Friday, December 16, 2016

Does Greek Mythology rhyme, echo, or retell with the stories of the Bible?

Not directly. The sources of Greek mythology did not have direct contact with the sources of biblical writings, and vice versa, in any way that would make borrowing likely or even plausible.

There are, however, archetypal ideas found in different forms in every set of writings about the very basic human concerns. We all are concerned with right, wrong, life, after life, etc.

The view that the Bible is "actual reality" is hugely off base. The Bible has a lot of mythology.

The creation story is not factual, nor is the Flood. No one can verify that Moses existed or that the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt, much less wandered in the desert. Some of the historical books bear a passing resemblance to verifiable history, but could hardly be called actual history. We know precious little about the person of one Jesus of Nazareth, somewhat more about some of his followers, but not much.

These are just a few of the many ways in which the Bible is a mythological anthology, much of it not even written down by its original sources.

The Bible, however, is not about facts but faith. As Greek mythology was.

Mythology is not a collection of falsehoods, as some believe, but rather a literary form of telling foundational stories.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions and their subtexts are not mine.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why do Catholics revere Mary (mother of Jesus) more than other Christians?

Strictly speaking, Catholics revere or respect Mary on a par with Orthodox Christians, but somewhat more than most Protestants, who do not believe in invoking saints for intercession (to speak on one's behalf to God). Thus the broad and larger trunks of Christianity consider Mary special, with Protestants the minority exception.

Why? A variety of reasons.

First, there's the respect for the mother of Jesus, which was surely why John the apostle took her to live with him. Second, there's looking at Mary as an example of obedience to God, shown in Luke's narrative of when the birth of Jesus was announced to her. Third, there's the view that thanks to Mary we have Jesus, which has given to various theological titles of Mary, some resulting in a bit of symbolic "inflation," but nonetheless in some respects, reasonable.

People who study popular piety, which is how the theologically untutored devotion to saints and to Mary is called, agree that there are psychosocial factors, as well. Jesus is a powerful male figure. Mary seems more approachable and her story is one of being an ordinary person caught up in a major story, like most of us.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions and their subtexts are not mine.

Monday, December 12, 2016

What are the main differences between Catholicism and Protestantism?

The principal difference is epistemological, meaning where and how the teachings of the Christian faith are revealed and how they may be legitimately applied and developed. Otherwise, there are superficial differences in church organization and worship and some semantic arguments that when you drill down in a peaceful and amicable way amount to very little.

Catholic epistemology holds that truth is revealed by God and entrusted through the apostles to the Church under a pope going back to St. Peter, out of which sprung the Bible (with 73 books, per the Council of Trent), theology, seven sacraments, etc. Protestant epistemology holds that divine revelation is confined to the 66 biblical books that Martin Luther approved of, subject to the interpretation of the individual good faith Christian; the Protestant consensus is that the Bible justifies only two sacraments and theologies vary widely.

Traditionally, almost all Protestant denominations hold to some version of Luther's three solas (sola scriptura, sola gratia, and sola fide, meaning only scripture, only grace, only faith). These were thought to divide Catholics and Protestants, but as the heat of controversies simmered down, it seems that the theological meaning and significance of scripture, grace and faith are really very similar. Catholics and Protestants both acknowledge that the Bible is a central touchstone of Christian teachings. Similarly, Catholics and Protestants both believe that salvation comes as a gift (gratia) from God through Christ. Finally, Catholics and Protestants both believe that faith is what allows believers to receive the benefits of the salvation work of Christ.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions and their subtexts are not mine.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel and I

Towards the middle of April 1959, when I was still an elementary schoolboy, I had a chance meeting with a personage who has just died. Many years later that person still affected the world. It happened more or less like this.

At that time, my father served was a diplomat in Washington, D.C., sent by the government of President Arturo Frondizi of Argentina.

Given my age I was not told too much about my father's work. It was, as always, something to do with economics. My father had taught me the law of supply and demand and in a children's history book I had read something about a certain Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin who had caused a stir in the world of adults.

We were all in the middle of a Cold War with the Soviet Union, with the possibility of nuclear war. All this was very complicated, interesting and frightening at the same time.

Years before in New York, where I was born, I had startled the nuns in my school the day the teacher asked us what our Daddies did, as part of a lesson on the idea of ​​working, and I replied "he's a Communist." My mother asked me about it and managed to make out that I had meant "economist." At my age the two words were very similar. My father was not a Communist, not by long shot.

But that was before the episode about which I write, which was in 1959, months after the triumph of the Cuban insurrection led by Fidel Castro (and, curiously enough, equipped by no less than the Central Intelligence Agency). In April, Fidel came to Washington for 11 days to meet with officials, but also to visit the capital.

It should be understood that in April 1959 Fidel Castro was not known as a Communist. He was a hero to almost everyone. Richard Nixon, who had debated with Nikita Khrushchev of the USSR, pronounced him "almost naive in ideological matters" after interviewing him.

Fidel had overthrown a dictator, one those of the 1940s and 1950s in Latin America. The dictator had been one of those more or less demagogic leaders, megalomaniacs, who censored the press and barred criticism, ideologically eclectic, some accomplishing socioeconomic improvements and some not. Getulio Vargas in Brazil, Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina, Marcos Pérez Jiménez of Venzuela, the three Somozas of the dynastic dictatorship in Nicaragua, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, François Duvalier of Haiti and, of course, Fulgencio Batista of Cuba.

At that time, my family was looking for a house and meanwhile we were staying in a hotel where many diplomats and foreign groups came. I was a multilingual kid who talked to everyone and I met a group of young Cubans, young men and women in their 20s, who adopted me as their mascot and invited me everywhere.

Fidel arrived in the city and my Cuban friends were ecstatic, telling me that they were going to go in the caravan of cars that would accompany the new Cuban president to visit George Washington's home in Mount Vernon, Va., about an hour from Washington.

I got caught up in the excitement and ran with one of them to beg my mom for permission to go with them. My mother had doubts but I convinced her. The day arrived and she made me put on a suit, used gel on my hair to make it stiff as a rock, and I left, riding on the hood of a convertible like parade model, me feet held to the back seat by two of my Cuban friends.

We arrived at Mount Vernon and after waiting in line I found myself in front of a bearded man who seemed to me very tall. I told him what my mother had told me, that my parents and grandparents extended the congratulations of Argentina. He told me something else that I don't remember and urged me to tell him something of what I thought.

And then my request came out: "I would like a uniform like yours."

He smiled, told some of the men around him to take my information and send me a uniform. I was happy. Fidel Castro would send me another outfit to play in, along with my cowboy clothes and my civil war soldier and baseball uniforms.

My family did not have much occasion to receive the uniform. Meanwhile, my father became an advisor to Frondizi in the Pink House, Argentina's version of the White House. In that position he participated in a private meeting with Che Guevara, the latter in his capacity as Minister of Industry of the Republic of Cuba, and in a more protocolary encounter with Fidel Castro in Punta del Este, Uruguay. No one told me, still a boy, what was said in such high level gatherings.

Years later, around 1990 I found myself, as spokesman for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, making the case on television for ending the useless economic blockade of Cuba, a reality that has not yet come to pass, despite the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

From my point of view, Fidel was less nefarious than those who hate him say, but also less spectacular than those who adore him think.

Undoubtedly, as Brazilian economist Celso Furtado explained, Cuba's socio-economic success in eliminating the extreme poverty that still afflicts much larger Latin American countries is an example that should inspire shame in all the governments of the continent. On the other hand, there should be some way to achieve similar achievements without a Stalinist regime.

Today, as news of Fidel's death reached me, I have different complaint: he never sent me the Cuban guerrilla uniform I had asked for!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, for Tomorrow We Die

The title phrase draws from a letter of Paul of Tarsus to the Corinthians that uses the phrase ironically, yet it expresses perfectly what the Trump era promises to the physical environment. Go ahead and buy yourself an a SUV, not only has climate change been way past stopping for a decade, but now Trump's malign neglect will speed up and worsen its effects.

The full quote is: "If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what is the gain to me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die." In other words, if you don't believe in God, Christ, salvation or an afterlife, don't waste your time trying to be upright.

Donald of New York might have written to those two guys from Corinth, of whom he seems to have been fond, something like: go grab yourself some pussy and, oh, yes, some beer.

Bring it on!

Let's turn on all the lights, burn all the gasoline we can, buy all the furs we can afford, run all the air conditioners we want, throw away all the plastics we can think of ... the planet is doomed.

Before Trump the first serious effects of climate change were due by 2050 -- a date likely to be after my death. Now, with a little help from me, I can live to see it. Hurrah!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Amerikkka has taken off its mask

For Hispanics, who watched Barack Obama deport about twice as many people as George W. Bush, this is refreshing. Turns out the United States was always about white, not so white and black. The white liberals and the dog-whistling conservatives aren't that much different if you're not a non-Hispanic white.

Trump is no dog whistler. Trump has made clear he will encourage the hate. At last an honest man, Dionysus!

Sadly, I have to accept that the country I have loved and hoped in doesn't want me and never wanted me.

My real name is Cecilio José Morales. Do you think I call myself Cecilieaux Bois de Murier because I want to be French? The French are a nation of sissies who never saw German to whom they couldn't surrender.

No. I am Cecilieaux Bois de Murier because I have been told repeatedly online, by idiots with losing arguments that they would have me deported. My words were just Spic talk when said by Cecilio Morales.

Right. Deport me to New York City, where I was born.


Monday, October 17, 2016

What are valid arguments supporting discrimination against the unemployed?

To discriminate is to evaluate someone based on characteristics other than merit; sometimes it involves acting on that assessment.

In actual fact, unemployed people experience many kinds of discrimination. There is ample evidence, for example, that it is easier to find a job when you already have one. This is largely because to potential employers someone who is employed is already demonstrating some basic minimum traits (showing up at work, behaving reasonably in a workplace, keeping up some level of productive behavior, etc.).

However, it would not be logical to assume that every person who is unemployed does not possess similar traits, only that the traits are only not evident in the present. Nonetheless, the bias exists among employers.

Some even argue that the longer a worker stays out of work, the more their skills degrade—for example, the jobless often do not gain exposure to the latest techniques in certain fields or through lack of practice they lose proficiency. This is debatable. Certainly, it cannot be applied reasonably to everyone on a blanket basis.

At this writing in mid-2016, in most of the United States to act in the labor market on the basis of biases such as I have presented is not illegal, although it is neither kind nor fair nor, in many cases, sensible. In my view, it is not valid to refuse to hire people on the basis that they are unemployed.

There are other conclusions, however, that may be validly drawn from unemployment.

People without jobs are not likely good risks for a bank loan, unless they can show unearned income. Unemployed people are not likely to be paying taxes, they are likely to suffer from unemployment psychologically and require help. Some studies show that people who lose their jobs during great economic crises tend to have lower future incomes and life expectancy. It would be valid to make some decisions on the basis of these effects of unemployment and take actions that might discriminate, sometimes for the good of the jobless person.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions are not mine.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Why is it not possible to eliminate world poverty?

Conceptually, poverty cannot be eliminated because being poor means being the person(s) with the least money and resources. Someone will always be richest and someone poorest unless some way is found for everyone to own and have income that is exactly identical.

However, poverty as a condition in which essential needs such as food, clothing and shelter are unmet, can in theory be eliminated. For the past 100 years or so humanity has possessed the means to produce enough food, clothing and shelter for everyone, whereas in the past the lack of industrial machinery might have prevented this and genuine shortages existed.

What is lacking is the political will, the collective disposition of most people and most societies to make an earnest effort to make sure these become available to all. This could change. The fact that the United Nations Millennium goal to eliminate extreme poverty is slowly being met shows much more can be done. What cannot be done is eliminate poverty and keep societies that have excess luxury intact.

Also, a much more difficult way to eradicate poverty involves providing everyone the access to education and employment sufficient to help them become self-sustaining. This is a much more complex problem.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The anti-Columbus fashion is a matter of bias fed by lies

Christopher Columbus was not a saint and, despite his first name (which means Christ-bearer), was likely a Marrano (or secret) Jew. Moreover, the first European ever recorded as having set foot in the New World was openly Jewish, a man named Luis de Torres, who spoke Hebrew to the Americans he met on October 12, 1492.

If this startles you, it is because the reality of what happened that fateful day and in the years that followed has been obscured by historical propaganda.

The version prevalent in the English-speaking world is that cruel, lazy and papist Spaniards landed in the Caribbean driven by a lust for gold, a crazed desire for spilling blood and enslavement of natives and an unquenchable urge to rape their women. The republics were doomed to fail given their rampant “miscegenation” and collapse into neofeudal sloth. Britain and later the United States were duty bound, the story went, to exploit these people for the good of the continent, bringing democracy and free trade.

This overlooks several uncomfortable facts.

Information about Spanish wrongdoing during the early colonization is not a new discovery by liberal left-wing U.S. academics, or even by American Indian activists. The facts come from the written advocacy on behalf of natives by Spanish Catholic priests, including the first one ordained in the New World, going back 500 years.

Little is said by the outraged garment-rending followers of anti-Columbus fashion about British atrocities against American Indians, Irish, Indians from India, Africans and so on. This includes the first recorded use of germ warfare, when British commanding generals ordered, sanctioned, paid for and conducted the use of smallpox against Native Americans during the French and Indian War. Where were the Protestant clerics demanding that such practices be put to an end?

This is to say nothing of the introduction of the kidnapping of Africans into slavery in the New World, a wholly British and Portuguese business. Today, every single former British colony, including the United States, has an ethnic or racial fissure at the core of its society. Ever wonder why?

Of course, there is a Spanish-speaking-world version of historical propaganda about the colonization of America, with other distortions.

According to the traditional Spanish and Ibero-American story, valiant and devout Spanish military men and missionaries brought civilization and Christianity to savage Indians, installing societies in which all were respected according to their ordained station. Notably, these societies included an intermingling of Spanish, American natives and Africans that today offers a rich palette of skin hues in that part of the world. The venture was disrupted by British pirates’ attack on Spanish shipping and their agents’ promotion of discontent among the local elite.

In a relatively new and revisionist rendering since the 1970s—which adopts some of what traditionally was called the British “black legend” about the Spanish colonies—the Ibero-American story adds that the former colonies of Spain and Portugal became neofeudal estates thanks to a deliberate British campaign to develop a neocolonial regime of subservient banana republics. Once the British Empire faded, the United States stepped in as colonial master.

Supposedly enlightened U.S. Americans are coming to the game a little late—as are the Ibero-American children and grandchildren of more recent immigrants who had little to do with colonization. It’s easy to see wrongdoing in past generations of unrelated foreigners.

The much harder task is to reevaluate history with fresh eyes that take into account what people born before our time could not have known or understood.

For example, the term “genocide” was coined in 1944 by Polish-born U.S. jurist Raphael Lemkin in his work Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. It means to kill a tribe, from the Greek genos (race, kind). Columbus would not have known what anyone bringing up such a charge even meant.

All conquest in history, even in 21st century Syria and Ukraine, has involved some vile and repulsive violence against the civilian population, often enough chosen as victims simply because of their kind.

Columbus was not leading a scientific expedition out for a picnic. He was leading an expedition to get access to Asian goods that could be sold in Europe. He had investors to repay, because contrary to legend the Catholic monarchs did not finance the venture, but rather a consortium headed by two conversos like Columbus: Luis de Santangel, Spain’s chancellor of the royal household, and Gabriel Sanchez, treasurer of Aragon.

In researching this post, I found a fanciful explanation that adds another viewpoint, published in an October 14, 2013, Times of Israel blog by Simcha Jacobovici, a Canadian-Israeli filmmaker and journalist.

Jacobovici points out that Columbus left the port of Palos on August 3, 1492, which to him is the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av, “the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the day that both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed.” It was also the deadline for Jews in Spain to convert or leave.

Alongside Columbus’ ships was a veritable flotilla carrying Jews. Indeed, at least four Jews were on Columbus’ crew, in addition to Luis de Torres: Marco, the surgeon; Maestre Bernal, the physician; Alonso de la Calle, a bursar; and Rodrigo de Sanchez of Segovia, who was related to the Aragon treasurer.

Then Jacobovici drops his bomb:
Why would Columbus take a Hebrew speaker with him on a voyage to the New World? Because, according to Simon Wiesenthal in his book Sails of Hope, Columbus wasn’t looking for India. Rather, his secret mission was to find the lost tribes of Israel.
Whether this is true is irrelevant. There is some evidence that the delay in the Canary Islands, apart from having to do with the Great Navigator’s affair with a widow whose house in Las Palmas still stands (I visited it), was related to negotiations involving Jews and the Spanish authorities.

Whatever Columbus was looking for, he accidentally chanced on something else.

There was no established protocol on what to do when you find lands you didn’t even know existed, inhabited by peoples with warfare technology vastly inferior to your own. The precedent, from the most ancient history, offered one clear example: conquer them.

Monday, October 10, 2016

What do people mean when they refer to Republicans and Democrats?

There are technically more than two political parties, but only two get the attention and the money to win elections from time to time.

The Democratic Party was founded by Thomas Jefferson. For a long time after the Civil War it was a predominantly Southern party, until Franklin D. Roosevelt refashioned it into a coalition of groups that benefited from measures to combat the Great Depression in the 1930s. That is when the Democrats first became liberal-leaning and favoring labor unions and worker rights, later civil rights.

The Republican Party was founded by Abraham Lincoln. It arose out of many of the issues that gave rise to the Civil War and was supported mostly by the Northeastern elites made rich by industrialization. For much of the second half of the 19th century it was a majority party thanks to that support (and the exclusion of many groups from voting). The FDR coalition, which fell apart in 1968, turned it into a minority party until the 1980s. The Grand Old Party, as it was called long ago, reversed its fortunes primarily by attracting the votes of white
Southerners who never forgave the Democratic Party for supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended legal segregation.

At present, the long-term demographics are working in favor of a future Democratic majority, as non-Hispanic whites are rapidly becoming a minority (Anglo-Saxon whites already are), but the plutocracy may find a way to corrupt the political process and keep the Republicans in play.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions and their subtexts are not mine.

Friday, October 07, 2016

What is socialism, in simple terms?

Socialism is an as yet unrealized system of social and economic organization by which the society as a whole controls, and equitably distributes, the yield of human work and machinery for the benefit of everyone. Socialists differ on how to get there.

Karl Marx, one of the first major exponents of socialism, offered an entirely theoretical scenario in which capitalism’s internal contradictions would lead it to a collapsing crisis. The working classes would then take control through a revolution and “dictate” a new social compact under which socioeconomic classes would eventually wither away. He died in the 1880s and did not see any of this come to fruition.

Marx had predicted that the revolution would occur in an industrially advanced capitalist country, he cited his native Germany several times. However, the first politically successful revolution to espouse Marx’s ideas occurred in backward Russia in 1917 under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, a polemicist who read Marx as justifying brutal terror and dictatorial rule by a self-appointed “vanguard.” The Marxist-Leninist regime, which in time came to call itself Communist, put together a vast repressive system to defend modest social and economic redistribution of wealth and power; its entirely state-owned economic institutions became internally corrupt and inefficient until Communism collapsed bloodlessly in 1991.

Meanwhile, in western Europe after World War II, the exhaustion of traditional unfettered capitalism and a shared poverty brought on by two vastly destructive wars allowed non-Communist parties aligned with the Socialist International (of which Marx himself had been a member) to eventually gain power in Britain, France, Sweden, the Low Countries and eventually Germany, Spain and Italy. All of these carefully avoided too explicit an identification with Marx, due to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, but they managed to launch a variety of vast reforms that developed what was called “the welfare state.” This was a womb-to-tomb system of social insurance to protect workers from poverty, unemployment and their worst effects, without actually attempting to force the end of private enterprise.

In North America, Canada leans toward the European socialist model although no socialist party has ever won a governing majority. The model is roughly what socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders proposed for the United States in the 2016 presidential election campaign.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Do long-term unemployed job seekers deserve what happens to them?

Do long-term unemployed job seekers deserve any of the adverse economic consequences which they may receive?
For example, do they deserve bankruptcy, homelessness and so on?


Let's set aside the philosophical question of deserving. I would ask instead: is what happens to them the consequence of their actions? My answer is no.

Long-term unemployment is defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as 27 weeks (a bit more than 6 months) out of work involuntarily.
Who are these people? One big group is workers over 55, known as "older workers"; although it is illegal to discriminate against anyone over 40, the market place is not kind to older workers as a rule. They are more expensive to hire because they know the score and have some experience. They are not blank slates and cannot be molded to do whatever an employer wants. And other reasons.

Another large group is much younger people with little training or skills. You might say they should have stayed in school or gone to college, but in reality the deal you're dealt has a lot more to do with what I jokingly call the family you chose to be born in. If you were born poor in the United States, on average, only your children's children's children's children have a chance of becoming rich. That has been studied and demonstrated.

Lastly, there is a well-known labor market bias against LTUs: employers wonder why no one hired someone who has been looking for a job for six months or more. "Is there something they knew about this person that I am not seeing?" (Many stay unemployed as long as two years.)



This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why did God create hell if he claims to love all of his creations so much?

If you are speaking within the context of the Judeo-Christian tradition, let me answer right off that the Bible does not teach that God created hell.

This question is part and parcel of the branch of theology called theodicy, which explores the philosophical or logical problem of the existence of evil, which is a paradox hard to resolve. The best biblical exponent of the problem is found in the book of Job.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, there is no complete answer. As Jesus says in the gospel "No one has seen the Father but the Son" (John 6:46), which teaches that even believers do not know really know all there is to be known about God. We just have been told the little bit we need to know for our own good.

As to hell, it was adopted by Christians of the 2nd or 3rd century from a few verses in which Jesus or others make reference to the Greek idea of Hades. The Hebrew Gehenna or Sheol is not Hell.

The modern theological answer is that God did not make hell, we did. No one goes to hell, strictly speaking; rather, we make ourselves unfit for heaven.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Why don't religious people see that they believe in their God is because they were told to as children?

Belief is not a static thing. Sociological research shows that, at least in the United States, church affiliation (taken as an external indicator of faith) ebbs and flows throughout a person's life. It has become statistically normal for people brought up in a religious household to experience a crisis of faith in adolescence and/or young adulthood and return to the family faith once married and with children in their late 20s or early 30s.

Faith typically springs from one of three sources: revelation (an angel appears to you, which is not very common); reason (your thinking leads you to conclude that the possibility of God, albeit not irrefutable proof, is reasonable -- again, not hugely common); witness (a friend, parent, teacher, etc. tells you about their faith, this is probably the most common). My experience of religious people, which included being in a sociological team surveying on this topic, suggests that most believing people first follow family custom, then face the challenges of reason and sometimes have a revelatory experience (most often quite short of an actual angel).

Thus, believers might legitimately demure when confronted with someone who would pose a question derived from yours, such as: why don't you realize you're just following what you were told as a child? That would be because, in actual fact, their faith has undergone ups and downs and they have drawn on other resources, such as reason and spirituality, to decide to adopt their faith as a matter of conviction.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Why the rush to make saints?

First it was Karol Wojtyla (aka Pope John Paul II), now it’s Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (aka Mother Theresa).Why does Jorge Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis I) insist on sprinkling saints hither and asking questions later?

We all know that neither Wojtyla (pronounced woy-TEE-wah) nor Bojaxhiu (bo-YAH-joo) will withstand the test of time.

There’s a Rasputin-like murky figure who stowed away evidence of Wojtyla’s hiding pedophile priests in Krakow; that will eventually all come out. Then there’s Bojaxhiu’s little romp with Charles Keating, the 1980s savings-and-loan fraudster whose donations of ill-gotten money she took, then refused to return (perhaps thinking she was paid for the character witness testimony she delivered to a U.S. court on his behalf).

Apparently, there’s more in Bojaxhiu’s dossier, concerning her disregard for needs of poor people in Calcutta and her outrageous celebrity seeking.

There is nothing even remotely redeemable in Wojtyla’s life to warrant putting him up as a model of Christian behavior, even if we dismiss his efforts to avert a scandal he personally did not cause. But Bojaxhiu appears to be downright reprehensible.

Couldn’t the Vatican, which usually thinks in centuries, have waited a tad and investigated more thoroughly?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How will the life of minimum wage workers change if the minimum wage was increased to $15 an hour?

How will the life of minimum wage workers change if the minimum wage was increased to $15 an hour?

An increase of the federal minimum wage to $15, from $7.24 at this writing in December 2015, will mean a 106% increase in pay, effectively a doubling of income for workers at the bottom of the pay scale. Over time, but not immediately, some of it will be eaten up by inflation (just as it has been already); but the hike is necessary to recover the earning power lost since 2009, the last time it was raised, very modestly, from $6.55. People who earn the minimum wage (it is mostly adults, some with families, not just teenagers as the restaurant industry wants you to believe), have had their earnings frozen.

More importantly, a raise in the minimum wage will likely affect all workers, since it raises the floor and for competitive reasons other wages will go up.

The "gold standard" study of the effects of increasing the minimum wage by Andrew Card and Alan Krueger, which has been replicated, proved that raising the minimum wage increases consumption and helps the economy. (The study is available here.)



This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Monday, August 29, 2016

How is society affected by poverty?

How is society affected by poverty?

Poverty has a broad variety of social effects that are felt by average citizens who are not poor to varying degrees, depending on the percentage of poor people and the palliatives a society offers them.

Scholars differ on how to define poverty, from the ability to “live decently” (Adam Smith) to the ability to consume a basic necessary food basket (Molly Orshansky). Broadly speaking, I would define poverty as a serious, recurrent and life-altering lack of food, clothing, education, housing, transportation and employment in a quantity necessary to develop and thrive on one’s own without chronic and persistent want.

The existence of poverty deprives a society of productive members whose self-sustaining physical well-being and sanity has every potential to help everyone’s lives improve. In societies in which it is accepted as a value that all human beings have a right to live in dignity, poverty costs society expenditures and effort to reduce or eradicate it.

Moreover, poverty has broad ripple effects. People who have dire need, but not the education or means to get self-sustaining employment, often turn to crime and abuse of drugs and other antisocial behavior that, because it is paradoxically inflected mostly on other poor people, makes poverty worse. Poverty also serves the need of some of the rich and powerful people who know that uneducated, needy people are easy to manipulate and control and will work for very little pay; this leads to eventual corruption at all levels of society.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Friday, August 26, 2016

What are the best Christian criticisms of Elaine Pagels?

What are the best Christian criticisms of Elaine Pagels?
This is a partner question to: What are the best Christian criticisms of Gnosticism?

Let's first note that Elaine Pagels is a distinguished academic who has specialized in the Nag Hammadi Library finds. Pagels has written provocatively titled books for a middle-brow educated audience—among them, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics and Adam, Eve and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity. Her books tend to discredit the established facile impressions of early Christianity held by pious believers unfamiliar with scholarship older, newer and deeper than Pagels' own.

For this reason, a number of Protestant fundamentalists and orthodoxy monitors of other Christian leanings find Pagels' work annoying and even "anti-Christian." However, her writings and their actual implications do not automatically disqualify nor discredit the Christian faith. I am not aware of any particular anti-Pagels "school" of worthy critics, but I am aware of criticisms, some of which are valid.

In my opinion, Pagels books tend to overcredit herself and undercredit those on whose shoulders she stands. Pagels became interested in Nag Hammadi as a graduate student and was a minor assistant in a team working on the texts. The principal scholar on Nag Hammadi is James M. Robinson, the principal translator of the codices to English, not Pagels.



This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

I am scared I have committed apostasy

I am scared I have committed apostasy and have a seared conscience. I wish to be forgiven before it is too late! Any ideas or advice? I am a Christian believer who is 16 years old.

Just going on your age, which is one in which you are likely to experiment with ideas, I would bet that you are not an apostate. You are simply doubting, perhaps seriously, and in a way that seems at the moment irretrievably, the faith of your parents or your believing community.

To doubt is not the opposite of faith, but can be a part of it. Indeed, a great theologian (Romano Guardini) once stated that "Faith is the capacity to withstand doubt."

Note that this implies that it is normal to experience doubt. That is because faith is not knowledge, it is only belief absent knowledge. The Bible says it, "no one has seen the Father but the Son" (John 6:46). Thus, to have faith is to believe in Someone one has never seen. There may be times in which you may ask yourself how this is possible. That is a way to grow in faith; to ask questions and seek to resolve them. God gave you a brain to use.



This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Friday, August 19, 2016

How does a Christian support same sex marriage?

How does a Christian support same sex marriage?
 

I am now trying to become a Christian. But in the process of learning more about Jesus and the Bible, I found that the Bible actually does not support much of my political view. However, politics is a very important part of my life, so I really want to know if I can still retain my political views after I become a Christian. I do know that the Bible clearly states homosexual is one of the most serious sins. I want to know if it is OK for a Christian to support homosexual rights and how people who have a religion deal with the conflict between their religion and political view?

Nothing in the Christian faith requires that all civil and criminal laws of every country must conform to the teachings of the faith. Only believers must conform; and believers ought not to judge others (Matthew 7:1).

When Jesus was asked whether he thought it was moral to pay Roman taxes, he asked who was on the coin. Told it was Caesar, he said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." (Mark 12:17)

So, embrace the faith with confidence that it will only demand of you to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31) That's hard enough, believe you me.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What is Peronism?

What is Peronism?

Peronism is a movement founded by the late Juan Domingo Perón (1895-1974), an Argentine military man who was elected president in 1946, overthrown in 1955 and returned to power in 1973, then died in office. The singularity of Perón is that, although he was a military man and an admirer of Mussolini's capacity to mobilize people (he was military attache in Rome as Mussolini rose to power), he attracted the undying loyalty of industrial workers and the poor of his country to this day. Peronism is the amorphous populist movement that up through 2010 won every election in which it was allowed to field a candidate unfettered.

Peronism is not an ideology and indeed defies classic left-right classification. Peronists have included military men, labor union leaders, some enlightened business executives, middle class left-leaning youth, but mostly the toiling classes. Indeed, every ideological movement from left to right has attempted to call itself Peronist in order to eviscerate the movement, so far without success.

Peronism has no systematic set of doctrines or ideas, largely because, whatever Perón actually believed, he was a pragmatist above all. Perón himself was partly authoritarian, partly a supporter of state intervention in the economy, partly a populist, partly anti-Communist. In brief, an ideological hodge-podge. He liked to say that he was most comfortable running things when they were as messy "as a bordello." He certainly pitted his followers against each other so that he could always be the deciding arbiter.

His policies included modernizing Argentine labor laws by introducing, among other rules, the 8-hour, 5-day work week. He enfranchised women with the vote. He also built up a vast economic state-owned sector of key infrastructural industries, including utilities, railroads and telecommunications, which also served as repositories of employment through political patronage. Thus, when overthrown in 1955 and used as a battering ram by the unions, Perón's legacy was a mixture of military corporativism, laborism, social democracy and civil rights that mixed uneasily.

Indeed, Peronist presidents aside from the man himself, have varied widely. Carlos Menem, president from 1989 to 1999, privatized almost all of the state enterprises in order to sustain the fiction of parity of the national currency with the dollar; Menem could easily be classed as a followed of free market apologist Milton Friedman, whom Ronald Reagan was said to admire. On the other hand, the late Nestor Kirchner (president 2003-2007) and his wife Cristina (president from 2007 to October 2015), who have been maliciously and erroneously called former guerrillas and socialists by their adversaries, have put forth policies definably similar to the government interventionism of John Maynard Keynes, closely identified with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.



This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What percentage of Europe is under the US poverty line?

What percentage of Europe is under the US poverty line?

The European Union and the United States measure poverty in a different way. The EU takes the income distribution and sets a percentile at which anyone below it is poor. The USA calculates the cost of basic of a basket of necessities, which becomes a threshhold or "poverty line." Because the cost of living varies from country to country, the EU method is more appropriate for international comparisons.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Will truck drivers criminally sabotage automated trucks once their jobs are threatened?

Will truck drivers criminally sabotage automated trucks once their jobs are threatened?
Easy enough to do, an impulsive community, not PhD holders, their jobs, livelihood at stake...
(Just thinking out loud, folks. No hate. Breathe deep...)


Not likely. U.S. labor history has very few instances of this sort of thing. They may protest. They may legitimately demand retraining for another occupation. The problem is that work for lower-skilled work is diminishing as machines are made to do such work.

I think the solution is to rethink society as a community of leisure, rather than one of work. We are nearing a time in which a very small proportion of people will be able to make everything everybody needs. Let those people be the ones who like to do the work. Let others learn how to make art and teach children and help one another better.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.

Friday, August 12, 2016

What are the differences between authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and fascism?

What are the differences between authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and fascism?

Totalitarianism and Fascism are forms of authoritarianism, which is governance by an authority without the option of questioning whatever the authority orders. The distinctions between the three are mostly a matter of political theory, applying these labels is usually done very loosely and, in my opinion, badly.

An authoritarian government is any ruling political unit in which the person or group in power tells everyone else what to do, more or less without recourse. Monarchies without parliament and in which the monarch actually rules, as well as military governments and dictatorships of the left and the right can all be correctly identified as authoritarian. Most workplaces are authoritarian, too; the boss tells you what to do, or else. Similarly, most families have an authoritarian streak, as do schools. The basic idea is that what is done is not put to a vote: someone commands, others obey. Authoritarian governments, as you might imagine, can cover a very wide range of power regimes.

Totalitarian rule is called this because the power of those who govern extends to every aspect of life and society; in other words, total rule. They tell you what to say, what to think, where to live, what to study, where to work, etc. Obviously, because of the difficulty of controlling large populations minutely, no pure form of totalitarian government has ever existed. However, Soviet Communism, German Nazism and Italian Fascism attempted to be totalitarian for very different reasons.

All of which brings us to Fascism, which is the historical movement of Benito Mussolini, who ruled Italy as a dictator from 1929 to 1943. The word “fascism” comes from the Latin fasces, a bundle of rods tied around an ax; the members of the movement conceived of themselves as a tightly wound bundle of people who figuratively chopped down whatever stood in the way of their ideas. These ideas included the revival of Italy's glory as the center of the Roman Empire. It was a nationalist and ultra-conservative movement similar and allied to German Nazism and Spanish Falangism, yet distinctly Italian.

Because Fascism came to power first, its name became a shorthand for any right-wing authoritarian regime and for the supporters of such rule. The concept has also been twisted completely out of shape by rhetorical abuse. For example, Reaganism and Thatcherism (USA and UK in the 1980s), although ideologically in harmony with many fascist ideas, have been called fascist even though they operated in a political environment in which at least a pretense of democratic representation was maintained.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions and their subtexts are not mine.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

How different would politics be if elected officials had to spend a few months in the military or poverty?

How different would politics be if every representative had to spend a few months in the military followed by a few months in poverty?
In the post-World War II period, most successful politicians served in war. Some came from poverty (Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton come to mind, but so did Abraham Lincoln).

There is no evidence that those who had seen war were less inclined to send others to war. As for poverty, those who experienced it were more inclined to promote efforts to help poor people; yet no one produced as vast a set of social programs as the very wealthy Franklin Roosevelt.

In sum, I am not sure that there is a hard an fast cause-and-effect dynamic between experiencing war and poverty and leading in a way that avoids or diminishes either.

However, it seems more honorable for a person commanding others to risk life and limb to have done so, just as it seems more equitable that someone who has struggled with need should weigh efforts to alleviate poverty. For that reason alone, it might be a worthwhile requirement in a democracy.

Are there ways to reduce unemployment as social entrepreneur?

Q. Are there ways to reduce unemployment as social entrepreneur?
What are the possible solutions can a social entrepreneur do to counter unemployment in his or her country? Can social entrepreneurship solve unemployment? Is so then what are the ways and methods to do so?
PS: I’m a trader and investor in Malaysia.


I think your question answers itself. Social entrepreneurship is one way to reduce unemployment, first by hiring people to work temporarily in the enterprise and secondly by making designing those jobs as a kind of training and work experience that can serve in the labor market to obtain longer lasting and sustaining work.

The typical social enterprise in the United States is an operation that is a for-profit subsidiary of a nonprofit.

For example, Homeboy Industries began in 1992 as a ministry by a Jesuit priest to help assist high-risk youth, former gang members and young newly released ex-convicts with mental health counseling, legal services and work-readiness training services. Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, the founder, whom I met briefly, realized that the best way to get these young people redirected into sustaining jobs was to develop businesses in which they could work and learn to show up on time, not tell off the boss and also acquire a particular marketable skill.

The group started Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Café & Catering, Homeboy/Girl Merchandise, Homeboy Farmers Markets, The Homeboy Diner, Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery, Homeboy Grocery and Homeboy Cafe & Bakery, all for-profit outfits that sell goods and services produced by the people Boyle initially intended to help.

Stories such as these are more prevalent in wealthier economies, in which there is a large consumer market, than in poorer ones. However, innovations such as microfinancing, an entrepreneurial idea that I understand has been fabulously successful in Bangladesh, are examples of what can be achieved.

Monday, August 08, 2016

What psychological factors lead to poverty, and what factors/beliefs lead to wealth?


The idea that poverty or wealth are based on the psychological makeup of a person is a fallacy. It is amply established that the single most significant factor in poverty or wealth is the socioeconomic status of the family into which each person is born.

Studies on social mobility show repeatedly that socioeconomic status is downwardly “sticky.” That is, most people have a stronger likelihood of sliding downward in the socioeconomic ladder that upward.

Studies about the United States show that it takes at least five generations to climb from the bottom 20% of the income distribution to the top 20%; exception: immigrants. In any case, upward mobility happens to a small minority of people. A recent study of Sweden, recently expanded to Scandinavia and Britain found that a large share of those at the top 20% today were descendants of people in the top 20% in the 1700s.

If the question were rephrased to what traits help the rare few who climb up the socioeconomic ladder, that might elicit a different answer. But beware the Horatio Alger mythology. If hard work made people rich, African bush women would all be billionaires.


This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions and their subtexts are not mine.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Why wasn't I born in a developed country?

Q. Why wasn't I born in a developed country?

A. This is one of those questions that reveals the silliness of patriotism, the pride in supposedly having chosen well one’s birthplace. One might as well take pride in the color of one’ s eyes.

It also begs the question of the term “developed country,” which economists no longer use. When it was, many observed that there are precious few actually developed countries, perhaps the Netherlands or Norway. In reality, the majority of countries fall into the basket of those that are “underdeveloped,” meaning that their systems of political economy fail to deliver basic needs and a degree of transparency to their citizens. A minority of very wealthy nations are actually overdeveloped, with systems that yield pollution, expansionist wars and neocolonial oppression of other countries, plus a measure of internal socioeconomic injustice.

There is no paradise on Earth.

This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions and their subtexts are not mine.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Would Christians have better luck at converting people if they abolished their dogma of hell?

Q. Would Christians have better luck at converting people if they abolished their dogma of hell?

A. Believing in something because you will get a reward or for fear of punishment is not genuine faith. The teaching about punishment as one of the possibilities at the end of one’ s life or at the end of history (mileage may vary according to the denomination) is about recognizing that God is merciful bust also just.

Incidentally, while churches have recognized many people as saints, not one single solitary human being has been officially consigned to eternal punishment by any major church body of which I am aware.

This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions and their subtexts are not mine.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Is zero unemployment a good thing?

No and it's not possible. It would mean that no one was seeking to gain or change employment and no one was seeking to hire or fire. In essence, it would mean a static situation without growth or change in the labor market; given that population tends to increase and people tend to shifts in various demographic characteristics (age, marital status, etc.), a static labor market would be necessarily underserving any society.



This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions and their subtexts are not mine.

Monday, August 01, 2016

What's a good estimate of believing Christians?

[This is the beginning of reposts from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions and their subtexts are not mine.]

Q: What's a good estimate of believing Christians?
The official number is around 2 billions but for example in my family we are all (6) baptized but only 50% are real Christians, the other 50% are atheist but still nominal Christians.



A: My rule of thumb, about any religion or none, is about 10% really know, understand and assent to the fullness of their nominal faith. Of those, probably none live out such beliefs perfectly. Augustine of Hippo, bishop, scholar and saint, wrestled with this question when he compared the visible ecclesiastical community with the communion of saints, dead and alive, known only to God.

As for Christian statistics in particular, there are many problems. First, different denominations count members in different ways. Many Protestant denominations count only confirmed members. Catholics and Orthodox count baptized people. That already distorts the number.

Sociologists of religion tend to prefer, as a yardstick, behavior indicating adherence. Here again, there is the problem of finding measurable behavior. A common, if imperfect yardstick, is attendance or participation in ritual services or events beyond major holidays. People who go to church one a month throughout the year, for example, are likely to be more seriously committed to a belief (regardless of whether they succeed at meeting the faith’ s ethical demands) than people who go just for Christmas and Easter.

Monday, July 04, 2016

What happened to the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence?

We are all moved by those eloquent words penned by Thomas Jefferson, but not only did the Founding Fathers borrow and misrepresent their intentions in the Declaration of Independence, the United States government has not lived up to the stated original goals.

Take the opening sentence:
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.
The Second Treatise Of Government by John Locke, published in 1690, states that the premise of all political power is “equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection.”

Was that really true for the United States?

We know than there was no thought given, implicitly or otherwise, to the equality of women (indeed, Southern lawmakers added “sex” as a protected class under the Civil Rights Act being debated in 1964, partly as a poison pill, partly as a joke). So let’s stick to men.

In what sense were the male African slaves or Indians equal? Or how about white indentured servants? Or was the point that the Creator endowed them with equality and certain rights, but hell if the Founding Fathers were going to follow suit?

This is not to mention the Jeffersonian claim in the Declaration that 
whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Here Jefferson went well beyond the Lockian writ. In effect, Locke had considered the question as follows:
May the commands then of a prince be opposed? may he be resisted as often as any one shall find himself aggrieved, and but imagine he has not right done him? This will unhinge and overturn all polities, and, instead of government and order, leave nothing but anarchy and confusion. To this I answer, that force is to be opposed to nothing, but to unjust and unlawful force; whoever makes any opposition in any other case, draws on himself a just condemnation both from God and man; and so no such danger or confusion will follow.
In fact, Locke’s views are reflected in the work of U.S. lawmakers over time.

In 1798, Congress passed four Alien and Sedition Acts that made it illegal for any person “with intent to oppose any measure … of the government” to “print, utter, or publish … any false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government. Citizens or foreigners were barred from opposing the execution of federal laws, preventing a federal officer from performing his or her duties, engaging in aid “any insurrection, riot, Unlawful Assembly, or combination” or make any defamatory statement about the federal government or the president.

The Sedition Act of 1918 added willfully employing “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language”  about the U.S. form of government, the Constitution, the flag, or U.S. military or naval forces.

In 1940 the Alien Registration Act allowed the government to detain any national of a country at war with the United States without trial.

These laws were used against Federalists, southern secessionists and more recent political dissenters including socialists, anarchists, pacifists and labor leaders. Not to mention foreigners.

Arguably, the democratic experiment has some ways to go.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Make War No More

I was going to write a new jeremiad against war today, to protest the Memorial Day militarism and the propaganda schmaltz to help the $800 billion annual orgy of war-profiteering, which has not prevented the United States from losing every war since World War II.

Still, they keep sending Johnny marching off to kill and be killed. It's time to stop.

Here are some of my posts from other occasions on this subject: