April 2009


Recently, a co-worker asked me to settle a political debate: should the government have the right to retroactively add stipulations on how a company given bailout funds can spend those bailout funds?

My gut instinct was no, but only because government regulators would step in and have a howling fit if banks wanted to add stipulations to loans to citizens after the papers had already been signed. Consistency, you know.

Actually, my gut instinct was to howl that the companies should give the money back and face the music with their stockholders. That should be the cold hard reality of this beast we call capitalism.

Aside from the bailouts being idiotic economics, you can’t claim to have an aim of keeping capitalism alive by acting like a fascist. That’s right — I’ve invoked the F-bomb, but choosing to save some failing banks instead of all failing banks is fascism, not socialism. Look it up — it’s called cartelism, and it’s one of the chief means a fascist government uses to exert control over the economy. They favor one business over another, rendering competition pointless.

The Obama administration, I think, will exploit the ability to retroactively add stipulations. But before Republicans get too giddy about the ability to legitimately call the Obama administration fascists, they need to remember that it was the Bush administration that pushed the bailouts.

But all of this has had me thinking about what a Christian economic worldview should be. Capitalism is basically godless, and Socialism is a response that believes God’s abundance is not enough. Capitalism’s underlying philosophy is, “By my hands, I succeed, and by my hands, I fail;” Socialism says, “I will be God for you.”

Capitalism at its logical extreme believes that the individual can become God, and thus has devastating economic consequences when it is revealed that Wall Street is not only not God, but in its effort to become so has convinced the entire world economy to move into a creative but nuclear house of cards that requires Wall Street to be the chief cornerstone. Oops.

Socialism always fails because it believes that it can build the government until it reaches to the heavens, and then they will be like gods. But God didn’t let the builders at Babel succeed, either.

So I guess my personal economics are shaped by the Jubilee economics of the Old Testament (you can’t exploit someone without debt), but held in the context of the reality of the Church. Despite what modern polemicists may say, the Church in Acts 4 wasn’t a commune, but it sure wasn’t capitalism.

Applying that is the hard part, I guess.

One of the Good Friday icons — Taking down from the cross.

 

Alleluia, the Lamb has died;
But Death dies with It.
Let us bury borrow a tomb
and bury them quickly.

Yet from this grave
One of the two shall rise —
And the other shall feel
her own sting.

Santa Muerte, thou art vanquished
By the heartbeat of Christ our Lord.

Looking for something else tonight, I came across this poem I wrote my senior year in high school, dated 12/27/02. I think it speaks well of where I was mentally at that time.

“Untitled”

Single-minded,
disheartened,
the hunted animal
stops for a breath
knowing full well that
this is its last.

single-minded,
empowered,
the hunter
pauses for a smoke
knowing full well that
time adds to the excitement.

The banner at the top of this page — at least until the end of the Great Lent — is from the Feast of Orthodoxy, and I think it is symbolic of just how far I have come in the last few years.

Way back when I was a Calvinist, I was a Calvinist. I wasn’t one of those wussy Reformed Baptists who likes TULIP but doesn’t adopt any of the rest of the Calvinist worldview. That meant — of course — that I was a hardline iconoclast.

Consider: when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released on DVD, one of the LC campus organizations used clips from it during a service. In response (to a service I did not attend, no less), I wrote an essay about how using images in worship is idolatry.

It’s a strong charge, but one that Reformed folks aren’t afraid to level.

My entire basis for this was from the second commandment — “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (ESV)”

The logic was that Christ is in heaven, so any depiction of him would be a violation of this commandment.

There a few problems with this though — the first being that just taking that verse at face value means that I can’t have a picture of my family, or a poster or the bust of a classical composer in my home, at least if I’m going to be consistent. Muslims think this way.

The second is that that understanding of the verse removes it from its context. The next verse goes on, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” (ESV)

So, the proper understanding of the second commandment is that you shall not make an image with the purpose of worshipping it, which is — ta-da! — idolatry. The image, in and of itself, is not bad.

My step in logic was to say, “Ok, that means that paintings and photos and statues are ok, but you can’t use them in worship.”

That’s a fine thought, but is biblically inconsistent.

The Israelite worship cultus was littered with the use of images, though the images themselves were just not worshipped. The real monkey wrench in all of this is that God Himself commanded that those images be constructed for use in His worship.

So my last line of defense was that even if images — graven or otherwise — were allowed, one could not create an image depicting Christ, because Christ is God and to create an image of God is to create an idol.

But that’s shoddy Christology — Christ is 100 percent God, but he is 100 percent man. To deny that he can be depicted is to deny Christ’s humanity, which is — oops! — heretical.

To quote St. John of Damascus:

Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation.

Some astute Protestant scholars have noted that Jesus still has a body, and thus specific features; that means that any picture of him is not, in fact, a picture of him that is perfectly accurate — in short, icons of Christ are not icons of Christ.

But the purpose of icons is to remind us of a spiritual reality, not to be an exact representation.

Peter Leithart has an interesting response to those iconoclastic critics, however.

Christ is in heaven, true, but he has also left us his body as both the Eucharist and as the Church as the body of Christ on earth.

If we are going to be considered as having done to Christ what we have done to “the least of these,” then when we minister to them by feeding, clothing them, visiting them, ect., then —Leithart argues — we see the face of Christ in them, and thus Leithart concludes that we can depict Jesus with the features of the faces we see around us.

(On second thought, it’s probably better if you read his own words. In case you missed the link the first time, you can read it here.)

When I write all of this, don’t get the wrong impression — I’m not going to wallpaper my house with icons, but I feel like I am free to have and appreciate them now.

This is probably a bigger deal to me than to a lot of folks, but let me assure you, it’s a big deal.

Not that I need another Bible (we have approximately two dozen in  household with only two literate residents), but when at the bookstore today I saw that the English Standard Version now has an edition with the deuterocanon (they labeled it “Apocrypha,” but that’s a po-ta-toe, po-tat-oh issue to me). Following in the tradition of the RSV and NRSV apocrypha editions (not to be confused with the RSV-CE and NRSV-CE), it doesn’t stop with the “extra” Catholic books, but includes the deuterocanonical books (and chapters) used by the Orthodox Church(s). It’s published by Oxford University Press.

Perhaps the ESV will supplant the NRSV as the Oxford Annotated Bible in the future, hopefully with better study notes?

Elizabeth Ree Hogan — born 3-31-09