Flag of Our Fathers: Why National Anthem Protests Shouldn’t be Controversial


fist08-05-2008b_001When I wrote my last piece on Colin Kaepernick’s protest, my thought at the time was, “Maybe I’m coming to this a bit late. But, I guess I’ll say something.”

Here we are, weeks later, and the protests of the US National Anthem are still occurring, and it’s still very controversial. It’s a bit surprising, but also quite sad, that this is controversial. Since tons has been said on this issue, I just want to convey a few thoughts:

First – Protesting the flag is not the same as protesting the military. When a flag and national anthem come to stand for military power and military power alone – that to question or protest the flag/anthem is taken as a direct assault on the military – then the line separating patriotism from nationalism has been crossed. The United States stands for far more than its military, so a failure to stand during a National Anthem wouldn’t necessitate a protest against the military.

Second – Protesting the flag/anthem isn’t even a protest against the United States as a whole. Someone can greatly appreciate and value the US, but also have some major issues with it. It’s like loving an alcoholic; you will love that person for reasons other than the alcoholism, but you’ll also “protest” certain parts of that person’s life that could enable that person’s alcoholism, or even do something that would get that person’s attention. That’s similar to what these protests are attempting to accomplish. We have a problem in our nation with how black people, especially black men, are treated in general and by authorities. That doesn’t make the US an evil place, or a horrible place, but it does mean we have a problem and we need to fix that problem. That certain elements of society want to deny and act like this problem isn’t there is why the protest is occurring, to cause a conversation on the treatment of minorities in this nation.

Third – There’s implicit racism in condemning these protests. The argument goes, “If ya’ll want to protest how you think you’re treated, then do it peacefully.” When there’s a riot, we tell minorities to be peaceful. When they protest peacefully en masse through nonviolence, we tell them not to be disruptive (such as blocking highways). When they then perform a silent protest during the National Anthem, we tell them that’s disrespectful and they ought to be forced to stand for patriotic displays (we’ll get to that). So then how are they to protest? The implicit message is, “You have nothing worth protesting over,” or, to be blunt, “You’re treated fine, get over it, and get used to it.” It delegitimizes the experience of millions of African Americans and other minority groups in the US. We assume that because we – as white people – have had a great experience in this nation that all others have had the same great experience.

Fourth – No one should be forced to make patriotic displays, because that’s not patriotism, that’s nationalism. A true patriot of the US will value free speech more than they value a song or piece of cloth. To want to take away someone’s free speech – even under the argument of “it’s a private industry so they can force people to do what they want” (they can’t, that’s called slavery and is illegal) – is the antithesis of America. What’s more insulting to those who died to protect our freedoms than failing to show proper reverence during a song is failing to show proper reverence towards the freedom we were granted by their deaths.

Fifth – Speaking of people who have died to secure our freedoms, those people are more than just the military and those who died in foreign wars. We forget, especially those of us who are white, that many civil rights activists were murdered attempting to secure justice in an unjust world. Their sacrifices, which made national news and swayed public opinion, helped secure your freedoms today as much as any military endeavor in which we’ve engaged. I add the emphasis because this is a point that is hardly ever made; people died to try and beget equality in this nation. When we ignore their sacrifices and attempt to further an entrench a system they died fighting against, we dishonor their memory. I’m a white male, but oppression is a cancer and it spreads and destroys. If oppression is not fought, if it is not combatted, then it will eventually spread to harm other people as well. Thus, even as a white male, I’m indebted to civil rights activists who fought an oppression that had limited liberty. In my debt, I am in no place to then question their children and their children’s children when they speak of the continued oppression they must suffer through; rather, I must pay my debt and continue the fight against that oppression.

Sixth – These are our friends and fellow Americans who are hurting. These are not strangers. Many white people who have black friends still don’t hear what their black friends go through, because they [black friends] are sick of being doubted and questioned. But make no mistake, African Americans go through a lot in this world, not just with the police. They’re followed in department stores, they’re treated differently when they want to purchase something, they have a harder time finding promotions or getting a good job, and the list goes on. There are statistics to back up every single one of these claims, but more than that, there are personal stories from people we know who can back up these claims. When the reality of the US today is only slightly better than the reality of the US 40-60 years ago, maybe that’s why protesting the anthem is a good thing.

Those are my thoughts on this issue. There’s no reason to get upset over someone kneeling or not participating in singing the national anthem. Ultimately, we’d do better to have a conversation over what our friends are facing rather than condemn them for not conforming in a way we like.

Kaepernick, the Blind Love of Nation, and the New Racism


Most+american+picture+i+ve+ever+made+democracy+liberty+independence+justice+freedom+and+america+by+your+powers_320779_4868118Colin Kaepernick has landed in hot water and not for being a mediocre quarterback. During a pre-season game he chose not to stand during the United States National Anthem. He chose not to stand because, in his words, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” An almost mundane choice. He’s a pro athlete making a political point, and he’s not the first one.

Yet, his refusal to stand for a song and a piece of cloth has ignited a firestorm, met mostly with criticism. It’s hard to find anyone truly sympathetic to Kaepernick’s cause, mostly because people are either enraged by his actions or apathetic towards the man himself. The conservatives hate his lack of patriotism while the liberals are too cynical to believe he’s doing this out of sincerity (but doing it because he was bumped to second string).

Removing Kaepernick from the equation, his act of protest and people’s subsequent responses betrays two bigger issues in our nation: 1) We’re too “patriotic,” in reality we are nationalistic and (2) we hold athletes of color to a higher expectation of patriotism than we hold white athletes.

To the first point, there’s a danger when we let our national identity intersect and mold our personal identity. To a certain extent it’s nearly impossible not to let our national identity influence who we are as individuals. I am, after all, a product of America. My accent, my beliefs, my cultural participation is in many ways tied to my being an American. And I’d argue that I am a patriot. I love the idea of America, I love the idea of freedom for all, I love what this nation (on paper) stands for. But being a patriot does not mean I have to be a nationalist. A nationalist will support his country no matter what, but a patriot is willing to point out its flaws and even admit to being disappointed in his nation.

I’d contend that Kaepernick, if we excuse ourselves from cynicism, is a patriot. He loves his nation, otherwise he wouldn’t protest in the hopes of change. True hatred for America wouldn’t ask for protest, but an overthrow. True hatred of America would require apathy to its flaws. Yet, nationalism prevents us from recognizing flaws in our nation, unless we first label those flaws as “outside.” One can think of how people [erroneously] say Obama is a shame to our nation, that they can’t be proud while he’s in charge. But a nationalist says this only after first claiming Obama isn’t actually from our nation, or at least claiming that his ideas aren’t American in origin. Therefore, the shame he feels for his nation isn’t for his nation, but for what his nation is becoming. And yet, without any sense of irony, he will berate and attack anyone who would question typical patriotic icons such as the flag, the anthem, and so on. Ultimately, the nationalist isn’t so much loyal to his nation as he’s loyal to the ideology behind his vision of what the nation should be, thus anyone who violates this ideology is immediately a heretic and worthy of being purged.

Our nationalism in the United States is often best seen as “white nationalism,” mostly because anyone who is not white is automatically suspected of being anti-American for any form of protest. Often, non-whites are left having to prove that they’re Americans, especially black athletes. We see this with Kaepernick, but it wasn’t that long ago that we were criticizing other black athletes for not being American enough. And by not that long ago I mean about two to three weeks ago with Gabby Douglas. She forgot or just chose not to put her hand over her heart when the American flag was displayed. The rage was so hot that other black female Olympians were often chastised on Facebook with people confusing them with Gabby Douglas. When other white Olympians failed to do the same, there was absolutely no outcry.

Notice the verbiage used for both Douglas and Kaepernick; “how dare you not respect the flag of a country that gave you an opportunity, that gave you freedom, that gave you…” It’s difficult to not imagine a slave owner saying something similar to a slave, “How dare you not be grateful for me when I’ve given you food.” The fact is, this nation didn’t give these black athletes anything. They worked hard, they shaped their bodies and talents and pushed themselves to such a level of competition that they’ve excelled at what they do (well, relatively speaking; Kaepernick is riding the bench after all). Yet, we require that these black athletes show 100% solidarity and respect to a piece of cloth, but do not place the same standard on white athletes. We can say we do, but we don’t. That we have racial inequality in our country, that we’re not living up to our ideals as a nation, is a good reason to protest the nation. Sitting during the national anthem is a good way to protest the current reality of racial inequality in our nation.

A true patriot will always love the ideals of his country, but will recognize her flaws. This allows for a duality of respect. One patriot can see a flag and show respect, because that flag represents certain ideals and the patriot wants to respect those ideals. Another patriot can see the flag and view it as representing the current reality,  and therefore choose not to respect it. In both instances, each person is right and each person is still patriotic. Both respect and protest are signs of patriotism. Neither is right and neither is wrong. The fact is, as a nation we have some deep and troubling systemic flaws that continue the oppression entire ethnic groups. But we recognize these actions as flaws because we realize that our actions contradict our ideals, or at least we ought to recognize such a thing. Sometimes it takes a drastic protest to shine a light on our flaws. Perhaps we ought to examine the message of Kaepernick before we shoot the messenger. After all, how patriotic is it to hate someone for exercising his right to free speech? Only a nationalist could allow such cognitive dissonance.

We do have a problem with racial inequality. Perhaps there are better ways to draw attention to that, but what are they? We’ve had this problem since before we were a nation and we’ve never fixed it. We attempt to sweep it under the rug like it doesn’t exist. But it does exist and it is a problem. Rather than complaining about someone protesting or the manner in which he protests, perhaps we’d be better served to listen to the message and to work to make sure our policies align with our ideals. Such an action is far more patriotic than any national anthem or pledge of allegiance.

How to be a Christian in the Era of Donald Trump


Trumpolini (1)I sat there a bit dumbfounded and debated on if I had actually heard what I thought I heard. Rep. Steve King had just said that no other “subgroup” of people – that is, non-white, non-Western people – had contributed as much to society as white people, or as he sadly tried to explain, “Western Civilization.” Such openly racist remarks by an elected official are thankfully surprising and shocking, indicating some level of progress in the right direction as a society, but at the same time aren’t entirely surprising. That’s what happens when we live in the era of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump as a politician is a racist and is fanning the flames of racism. I cannot say if he is such as an individual, considering it’s impossible to know what part of his campaign is farcical and which part represents his actual beliefs. People can argue all they want and attempt to present as much nuance as they want, but when the alt-right (read: White Supremacists) and even a former KKK member feel comfortable with Trump and feel emboldened by his message, nuance no longer matters.

Let me get this part out of the way: No Christian should vote for Donald Trump. I’m not saying who Christians should vote for, but as Christians we are to love our neighbors. If a candidate comes along who asks us to hate our neighbors, who asks us to cast suspicion on our neighbors, who asks us to feel superior to our neighbors, then we must reject that candidate. When Klansmen and white supremacists sing the praises of your candidate, and it’s done en masse by such people, perhaps it’s time to realize you have the wrong candidate. That the Republicans, a party that has feigned moral superiority for decades, are choosing a racist leader doesn’t mean one must bow before party unity. One’s soul matters far more than one’s political party.

The above being said, how do we live in a Donald Trump era? See, the issue isn’t whether Donald Trump believes half of what he spews or just does it because it gets him votes (I happen to think he doesn’t believe much of what he says). The issue is that a majority of people in a major US political party have bought into his rhetoric. Regardless of if he believes his own lies, many other people do. Many other people would love to see us kick out undocumented immigrants (as though that’s feasible or ethical), many other people would love to kick out all Muslims or ban them from entering our country, many other people actually believe there’s something “special” about being white. How do we maintain sanity and love in an era marked by craziness and hate?

We continue to do what Christians have done throughout similar ages, which is to ignore the rabble and go about our business. It’s okay to take political stances and have political beliefs, but we must never let those beliefs turn us towards hatred of people, especially oppressed people. It’s okay to argue against illegal immigration (I, for one, would not). There are legitimate arguments and concerns against it. But it’s not okay to argue or to take a stance against illegal immigrants. These are people, human beings, who by being human beings hold an absolute right to exist and partake in the best life possible. That our government has a failed policy on immigration doesn’t mean we should argue against the individuals who take advantage of the failed policy. If you see an undocumented immigrant who needs food or water, your job as a Christian is to give him food and water. If you see him being taken advantage of, your job as a Christian is to help him obtain justice.

The Christian message isn’t built on superiority, but on humility. Christianity is not a “western” religion and no culture can lay claim to it. When the western world was still sacrificing animals to pagan gods, Christians in the east were building cathedrals. Western Europe wasn’t completely Christianized until the 11th century, well over 1,000 years after the founding of Christianity. Christianity transcends our culture and, ideally, should function to shape our culture and our ideals. While I’m a proponent of what is mistakingly called Western Civilization (is it really western if it began in the Middle East, was improved by Greece, and only reached a “western” Rome nearly 2,400 years after it began?), I have no grand delusions to say that Western Civilization is better or encompasses Christianity. Rather, I understand that my culture, my beliefs, my everything, must fall under the domain of Christianity. If my political belief is an inconvenience to Christianity, then the political belief must change. If Christianity calls for me to love my neighbor and a politician calls for me to hate my neighbor, then I must abandon that politician.

Living as a Christian in the era of Trump requires us to accept the fact that we’ve lost all political influence. We cannot hitch our trailer to Donald Trump and say, “At least he’ll promote some Christian things.” No, he won’t. One who promotes hatred goes against the core of Christianity. As Christians, we must support the candidate that will best allow us to fulfill our duty – that is, who won’t create laws or create a culture that actively inhibits us – to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. A politician that would seek to see our neighbors imprisoned, deported, or ostracized from society isn’t a politician we can support. That doesn’t say much in the way of who we should vote for, but it says quite a bit about who we should not vote for. Living in the era of Trump means we have to forgo political gain and work harder to show love to our neighbors. Failure to do so will ensure that Christianity disappears from the United States, for no political movement can save us, no political movement can protect us, only by displaying love to our neighbors can we be saved.

When do black lives matter? or, Dear Fellow White People


In the span of 48 hours, two horrific police killings of black men were captured on camera. 
Rinse. Repeat. 
While details are still forthcoming, specifically the one from Baton Rogue, the situation in Minnesota appears to be nothing more than an impromptu execution. And for the umpteenth time in so many years, we’re left questioning what can be done to stop police violence. It is quite the worthy question and certainly we need a way to stop the killing of unarmed people, especially black men, without compromising the safety of police officers. But for all the rage, the one culprit we don’t want to point to as the cause of these killings is ourselves (white people).
Now I don’t mean we’re personally responsible or that we personally enacted laws that led to such incidents. I’m not even suggesting tacit support of such unfortunate events. Instead, I’m referring to a system that we’ve inherited that, even if we didn’t create it, we are its beneficiaries. Our grandparents may not have benefited from it, but in 2016 we do. 
When my great-grandfather came over from Kiev in 1912, he wasn’t white. That is to say, he had white skin, blue eyes, and probably couldn’t get a tan if he wanted to, but he wasn’t *white.* He was a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, a Jew and a Slav. In 1912 that didn’t qualify him to be white. For those of Irish ancestry, the Irish immigrants weren’t white in the 1800s, neither were the Italians. Instead, such races with light skin were brought into the “white” category for various reasons. They were white, but weren’t *white.* All that to say that while my great-grandfather and grandfather didn’t benefit from any system of privilege, by the time I came onto the scene in 1983, I was a beneficiary of a system made for white people. Somewhere between 1912 and 1983, Russian Jews found a way into the white system, as did all those from Eastern Europe, Italians, and the Irish (save for over in the United Kingdom). 
In the modern era, I typically have little to fear when stopped by a police officer (though in New York, unless one is wealthy it’s always good to carry a bit of fear with the NYPD). I also have some form of upward mobility ahead as of me. I work hard, promote myself, and I can move up. If my career stalls, I can go pursue a graduate degree almost anywhere in the world. The fact is, I’m a white American male and while not rich or powerful, I have the world before me. 
The same cannot be said for my brothers and sisters of darker skin. The upbringing of my white niece and nephew is significantly and profoundly different from that of my black friends with children, even those who are middle class. Essentially, we’re raising an entire generation of African Americans to obey the police no matter what, to “accept their role” in society, to dress a certain way, to speak a certain way, to act a certain way. Decades removed from codified segregation and a century removed from slavery, we’ve still made little in the way of progress from a cultural and sociological point of view. The mentality we attempted to instill into slaves is eerily similar to the mentality we attempt to instill into their free descendants. 
So, what do we mean when we say black lives matter? If our utterance of that phrase ends with the intention of stopping police brutality, then we have a very limited vision of equality. We shouldn’t have to fight against police brutality in a free society, especially for any particular race. The right to remain unmolested by law enforcement when innocent is a given, built into our constitution. Fighting for an end to police brutality, especially for black men, isn’t so much a fight for racial justice as it is just a fight for common sense and liberty. 
No, when we say black lives matter we must mean more than, “stop killing black men.” We have to mean more, or we’re merely speaking empty words. When 1 in 3 black children are born and raised in poverty (compared to 1 in 4 Hispanic children or 1 in 10 white children), when there’s study after study showing that African Americans face an uphill battle in obtaining a job and/or education, when there’s proof that upward mobility is almost non-existent in black communities, when all evidence points to the system of Jim Crow still very much alive and active – not a specter haunting us, but a living being behind the scenes and psyche of our leaders and ourselves – we must demand change. When we say black lives matter we must look beyond police brutality cases and peer deep into a system that denies equality to an entire race of people simply because of the color of their skin. 
And we who are the beneficiaries of a system meant to protect white people, we who unintentionally benefit from such a system, are in the best position to eradicate such a system. The Civil Rights movement gained momentum and made the gains it did when white people stood with their black brothers and sisters and said, “enough is enough.” It was pressure from white people, those who benefited from segregation, that helped tilt the battle towards the side of justice. It’s not that we’re the heroes or that we need to save anyone, merely that we benefit from a system of oppression and are therefore in the best position to overturn it. The oppressed can only eradicate oppression through violence; but the oppressors, in peace, can choose to stop oppressing. 
This is not some “white guilt,” nor am I “cuckholded” as the vile and racist alt-right would claim. We owe it to our black brothers and sisters to work for change. Not merely because they’re human or because oppression is a cancer that always spreads to other races, but because we are family. We have a moral obligation to other humans to ensure they receive justice. Not for any utilitarian purposes, but merely because it’s right in its own right. Shall we deny them justice? Shall we deny a good work? Or will we finally rise up and say no more? Will we finally pursue what is right and good? The answer to that question is important, because lives depend on it, especially black lives. 

Lex Luthor vs. Maximus the Confessor: An Apophatic Response to Atheism


Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman

Warning: This Post Contains Spoilers

As nerds around the world fume over, what many agree is “a crime against comic book fans” and “the worst superhero film of all time“, one aspect of Zack Snyder’s controversial new film, Batman vs. Superman, has yet to be analyzed. I am, of course, referring to: (SPOILER ALERT) Lex Luthor’s argument for the nonexistence of God.

Moments before the film’s climatic battle between two of the worlds most beloved heroes, the insidious Lex Luthor–portrayed in this film as a sort of morbid cross between Mark Zuckerberg, Victor Frankenstein, and Jim Carrey–delivers a good-ole-fashion super-villain monologue. One that explains his motivation for seeking to destroy Superman (a seemingly all powerful, godlike, being who writes the sports section at a local newspaper) and reveals the movie’s true meaning. That’s right folks, Batman vs. Superman is not merely a superhero flick; it’s an allegory.

Lex Luthor is the personification of New Atheist Post-Enlightenment ideology: a zealous scientist hellbent on proving to the world that God (i.e., Superman) is neither omnipotent nor omnibenevolent and, thus, a sham. Batman represents man’s struggle (unwittingly spurred on by Luthor’s ideology) to overcome and ultimately defeat the God delusion; a delusion that many claim is harmless–and even beneficial–yet has the potential to destroy humanity. In short, Luthor’s speech reveals that the true conflict in this film is not between Batman and Superman; but, between man and God . . . or, at least, a particular conception of God.

As a philosopher, I found this subversive underlying theme intriguing. Not the least of which, because it affords me the shameless opportunity to use pop-culture as a platform for having a serious philosophical discussion. Also, because it affords me the chance to correct several common misconceptions.

Stated succinctly, Lex Luthor’s idea of God is so far removed from traditional Classical Theism (CT) it’s laughable. To demonstrate this, I will contrast Luthor’s conception of divinity with that of one of the greatest ancient exponents of CT: St. Maximus the Confessor. Then I will show how St. Maximus’ apophatic approach to theology provides a powerful response to Luthor’s argument for the nonexistence of God.

We shall begin by examining Luthor’s conception of the divine, and his argument, a little more closely.

God as Man Writ Large

Lex Luthor holds a grossly anthropomorphic view of the Divine Essence. His picture of ‘God’ is simply ‘man writ large’.  In other words, he imagines God is something like a human being; only with unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited goodness.

These are all attributes Superman appears to possess: he is virtually an unstoppable and indestructible being, he can listen to any conversation, or radio transmission, or TV broadcast, around the world, and has unlimited access to a Kryptonian super computer–containing virtually all the knowledge in the known universe–and seems completely unimpeachable.

Luthor’s conception of God–which I’m going to call the omniGod thesis–entails the Divine attributes are essential properties of the Divine Essence.  In other words, for Luthor, what it is to be God is to have: unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited goodness.

Copy of Lex Luthor's God2It is precisely this conception of the divinity (or something like it) that many contemporary arguments for the nonexistence of God are aimed at. One popular line of reasoning goes like this: If we identify something from general experience that conflicts with the notion that a single being possessing one or more of the divine attributes actually exists, then we can show that God (who, just is, a single being possessing all of the divine attributes listed) does not exist.

Atheists, utilizing this type of argument, typically point to the fact of gratuitous evil to demonstrate that no omnipotent and omnibenevolent being actually exits. According to them, if such a being actually existed, it would, necessarily, ensure there was no gratuitous evil. In other words, if the omniGod thesis where true there would be no gratuitous evil. Since, however, we do experience evil, we can only conclude that God–conceived of as an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being–does not exist.

Lex Luthor's God

The argument above is what philosophers call the problem of evil. Interestingly, Lex Luthor utilizes a similar line of reasoning in his climatic rooftop monologue. In this speech, it becomes crystal clear that his stupid-elaborate plan to wrangle Batman and Superman into a gladiator style battle is motivated by his determination to prove the Man of Steel does not posses the essential properties needed to be divine.

If Superman loses, and Batman kills him, he is not omnipotent. If Superman wins, and brings Batman’s head to Luthor, he is not omnibenevolent.  As a backup plan, Luthor also hacks into the source of Superman’s omniscience (i.e., the Kryptonian super-computer) and uses it to create an abomination that will totally obliterate the Man of Steel; thereby proving he is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. No matter what, the outcome of Luthor’s allegorical battle will prove, definitively, that: God is Dead!

St. Maximus and the Apophatic Way

In stark contrast to the omniGod thesis, Classical Theism (CT) has never pictured God as ‘man writ large’. Rather, it says God is so radically distinct, so different, so transcendent, that he is literally beyond understanding. Which is just another way of saying: we have no idea what God is! In fact, because he defies all human categories, and human thought, we can never know what God is. St. Maximus put it like this:

“God is one, unoriginate [i.e., he has no beginning or end or cause or explanation], incomprehensible . . . altogether excluding notions of when and how, inaccessible to all, and not to be known through natural image by any creature.”

When he says God is “inaccessible to all”, he is not claiming it is impossible to have a relationship with God. Remember, he is using metaphysical language. What he means is, ‘God’s Essence’ or ‘Divine Nature’–what it is to be God–is inaccessible to the human intellect. Rest assured, St. Maximus strongly emphasizes the fact that we can enter into a direct personal relationship with God in his other writings. The point, in this passage, is to establish that we have no idea what God’s essential properties are.

He goes on to explain that the Divine Essence stands in marked contrast to created being which, according to St. Maximus, can be understood and lead us to believe God exists:

“Created beings are termed intelligible because each of them has an origin that can be known rationally. But God cannot be termed intelligible, while from our apprehension of intelligible beings we can do no more than believe that He exists. On this account no intelligible being is in any way to be compared with Him. Created beings can be known rationally by means of the inner principles which are by nature intrinsic to such beings and by which they are naturally defined. But from our apprehension of these principles inherent in created beings we can do no more than believe that God exists.”

In other words, creation (which encompasses everything in existence outside of God) is fundamentally intelligible. This means it is possible for the human intellect to grasp it, to define it, and to explain it. The Creator, however, exists outside of the universe; and we simply can not grasp the nature of something outside the universe. We can, according to Maximus, know that the Creator exits; but we can’t say what he is.

Classical Theism: Radical Ontological Distinction Between Creator and Creation

classical theism

 

An Apophatic Response to Atheism

It may have occurred to you, by now, that CT is completely immune to arguments for the nonexistence of God like Lex Luthor’s. Why? Because Lex Luthor style arguments are aimed at the omniGod thesis; which assumes God’s attributes are His essential properties.

According to proponents of CT like St. Maximus, this couldn’t be further from the truth. For him, the attributes are either negative statements (with no positive content) or grounded in God’s energies (i.e., his active presence in the world). For example, to say that God is omnipotent is really just to say: God does not lack power. This is a negative–or, apophatic–statement with no positive content.

Positive statements can be made, but are made in reference to God’s energies (not to His essence). For example, when we say that God is good or just, we are not referring to His essence but to His energies. We come to believe God is good or just because he reveals Himself as good or just through His real presence and interaction, in history, with people and in the world.

All things considered, Lex Luthor is, not only, a disappointing super-villain, but a lackluster philosopher.

Why Economic Justice Matters: This Machine is Worker Owned (Part 4)


IMG_0039As we’ve seen thus far, the income inequality in the United States (and really, worldwide) is an issue that is leading to stagnating and destructive economic results. One possible solution is to cap the ratio between CEO pay and worker pay. There is, however, another alternative.

 

Worker-owned and operated co-ops, where workers own actual equity in the company and vote on management and executives, have proven to be quite successful worldwide. The best example is the Mondragon Institute where workers vote on their wages, vote on who their managers are, vote on who gets to be CEO, vote on the pay of the CEO, and all worker-owners have a share in the profits generated by the co-op. There are, of course, other examples out there.

 

The overall point is that we need a system where workers benefit from their labor. Under our current system workers are merely parts to an overall machine. They are not individuals, they are not important, they do not matter; a factory worker quits one day and is replaced the next, much like if a cog were to break, it would be removed and replaced. There is a dehumanizing aspect to our labor, which is why we pay substandard wages for that labor. Corporations release a constant stream of emails to employees about the corporate success, about how much profit the corporation has earned, about how much the stock has increased, and expect the workers to actually care. But why should they care? The corporation has increased profits off the backs of the workers, profits the workers will not enjoy (though executives will). Why should the workers care?

 

To take the modern system further, even in a system where workers get a small share of the profits, they have no say in how the company functions. While corporations use empty terms like “team members” and tell workers that their feedback is important, the fact is that even if 98% of the workers thought something was a bad idea, the corporation would do it if they saw a chance for a profit. The ever increasing desire to impress stock owners and drive up stock value – sometimes by creating short term gains at the cost of long term consequences – has crashed many companies and continues to harm our economy.

 

So, if setting ratios isn’t your thing, perhaps this is: Worker Ownership. Worker ownership is exactly what it sounds like, where the workers own the corporation. The only equity holders in the firm are those who have not only invested their money into the company, but have also invested their labor into the company. In such an economy, there would be two types of worker-owned companies:

 

Family business/co-ops – small, family run businesses are without a doubt essential to any local economy. A local economy built on family-owned businesses typically has a sustainable economy. One can imagine what would happen in poorer communities, whether urban or rural, if there was more economic development for local businesses. Of course, some family-owned businesses need a support system. This is where co-ops would work in lieu of corporations. The co-op would be composed of different farmers, different distribution companies, and different grocers. They would all work together to provide produce throughout the region (or nation) and could even work with other co-ops around the country to exchange produce. In the co-op, the different businesses within the co-op would all have a vote and a voice on how the co-op would function. Rather than having someone in New York decide what works best for farmers and grocers in North Carolina (as might happen with a major corporation), the business owners and farmers in North Carolina would be able to give a stronger voice for what policies work best in their area.

 

Think of a co-op as a type of confederacy, where there is a union and all the different organizations work together, but all are also at the same time autonomous. All contribute to the profit of the co-op and receive profit dividends from the co-op, but can also act independent of the co-op when it comes to their own store policies.

 

Worker-owned corporations – the family-owned business can only go so far. While I’ll get my food from a mom and pop store, I wouldn’t want that same place making my car. When it comes to cars, major construction ventures, making commercial airliners, and the like, businesses are necessarily large. There are certain endeavors that simply require a large corporation. A small business or even a collection of businesses (co-op) isn’t sufficient or efficient for certain industries. In instances such as these, corporations would be massive, but owned by the workers. Rather than being abstract, let’s use Ford as an example:

 

Imagine tomorrow that Ford was sold entirely to its workers. This would mean that all management and executives would be voted on by the workers. All profits would be distributed to the workers. The company could never move jobs overseas because worker-owners aren’t going to move their own jobs. There’d be no need for unions because the workers couldn’t go on strike against themselves. They’d vote on what wages should be for each position, on their own wages, and so on. It’s a form of direct democracy in the workplace, or democracy on a small-scale (the only place where democracy works best).

 

How both of the above solve for income inequality is that for the majority of workers – not everyone could become a worker-owner, especially at a younger age – would have the right to vote on their own salary as well as the salary of the CEO. If the workers decided to let the CEO earn at a 200:1 ratio, then that’s their choice. It wasn’t forced on them. But more than likely, the CEO pay would be much closer to a manageable rate. Productivity would increase as well due to the simple fact that an increase in profits would be shared amongst the workers. Thus, if workers wanted a bigger bonus each quarter, they’d push harder to increase the profits for that quarter. By actually seeing the fruits of their labor they’d work harder to see bigger fruits.

 

The benefits of this system are as follows:

 

  • Income inequality is no longer an issue. When most workers are also owners, they choose the income that occurs. For family-owned businesses the issue of a wage is no longer an issue.
  • Their jobs would be secure. Worker-owners won’t outsource their own jobs, they won’t lay themselves off to increase profits, they won’t recruit cheaper labor from a foreign nation to drive down wages, and so on. They’ll continue to innovate and improve because when the company succeed, their checkbooks will feel it.
  • They’ll be far more environmentally conscious. Part of the reason these companies have no issue polluting or destroying the environment in rural areas is because the executives and upper management don’t have to live in those rural areas. Worker-owned companies, however, would have owners who live in the local areas, who have to drink the water, who have to breath the air, and have to live with the consequences of their environmental impacts. While none of this promises complete environmental safety and we would still need regulations, environmental disasters or practices harmful to the local environment are less likely to occur because the workers don’t want to see their families harmed.

 

Of course, between the ratio system and the worker-owned system, there are some common themes.

Why Economic Justice Matters: This Machine Looks at Ratios (Part 3)


DSC02081The Ratio Solution

It’s quite obvious that as CEO pay has gone up, economic advantages have gone down. While we can say that correlation isn’t causation, in this case there’s a distinct cause. While CEO pay has increased, it’s come by cutting into the wages of workers. As pointed out already, this stagnating wages and lack of hope in progression is what’s fertilizing the ground for a growth in fascism. So how do we stop the growth of CEO pay without capping CEO pay?

The problem is ratio; the higher the ratio between Executive pay and Worker pay, the bigger the economic problem. In the 1960s the average CEO (who is typically the highest compensated employee) earned at a 20:1 ratio. That means that it took 20 worker salaries to equal the salary of the CEO. If the average worker earned $7,000 a year, the CEO would earn $140,000 a year. In the modern age, the average salary is about $46,000 (which still accounts for millionaires, yet is still relatively low), with the average CEO earning 200 times what his average worker receives ($9.2 million). Take that $9.2 million and break it down to a 20:1 ratio and the average worker would be paid $460,000 a year; not a shabby income.

Thus, if income inequality is the problem, the solution isn’t to cap CEO pay, but rather tie the company’s effective tax rate to the company’s income ratio. The question, of course, is how do we determine an acceptable income ratio? We want an income ratio that allows the top compensated employee to be a position of wealth, as this provides incentive, but we also want a ratio where the average worker makes a living that doesn’t require survival. Not to mention that the ratio impacts politics – if I earn at a 400:1 ratio to my employees, it would take 400 employees to match what I could donate to a candidate (which would require a lot of cooperation). Thus, the more wealth an individual has, the harder it is for people to gain a voice against his wealth. So whatever ratio we choose it has to not only provide a fair wage to workers and provide an incentive to get better, it also has to be low enough so that no one person obtains enough wealth to overpower the population.

From various views, a 20:1 ratio is the ideal ratio. It’s high enough to provide incentive to work harder, but low enough to prevent our economy from diving into a tailspin. Of course, political realities being what they are and with some differences in companies, we could create an ideal of 20:1 and a maximum of 100:1. Rather than capping CEO pay, the government would instead cap the ratio. Thus, if a CEO earns $10 million, more power to him, but his average worker better earn $100,000 (and the “average” would need to exclude executive pay from the equation).

The negative aspect of government regulation – of capping the ratio – would be on the upper end of 100:1. But I also believe in creating positive reinforcement for companies as it creates more economic freedom. That being said, I’d create the following tax bracket.

70:1 – 100:1: They would pay an effective tax rate of 40%. That means that after deductions, if their rate fell below 40% they’d be penalized until the rate reached 40%. Nothing they do, no moving around in the books, nothing could ever drop them below 40%.

50:1-69:1: They would pay an effective tax rate of 30%. They could take deductions, but could never drop below the 30% mark.

30:1-49:1 Their tax rate would drop to 20%. But notice that this is not an effective tax rate. In this instance, they could take deductions in order to reduce their tax rate, but never below 15% (the bottom effective tax rate).

20:1 – 29:1: This, being the ideal, would receive the best treatment. The maximum they’d pay in taxes would be 15% and there’d be no bottom in terms of their deductions. That is, if their deductions resulted in them paying 0% taxes, then so be it. The fact is, any company that fell in this range would be helping to create a powerful middle class, which would more than make up for any lost revenue from the business.

The only companies this would apply to would be any and all publicly traded companies and companies with 50 or more employees. Small businesses wouldn’t face this law. The reason is smaller businesses tend to have lower ratios by nature of their existence. Likewise, for start ups and other companies that do earn millions, but keep a small staff, the competition of bigger salaries from bigger companies would naturally keep the ratios low.

What’s great about this plan is that it literally costs corporations nothing. They don’t have to find a way to increase revenue (as they do with minimum wage), to increase their profits to make up for a loss, or to take a loss. The only thing it does is give back the wealth that the executives took (remember, executive pay jumped 725% from 1970 to 2015, while worker pay increased 5.6%, so this is a matter of giving economic justice and worker’s dues than it is redistributing unearned wealth). The company merely has to rework their payroll and benefits structure. Things such as stock options and profit sharing that add to the overall compensation of an executive would likewise have to be handed down to the workers until the total compensation of the highest earning employee (typically the CEO) matched the total compensation of the average worker.

In this scenario profits aren’t impacted, stock holders aren’t impacted, companies pay no extra money, and so on. All that happens is that executive pay is greatly reduced while worker pay is greatly increased, at least within a 20:1-100:1 range.

Of course, some might argue that production companies will just take their factories overseas or outsource their labor to overseas labor, that way executives can keep a high pay. They’ll just dump the workers. Here is where certain protections would need to be put into place. But again, those protections don’t have to be necessarily arbitrary, such as saying, “You can’t send your stuff overseas.” After all, globalization isn’t entirely bad and can help some struggling economies if handled correctly. How, then, do we handle it correctly?

We apply the same ratio rule to all overseas labor and, by extension, to all outsourced labor to foreign companies. That means if a technology company wants to outsource the production of their products to Foxconn, they’d have to ensure that the executives at Foxconn don’t earn greater than 100:1 compared to their workers. If a company wants to open an overseas factory, adjusting for inflation the same ratio rules would apply. A company could still send jobs overseas, but the advantage of using near-slave labor would disappear, which would protect multiple jobs in the US and possibly bring some jobs back.

The fact is, we have to do something and this is one possible option. It’s revolutionary, but that’s what we need in this moment. We need a revolution that seeks to change the system for the better by seeking a way to help all, not just a few. Of course, there is another possible way of revolutionizing the system in order to fix our economic woes.