income to PennDot, which uses the money for safety grants across the state.

The city issued more than 215,000 citations between April 1, 2017, and March 31, according to an August report by the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The city amassed over $20 million in revenue and $11 million in profit from the cameras. Philadelphia started using them in 2005. In the fiscal year that ended in March, the parking authority sent just under 10 percent of its red-light violations to New Jersey license-holders; Pennsylvania tag-holders constituted the majority.

A bill allowing speed cameras in certain areas is making its way through the Pennsylvania legislature.

Philadelphia’s parking authority has agreements with out-of-state agencies, including New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission, that allow access to driver databases for purposes of issuing red-light camera citations, PPA spokesman Martin O’Rourke said.

“If that were to stop then the PPA would have no ability to get the owner’s vehicle information or address to send him or her a notice of violation,” he said.

“If that were to stop then the PPA would have no ability to get the owner’s vehicle information or address to send him or her a notice of violation,” he said.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D., Union), who has cosponsored the bill with State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D., Bergen) since 2014, became deputy majority leader this year. He said he thinks they “might actually be able to get some movement,” citing bipartisan support.

State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Monmouth County who cosponsored this year’s bill, said he’s not worried about the previous stalling of the legislation.

“The best thing [we] have going for us is time,” he said. “Because every single day people get these tickets and realize they’re a scam.”

Local governments in 14 states and the District of Columbia use speed cameras, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The nation’s capital and communities in 23 states use red-light cameras.

South Dakota, which does not allow the cameras, did in 2014 what New Jersey legislators have been trying to do. Whenever an out-of-state agency asks South Dakota for a driver’s information for a traffic camera citation — which state officials acknowledge is rare — the state declines the request. Only one state at its border — Iowa — allows the cameras.

New Jersey is surrounded by states that have red-light cameras, speed cameras, or both.

“If we don’t believe in the program as it stands in New Jersey,” Scutari said, “why should we help to prosecute our motoring public that resides in New Jersey?”

By Michaelle Bond and published on September 10, 2018 in The Philadelphia Inquirer and can be found here.

Templeton Project: Do we understand each other?

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Do we understand each other?.”

See also:

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Respect for the other in dialogue or debate requires careful listening. But, listening to another does not come easily to anyone.  It requires discipline, self-control, and humility.  Why humility?  This virtue reminds us that we are not the only ones who have something important and beneficial to say.  In fact, it teaches us that on some occasions we have nothing important and beneficial to say and, therefore, should listen to what others have to say.  Our silence can contribute to the discussion.

While apparently listening, we should listen.  That is, we should not be thinking of the next thing we are going to say while we tune out the one who is speaking.  I must admit that I often do this.  When I do, I am compelled to ask what the other person just said–rather embarrassing.  Good listening requires an attentive, clear, uncluttered, focussed mind.  Body language should indicate an attentive mind.  To listen to another is one expression of the love of one’s neighbor.

Effective communication, whether there are two or more in conversation, requires everyone to have a commitment to attentiveness.  When one of the parties does not understand, he should ask for clarification.  Always remember to put pride aside so that you are not afraid to ask for the definition of terms and words you do not understand.

When in the conversation an important fact to the discussion is not known, make a commitment to research it.  Never defend an idea without the facts.  By the way, there is no such thing as a “true fact.”  By its very definition a fact is true.  “False facts” do not exist. If they do, they exist in another universe, not this one.  False information does exist in this galaxy and universe

A counselling technique I learned in seminary is to repeat what the other person has said both to insure you have it right and to further the discussion.  We use this technique in everyday conversation.

When we are speaking, we need to be as clear as we can.  We should define the terms and words we use if we think it necessary to clarify without being patronizing.  We need to admit mistakes when we are aware that we have taken a misstep.  We should avoid attempts at manipulation or deception.  We should manifest our beliefs and commitments, that is, our world view. We are to speak only the truth to the extent that we know it.  When challenged, we are to keep our patience.  When ridiculed, we are to keep our love.  When we witness our goals are understanding and conversion.

Today there exists in our country a great divide in understanding.  Several reasons account for this situation.

  1.  Ideologies that people hold are widely divergent, e.g.  secular materialism and Christian faith.  A Civil (or Uncivil) War is being fought over ideas and world views.  May this logomachy (war of words) never become a hot war among our people.
  2. People are often talking over each other and not listening first before their turn, e.g. on the news channels, all of which promote uncivil speech and rudeness. The media has produced a new type of gladiator.  Outrageous speech is a relatively new sort of entertainment. My thumb is down, not on the people, but on the modern circus that coarsens our lives.
  3. Little effort is expended on compromise where an issue does not involve an essential belief or a known fact.  In some cases, compromise can bring about fresh insights and new solutions to problems.
  4. Reputations are at stake.  One does not want to lose one’s standing so does not admit false or harmful ideas when such are obvious.
  5. Hatred of other groups (race, nation, ethnic group, religion) remains a constant human factor and greatly distorts our conversations. The new tolerance is ironically intolerant, contributing nothing to civil discourse and, in fact, inhibiting it. One can add it to the list of prejudices.
  6. Political power is sought at the expense of truth.
  7. Ideologies sometimes make little room for the truth, because the truth may threaten the ideology’s credibility.
  8. The internet and other technologies make it easy for an individual to be rude and obnoxious without looking at one’s opponent eye to eye.
  9. American values are focussed on the old idols–power, fame, and money. Hypocrisy about what our values really are adds to the misery of the situation. All good things are sacrificed to them.
  10. No common ground exists on what is truth.

We need to remember that none of us is the center of the universe.  We are not God or a god.  We must unlearn what we have learned about self-esteem and enter the real world of people where relationships require a mutuality that self-centeredness and narcissism destroy.  Our schools need a much more compelling foundation than self-esteem. What this would be without religion, I do not know. (See Neil Postman’s The End of Education. A good book that more effectively presents the problem than the solution).  Education is not to be a godmaker.  It is the church that prepares people for living the divine life in heaven and for serving others in this life.

Much greater commitment is required to increase civil discourse in America.  At this time, little effort is expended on this most important requirement necessary for civil amity.  The Church must promote respect both intramurally and extramurally.

We must continue to ask, do we understand one another?  And, we must keep making the effort to understand.

Michael G. Tavella

September 9, 2019

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