On Refugees and Justice

Source: The Independent

Source: The Independent

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” – Ezekiel 16:49

How fickle and mutable is the public opinion concerning refugees and those in need. Just a few short months ago, the world stood witness to the body of a little boy, given up by the sea as his family attempted to flee a horrible situation. The sentiment towards helping refugees grew and the Western world seemed willing to spring into action. Faced with one of the greatest crises since WWII and with an enemy just as evil as the Third Reich, the Western world looked ready to unite and help those looking for a life away from constant danger.

And then Paris happened.

Suddenly, nations closed their borders, people abruptly lost their compassion, and the United States – historically a beacon for the sick, the tired, the poor – had 27 governors overstep their authority and say they wouldn’t allow refugees into their states. Never mind that of all the known attackers, every single one (with exception to one) was a French national, not a refugee. Of the one where little is known, he used a fake Syrian passport, meaning we don’t know his status, but most likely wasn’t a refugee.

But fear never lets facts get in the way.

Prudence requires an increase in screenings, in doing all we can to weed out potential terrorists as well as help refugees acclimate to the United States (so as to prevent disruption, resentment, and a reason to join a terrorist group). Justice requires us to seek a way to permanently fix this situation so the refugees can return home without worry of losing their lives. But mercy requires us to bring them away from danger and to a land of relative peace and safety.

Taking in refugees certainly is a complicated matter. After all, the average refugee will undergo some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (especially for those who came from areas of heavy fighting), has lost family members, and is coming to a part of the world with an entirely different culture, climate, language, and majority religion. Such a scenario will naturally breed a tense situation that, if not handled properly, could cause problems. If we add to it that representatives of local governments (such as governors) are openly hostile to refugees, we have a volatile situation.

As with most things in life, love can overcome hate. It’s amazing how far a smile, simple directions, or just learning how to say “hello” in someone’s language will go. It’s the government’s job to vet the refugees and find places for them to live, but it’s up to us to make them feel welcome. People who feel welcome, who feel like guests or, even better, feel like neighbors are less likely to radicalize or listen to fundamentalists. Imagine the refugee who comes to the US or who is even turned away from the US, with the words of ISIS coming to mind; “They will reject you, they will mistreat you, only under an Islamic Caliphate can you find true happiness and freedom.” Such words begin to ring true when we actually do mistreat and reject refugees. If, however, we welcome them, treat them as neighbors, and do what we can to love them, then the words of ISIS ring hollow and false.

The future of these refugees really does fall on how we, as a community, treat them. If we are open and welcoming then chances are we will gain great citizens and neighbors. If we instead make the mistake of so many before us and reject them, then we will have nothing but trouble in our future.

Do We Need the Church?


In our fiercely individualistic and overly cynical society the statement, “I don’t need the Church,” has become somewhat of a truism. Typically followed by something like, “I don’t see why I need to go to some building every Sunday when I can experience God just as well on my morning walk?” Faith or, as it is nebulously referred to these days, ‘spirituality’, is viewed as purely a private affair. Church is perceived as some drafty building filled with stuck up, superstitious, people who gather to hear some stuck up preacher foist his opinions on a bunch of mindless drones for an hour. Ironically, these sentiments are increasingly shared by Christians who feel all they really need is their Bible and a personal relationship with Jesus.

Now, it is certainly true that we can experience God on our morning walks (or whilst doing any number of things); it is equally true that we need to read Holy Scripture and have a relationship with Jesus. But, is the Church largely irrelevant in this process? Can a vague spirituality, practiced in relative isolation, ultimately satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts? To answer these questions, let’s examine the popular sentiments I just canvased a little more closely.

Experiencing the Numinous

Clearly, there is more than one way to experience–to have some sort of contact or interaction with–a person. Take my wife, for example. One way I can experience her is through her art (she’s an extremely talented photographer). When I observe her photos–paying attention to the way she frames each shot, to the colors and lighting she utilizes, and to the story each picture tells–I, in some limited way, experience her thoughts, her intentions, and her creative power. Yet, I am far removed from her. She is the cause and her art is but an effect.

Another, more intimate, way I might experience her is through reading her blog. Her writings afford me a glimpse into her mind. In them I discover her hopes, dreams, and desires; I learn about her values, convictions, and overall philosophy of life. I become very close to her; yet I am still one step removed. For she is not wholly present to me; her words are but a shadowy extension of the reality that is her.

Which brings us to the next level of experience: personal contact. When I sit down with my wife, and speak to her face to face, I encounter the creative power behind the photos and directly interact with the mind from which the writing sprung forth. I have come into personal contact with the reality I had, up to that point, only experienced from afar. I am no longer interacting with the cause through its effects but dealing directly with the cause herself.

Yet, I can get even closer still. As her husband, there is an even deeper way in which I can experience my wife; and that is through the nuptial embrace. When she and I become one; and share ourselves with one another in the most intimate way possible.

Each of these interactions describe very real ways to experience my wife; yet, clearly, these experiences vary greatly in terms of the level of intimacy involved.

The point being, many of us only seek to experience the numinous from afar; avoiding any intimate or personal contact. This is not to downplay the importance of such interaction. For, surely experiencing God through the beauty of His creation whilst on our morning walk is a great good (like any experience of great art). However, if I want to draw closer to and fully experience the Creator of all things I have to come into direct contact with Him; I must move beyond the Universe and interact with its ultimate cause.

Just as with my wife, I might seek to experience God through something He has written (or has inspired to be written). Again, this too is a great good. For, without a doubt, reading and meditating on the Bible will reveal much about God’s character, His motives, and His plans for my life. The key question is: Is this all God has to offer? Are we stuck merely experiencing God vaguely through the Universe He has made or through reading His inspired writings? Or, has He provided a more intimate, more personal, more direct way to experience Him? Something akin to the intimate relationship that I share with my beloved bride.

A Personal Relationship

As I said before, many Christians advocate having a personal relationship with Jesus. Yet, most understand this relationship, this experience of the numinous, to be an isolated, private, affair; one that is mediated almost entirely through the private study of the Bible. Perhaps, however, this is only scratching surface; it is only the tip of the proverbial ice-burg. Perhaps, God is interested in something deeper; something more profound. Perhaps God is offering Himself to us; that we might intimately experience Him in a way analogous to that of the relationship I share with my wife.

The biblical theologian Brant Pitre explains:

 …none of these ways of seeing God–as a distant watchmaker, as an impersonal force that binds everything together, or as a kind of invisible superhuman hero–is the way a first-century Jew like Jesus of Nazareth would have seen God. From an ancient Jewish perspective, the one true God–“the LORD” or “He Who Is” (Hebrew YHWH) (Exodus 3:15)–is not just the Creator. From an ancient Jewish perspective, the God of Israel is also a Bridegroom, a divine person whose ultimate desire is to be united to his creatures in an everlasting relationship that is so intimate, so permanent, so sacrificial, and so life-giving that it can only be described as a marriage between Creator and creatures, between God and human beings, between YHWH and Israel.

Christians believe this divine marriage was fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ who, through His incarnation and passion, initiated a New Covenant between God and men; who gathered for Himself a people; namely, a Church; i.e., the New Israel. St. Paul communicates this idea, utilizing the imagery of marriage, on multiple occasions. Perhaps, most clearly, in this passage from Ephesians:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the Church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (Ephesians 5:25-30).

Being a Christian means being grafted or adopted into a community; a family. It means entering into the life of God who exists as an intimate communion of three distinct persons sharing one essence and will: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It means being part of a living Body–the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church–whose head is Christ. It is within this community that we fully and completely encounter the risen Lord; the Bridegroom who desires us to know Him and to experience Him directly.

Within this community, this communion of saints, we are able to experience Christ in a very real, very tangible, very personal, and deeply intimate way: namely, through the most Holy Eucharist. Through partaking of the Eucharist–the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord really present in the bread and wine–we not only become one with our Lord but He draws us into union with each other as well. St. Paul explains:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of the one bread (1 Corinth. 10:16-17).

Understood in this sense, asking the question, “Do we need the Church?” is on par with asking, “Do I need to spend time with or make love to my wife?” I suppose I could get by with a long distance relationship; but that is not my hearts deepest desire and longing. My desire is to be near her, to experience her personally, and to be as intimate with her as I possibly can. Likewise, we can get by on our own, experiencing God from a distance, but this will never satisfy the deepest yearning of our hearts: which is to be known by and to know the God who brought us into being in the most intimate way. Such an experience of the numinous can only take place within the context of the Church.

Why Black Lives Matter: A White Guy’s Perspective

blacklivesmatterI’m white. With blue eyes, pale skin, and 98% of my genetic composition coming from various parts of Europe, I’m fully seen as a white guy. Sure, I couldn’t exactly qualify  for the KKK or any other hate group (I do have some – very little – Western African background, as well as being a quarter Russian-Jew), but for all intents and purposes I’m a white guy who benefits from being white in the United States. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am in life and admittedly I’ve typically outperformed my co-workers, be they white or black. But the fact remains, I can point to specific examples where I’ve benefited heavily from being white. I can point to the times I’ve been pulled over, to how I’ve been treated in certain jobs, to how my aggressive “go get ‘em” attitude in business is valued rather than viewed as an “angry white man.” Right or wrong, being a white male in the United States (or really, almost anywhere in the world) is pretty fantastic, all things considered.

Yet, acknowledging such things is why I can say Black Lives Matter. I know, people want to respond with, “All lives matter!” But such a response ignores the entire point behind saying Black Lives Matter. If you truly and honestly believe that all lives matter, then it follows that you should say black lives matter. Let me explain:

To say “all lives matter” would require us to actually act like all lives matter, but we don’t. Currently in the United States a little over 1 in 4 African Americans live in poverty (compared to 1 in 10 among white Americans). The household wealth disparity between white families and black families is astronomically high (13 times higher, or $141,000 compared to $11,000). African American men are 6 times more likely to face incarceration than white men and are likely to face longer sentences as well. And, of course, we can point to the disproportionate attention African Americans receive from police. Most recently, Dylan Roof murdered people in cold blood and was treated to a bullet proof vest and Burger King. A young black girl in a school, however, was ripped and thrown from her seat for the simple act of doing what teenagers frustratingly do; not listen. In almost every facet of society – from political representation, to income, to availability of middle/upper class jobs, to treatment in general, to education – whites have a distinct and proven advantage over African Americans.

The above facts cannot be disputed. They actually exist and to question the existence of such a disparity is akin to questioning the existence of the moon. The question is the cause, but even then we’re left with two very disturbing conclusions. Either:

A)     Within the United States exists a system that is not only indifferent to black lives, but even hostile and purposefully oppressive to black lives. While we might say “all lives matter,” our system tacks on, “but some lives matter more than others.” Yes, “All lives matter” is a wonderful talking point, but when looked at in practice it’s more a punch line than an ideal. The disparity is caused by a system meant to promote white supremacy, to ensure that white people get ahead with greater ease than their non-white counterparts.


B)    Non-whites are inferior to whites. That there’s something to being of European ancestry that makes a person superior in terms of ability to obtain wealth and work hard.

Now, some well-meaning people might try to decline option A, but what are we left with other than option B? All arguments that aren’t option A tip-toe and conclude with option B: they’re lazy, they don’t work as hard, they expect government handouts, if they want better lives then they can work for them, the problem is their culture, and so on and so forth. No matter what, it all boils down to one sentiment: “They” are inferior.

I would hope that in 2015 I wouldn’t have to point out why such a sentiment is absurd, but sadly I do. No human, and I mean not a single human in this world, is inferior due to race, ethnicity, or culture. Individuals have strengths and weaknesses, but not races. All human lives are both worthy of dignity; that means all lives, irrespective of ethnicity or race, are just as capable of success as the next person. From a scientific perspective there’s no evidence or reason to believe that different races are “superior” to other races; there’s smart people and dumb people, hard working people and lazy people, in all races. Skin color has no impact on a person’s work ethic or intelligence.

If we (hopefully) reject option B, then we’re left with option A, that the system has failed an entire people. And not just failed an entire people, but worked against an entire people. To say “Black Lives Matter,” then, is to act as a reminder that black lives matter…as much as all other lives, therefore, treat them that way. No one is asking white people to give up the comfort of privileges, but merely to ensure that everyone enjoys the same privileges we enjoy. That is to say, no one is asking for the median income to drop among white people, but rather let’s promote a system that allows the median income to rise among non-whites. No one is asking white people to face the same brutality from police, but rather allow nonwhites to enjoy the same respect from police that white people are afforded.

Sure, it’s okay to disagree with the methods of the Black Lives Movement and even some of the rhetoric, but despite methods and rhetoric the message remains necessary and poignant. One doesn’t have to subscribe to the methods or rhetoric in order to appreciate and embrace the message, that we have a system that is violent towards black lives. And we have to work towards reconciliation, because without it the violence will only increase, spread, and become worse.

Contra Progress: We have made the modern world, but the modern world is not made for us

IMG_0039The United States is a place full of oddities and contradictions, much like the rest of the world. Our greatest contradictions exist within the workplace. We leave a house that we hope to sell (in order to move into a bigger one), drive in traffic that we hate onto the way to a job that we deplore, take orders from a boss we despise, and spend 7-8 hours (on average) in a building we’re working to eventually escape, only to fight that same hated traffic on the way home. By the time we get home we’re drained, we have no creativity or energy left, and what’s worse is we must wake up and repeat the process all over. Our only respite is the weekends, but even then we must fight crowds and face the reality that the eternal return of the same shall stare us down beginning Sunday night into Monday morning.

The angst of modern man is quite different from his ancestors. Existential angst has always been a part of human existence, the crisis of realizing that we exist, but truly understanding why we exist is at the core of many philosophical discussions. It is a question that spans across both Eastern and Western philosophies; both Socrates and Buddha, both Christianity and Taoism, and everything in between attempt to explain the crisis of existence. Even into the 1960s when hippies weren’t tripping off LSD, they were questioning why we’re here. These hippies eventually became the yuppies; the counter-culture warriors of the 60s became the consumerist capitalists of the 80s. Today, the question of “Why am I here” is answered in a myriad of commercials: “To produce and consume.”

Whereas the term “progressive” is commonly used to refer to someone who is liberal or even socialist, the greatest irony is that modern capitalism is truly progressive. Imagine a CEO coming out tomorrow and saying, “Our corporation has made a huge profit this year. We really don’t need a bigger profit at this point, so we’re going to give any extra profit to our workers.” That, of course, isn’t really progressive because it limits the growth of the company. Modern capitalism wants a world where satisfaction and contentment are dirty words, not signs of maturity. Some might say that this is really consumerism, to which I’d say that consumerism is a logical conclusion of capitalism.

We’re stuck in wage jobs where our entire existence depends not on our work or creativity, but on the effective management of the company for which we work (in previous ages this was called slavery, just of a higher degree than non-wage slavery). “If you work hard enough, you can make it.” I’m sure many people who were laid off or “downsized” work incredibly hard; but their labor was owned by another, and their owner mismanaged the fruits of the labor. If you want that new car, that new TV, that new boat, that new house, that new whatever, then you need to keep working. But ultimately, what are we working for? All these things will gather dust and eventually gain nothing. They are not wrong to have, but to pursue, to make them your goal in life? To seek a new model in a few years? We’re told our purpose in life is to consume, to consume things we don’t need, to consume things that will lose value within our own lifetimes; and if we reflect on that, even for a millisecond, when we think of how many hours of work we put into buying a new TV, we can’t help but feel the angst and disgust.

In pursuing progress in all things financial, we’ve stopped asking why we were created. But such a cessation of questioning is only harmful and has created nasty side effects. Just 100 years ago the majority of Americans lived in small towns where they were no more than a few minutes walk from the world as it was. While we might not have had an answer as to why we existed, we could at least walk within a natural environment and, even without knowledge, feel at home. Today, because we’ve stopped asking why we are here we have lost our connection with our first home. The sounds of nature, of birds chirping, of the wind rustling the leaves of a tree, of the beautiful silence of a forest during a winter snow are often interrupted or drowned out by bustling cars, honking horns, or the “progress” of construction. The incessant clamor of the modern world was born out of the silencing of the big questions.

How odd that modern man has moved his home away from nature when he is only home when closer to nature. In seeking to master the world, we have become slaves to our progress; in seeking to move our homes into the modern era, we have become homeless. We’ve struggled to create a fantastic world, a utopia, only to discover that it is so fantastic and so utopian that we don’t belong to our own creation. We have no frame of reference for our existence and so we stumble forward, blindly into a dark abyss, until we hit the age of 45 and go, “What the hell is all of this for?” To which the car salesmen sells us the new sports car, we leave our family for someone new, everyone chalks it up to a midlife crisis, and we still lead empty and mundane lives, just filled with new stuff.

Marriages aren’t falling apart because we’ve lost religion or because “the gays” can get married. Adultery doesn’t occur because we live in a post-sexual revolution world. Family values haven’t decreased because of Democrats (or Republicans). Society isn’t falling apart because of some liberal or conservative conspiracy theory. Rather, we’ve created a world that isn’t suited for humans and all we see are merely the conclusions of such a world. Just like our bodies will die when placed into an environment not conducive for bodies, so too will our souls die in an environment not conducive to the soul. Our modern world, the one that places our existence on our ability to produce and consume, one that seeks to work us and work us until our company can progress in its profits, is a world that is not only unfavorable to souls, but in many instances kills the soul.

Humans are not meant for the busy life. We’re not meant for 8 hour work days, five days a week (and that’s if you’re lucky; more and more we’re working a clocked 56 hours a week, not to mention the emails and calls at home). We’re not meant to sit in traffic driving metallic cows herded from one area to another. We’re not meant to be “producers” or “consumers,” at least not as our primary function. We’re not meant to remain busy, busy to the point that we lose who we are or worse, never discover what we could be. We’re not meant to look for the next big useless thing and then slave away so we can pay for that big useless thing. We’re not meant to be cut off from nature, not to the degree in which we’re separated, for ultimately we are still a part of nature. We’re not meant to live in isolation amidst our crowded cities. We’re not meant for the modern world.

The Gospel and Social Justice: Concluding Thoughts on Pope Francis’ visit to the United States

IMG_0513Steve Skojec, writing in opposition to Pope Francis’ calls for action on climate change and social justice, did a wonderful job of summarizing the core of the opposition to the Pope’s message: stop focusing so much on social justice and instead focus on salvation. Or, to quote from Skojec;

As Thursday’s congressional address emphasized, however, Francis’ priorities are climate change, economic justice, marginalization and the poor, while little emphasis is placed on the deep moral and spiritual crisis that threatens our eternal salvation or our subsequent need for authentic conversion.

According to him, and others, it would be better for the Pope and Christians universal if they instead tried to get people to convert. While it’s okay to feed the poor and advocate for climate change, it’s only okay so long as we’re using such things to “preach the Gospel.” Otherwise, such actions are merely indicative of a glorified NGO.

We’re told that the purpose of the Church isn’t to be some humanitarian organization, but to “save souls,” completely ignoring 2,000 years of teachings, handed-down wisdom, and theology that teaches us there is no difference between the two. After all, when Christ stated the two greatest commandments, they boiled down to, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Those are vague enough to allow us to display that love in unique ways, but strict enough to tell us that love should be the drive in all that we do. Within these commandments, and within Christ’s own teachings and actions, we never see a hierarchy of what constitutes “love,” that one action involves a greater act of love than the other (short of self-sacrifice).

The problem, or so it seems, is that too many Christians hold this idea that the Gospel is ultimately about doing what we should in order to get to heaven. What we should do in order to obtain heaven differs from denomination to denomination, but the ultimate motive behind salvation tends to be, “What must I do to go to Heaven?” Of course, within Christ’s own teachings there is never a dichotomy placed between “being saved” and “social justice.” For Christ there seems to be a both/and aspect to salvation, that preaching the Gospel entails both advocating for social justice and for repentance.

In fact, the criticisms of the modern Pope on his calls for social justice are really a repudiation of millennia of Church teachings. Trust me, as someone who is Eastern Orthodox I do have criticisms of the Papal office, I do have issues with their theology – there is a reason that I’m Orthodox and not Roman Catholic – but those criticisms do not extend to his teachings on social justice. Such criticisms show a lack of imagination and historical understanding in attempting to separate the Gospel from social justice. The two, per Christ’s own example and teachings, are one in the same.

Acting as though salvation is about getting to Heaven (or getting right with God), or primarily about such things is no different than acting as though marriage is all about sex, or primarily about sex. Salvation, like marriage, is about a life-altering relationship that will impact every single aspect of your life. In return, it forces you to change how you view and interact with the world, realizing that some will come to salvation not through the booming cadence of the preacher, but through the quiet actions of love.

Certainly, turning from sin is an important thing as it is a form of liberation. But if we cannot move to liberate people from their current troubles, then what hope can we offer for liberation from sin? What is hunger compared to sin? Yet, if we cannot feed people now, if we cannot eradicate their physical hunger, how can we possibly hope to feed their spiritual hunger? Feeding the poor is the Gospel, because the action fits the immediate need while pointing to a future where hunger will not exist. Advocating change against climate change – a change that is harming humans – is preaching the Gospel, because we’re following in Christ’s footsteps by calling for Heaven here on earth, and in heaven there won’t be overconsumption and abuse of resources. All actions by Christians always hold both an immediate meaning and a deeper meaning (much like Scripture). Christians are to always preach the Gospel, sometimes with words, but always with deeds. If we follow the example of Christ, then we’ll find it impossible to place a barrier between the Gospel and social justice; for how can you have one without the other?

Politics and the Pope: The Dying Gasp of the Religious Right

IMG_1894I (Joel) am not Roman Catholic. Josh (the other writer) is…actually a Ukranian Greek Catholic, so it might be odd to see me come to the defense of the Pope (of course, he is in the UK so perhaps he’s able to avoid all the garbage here in the US). Then again, I’m not necessarily defending the Pope as I’m pointing out the contradictions within the (mostly) Republican circles as of late.

As expected, the Pope’s address to Congress has generated controversy even before it’s occurred. What might shock people is the controversy stems from conservatives, especially conservative Catholics. We’ve been told that abortion and homosexual marriage are perfectly legitimate topics of discussion for the Pope, but economics, climate change, and the like are off limits because “he has no experience.” Of course, he can talk all he wants (according to these conservatives) about abortion or “gay marriage,” regardless of the fact that the Pope has no experience in abortions or being married (or one would hope).

Regardless, these conservatives are engaging in a dichotomy foreign to Christianity, separating “faith” from “secular”; they are compartmentalizing the faith, acting as though Christianity’s voice is limited to two or three “secular” topics, but must remain silent after that. Of course, Christianity touches on every aspect of life, but such an acknowledgement admittedly puts one at odds with the current system. After all, how can I love my neighbor if I won’t let him cross my border? How can I pray for my enemies while also celebrating and mocking their demise? How can I care for the poor while also attempting to profit off their poverty? Being a Christian who actually follows the teachings of Christ is never an easy thing, regardless of one’s political leanings.

When a libertarian Catholic priest, Rev. Robert Sirico, head of the Acton Institute (you know, the same group that argued for child slave labor in the modern age) argues that the Pope shouldn’t speak on economics because he doesn’t understand it, or when Rep. Paul Gosar boycotts the Pope’s speech in Congress (and Gosar is a Catholic), I think it’s say to say that conservatives have jumped the shark. Whereas they used to argue that they upheld family values and wanted a “Christian nation,” when faced with the prospects of a Christian economy – one that would promote equality and justice and shame avarice – they quickly argue, “Well, a Christian nation in everything except economics.” Whereas liberal Christians might be at fault for allowing too much Marx into their Christianity, conservative Christians are at fault for mixing too much Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises into their Christian beliefs.

For such people there is a belief that morality has nothing to do with a business or even the environment. The mantra, “A business exists to make a profit,” while simplistic is still taken as Gospel truth for many on the right. To a certain extent it’s not exactly false. After all, a business must make a profit if it hopes to survive, but making a profit is a goal in a business, not the goal in a business. For Christian ethics, absolutely everything boils down to two things: (1) Does this help me love God and, in the same manner, (2) does this help me love my neighbor? Everything in the Christian ethos rests upon those two principles. Even businesses fall under this question, meaning that a business should actually exist to help me love God (via being creative) and help me love my neighbor (by serving him, not exploiting him, not taking advantage of him, etc).

Really, all the Pope has argued is that any economic system must be built to help people and not hurt people. The current Capitalistic system does hurt people, so of course he’ll be at odds with it. And at what point in the history of Catholicism has the Church been friendly with Capitalism? Pope Leo III, in the late 1800s, wrote an Rerum Novarum against both Socialism and Capitalism. G.K. Chesterton lamented the practices of Capitalism in the 1920s. Even J.R.R. Tolkien contained implicit condemnations of industrialization and capitalism in Lord of the Rings (and explicit condemnations of both in his private letters). At no point has a major figure from the Catholic Church ever come out in favor of the excesses of Capitalism, mostly because the excesses of Capitalism are in direct contradiction to Christianity.

Christianity, at its base, is and always has been about helping the poor, the oppressed, and those without hope. It has always sought justice against the injustice of a fallen world. That the current Pope is doing the same thing ought not surprise anyone. And for those that believe Christianity ought to remain silent on matters of economics or the environment, then ask why we ought to have a voice at all. After all, if the Christian voice is supposed to remain silent when it comes to how the rich treat the poor, why can it suddenly speak up on how a mother treats the unborn? Christianity touches every part of our lives, which will always challenge us and our ideologies, but that’s kind of the point.

The Stupidity of War: On the Pursuit of Love or Power

Credit: My friend Matt Stroh, taken while in Iraq

Credit: My friend Matt Stroh, taken while in Iraq

Currently our congressional branch is discussing the merits of a treaty with Iran, one that would aid (with hope) in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear arms. There are man opposed to the treaty, believing that it gives too much ground to Iran. Their approach is more along the lines of, “Iran should do everything we want and if they don’t, we should bomb them.” Mind you that we’re now facing the greatest humanitarian crisis since WWII from Iran’s neighbors, a crisis brought about directly by US armed conflict in the region. Of course, it is not as though the United States invented war or even perfected it, but rather follows a tragic line, one that dates back before humans.

Is there anything as stupid as violence? As the taking of another’s blood? We’ve overcome living in caves, mastered the seas, left the bonds of our planet, found cures for deadly disease, and extended the human lifespan to greater limits. Yet we’ve never overcome our thirst for blood. We’ve heard the cries of the orphans, seen the tears of the widowed, watched mothers and fathers bury sons and daughters, and still we’ve never satisfied out appetite for destruction. Violence, even when used to prevent further violence, is surely the most disgusting thing we can do to each other.

Yet, we continue. We watch a little child wash ashore in Turkey, a casualty of war. We wish to blame one side or the other – as though one can easily dictate sides in this newest conflict – but stall to find a solution. We watch refugees escape the violence of their homeland only to find violence in a desperate attempt to find peace. While Europe copes with taking in refugees, my greatest fear is that today’s cheering crowds will be tomorrow’s mob. European history is rife with schizophrenic nations taking in oppressed people only to kill them a few years later (Germany is a great offender in this regard, dating back to the Holy Roman Empire and its many Germanic states).

We are constantly at war, unable to live at peace with our neighbor. Almost all wars begin with one person or a group of people desiring power, often at the cost of all others. Even religious wars begin with a narcissistic quest for power, that perhaps one’s god (or gods) might smile upon the bloodshed of another human being and grant more authority to the valiant warrior. One doesn’t need religion to start a war, one merely needs be greedy and selfish, and such traits are not unique to any creed or belief. Today our wars are hardly religious unless one considers the worship of money a religion. But money is used only to gain power, and the pursuit of power reigns supreme in the modern world.

In life you can seek after power or you can seek after love, but the pursuit of one requires the denial of the other. One cannot seek after both love and power because the two are mutually exclusive. To become powerful one must become inward focused, look to one’s own goals before anyone else. This is not to say the powerful cannot love in some way, or have a marriage, or a family, but such things are tertiary to the main goal, which is power. Love, alternatively, requires a self-denial. Almost every major religion teaches that true love is self-denying, that to be in love is to deny the self. That job you want, the influence you desire, the power you wish to yield must sometimes (almost always) diminish in the presence of love because love requires you to live for others.

The problem with humanity and why we continue to dive headfirst into war is too often men seek power rather than love. In the quest for power hatred is justified, tribalism is king, and the deaths of brothers is viewed as “necessary” and “collateral damage.” What a dehumanizing thing that we place both destroyed buildings and destroyed lives within the same category. However, power is weak against love and cannot overcome it. While the quest and thirst for power is older than man, it is still younger than love.

The quest for love will always conquer power and overcome it. If we learn to live with our neighbors, regardless of where they live, then we can curb the violence which results from the thirst for power. It is only in seeking after the good of others that we can finally have peace. Or, to quote from J.R.R. Tolkien, “If more of us valued good food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” Only a life of love can cure us from the sickness of seeking power, and only such a cure can hold our hands from violence.