Buffalo Bull

Issue E.9 — Sunday, 2015.05.24

Two Masters

This issue is Part 2 of a series, Of Neighbours, Sheep, and Goats: The Moral Bankruptcy of the Empire.

As explained in Part 1, Jesus noted that the lawyers killed the prophets, and the Christians went on to kill Jesus himself. But what distinguishes a lawyer from a prophet? Prophets let you know what God wants you to do, what you should be doing. Lawyers, on the other hand, let you know what you can get away with. A prophet is concerned with the will of God; a lawyer tries to arrange matters around your will. A prophet is an unpaid servant of God (as Mohammed is called God’s slave in the Qur’an), while a lawyer expects payment for his services from his clients. Prophet, contrasted with profit.

Jesus frequently spoke of “the Adversary”; the Hebrew word for “adversary” is Satan. Who is this adversary? From his examples, we can see his meaning. There were several times when he was specific about proper conduct, and the consequences of sin, to the point of selecting certain social groups: He threw the money changers out of the Temple, he noted that a rich man will practically never enter heaven, he taught that a man cannot serve both God and riches, and he said that the lawyers killed the prophets. He contrasted what was Caesar’s with what was God’s. In all of these examples, riches and power were in opposition to, adversarial against, God. There are, of course, other ways to sin, as Jesus noted. However, his parables and teachings focus more on wealth as the hallmark of the adversary, than upon any other sign. That love of money is the root of all evil may be an exaggeration, but the hyperbole serves a point to draw attention to the greatest cause of evil.

Wealth is intimately related to the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love your neighbour. In practice, almost all, if not all, wealth derives from a breach of these two commandments.

Americans, as they call themselves (ignoring those “other” Americans outside the United States), are mostly oblivious to this fact. Whence comes wealth? The dominant ideology of the United States teaches that wealth comes from hard work, thrift, and, sometimes, from righteous behaviour. However, there are three main ways that wealth is accumulated: personal activity (as just mentioned) is one way, but theft and receiving it as a gift are two others. Usually, when it is received as a gift, it’s by inheritance. Theft and inheritance are, by far, the greatest practical foundations for wealth.

While Americans might be proud that they have eliminated hereditary monarchy and aristocracy, they pretend that they have not set up an informal equivalent. Today, while we do not have kings and barons and other titled personages, the surest road to wealth is to inherit it. The children of the wealthy are far more likely to be wealthy themselves, even disregarding other factors, than the children of others not similarly situated. Partly this is due to direct inheritance and to transfer through foundations, trusts, and other means, and partly this is due to the extreme advantages that children of the wealthy have to prepare them to accumulate treasure. For every self-made entrepreneur there are several men and women who inherited high levels of assets, and the entrepreneurs themselves probably came from the most fortunate families so that they had a head start over those of ordinary backgrounds. In other words, among those who have built their fortunes, most have started with advantages that ordinary people do not have. As children, the wealthy have better healthcare, better education, better examples, better contacts, better access to resources, fewer worries about debts and the consequences of struggling to make ends meet, and they are inculcated with the attitudes and examples helpful to acquiring more than they have already. Quite literally, success breeds success.

While, years ago, people assumed that, because so-and-so was king, he had a right to do this-or that, and he was king because his father was king, today we assume differently: Because a man is wealthy, he has rights that we don’t have. Only, we don’t call them rights, we call them abilities or powers or sometimes even just good fortune. People won’t admit that “rights” aren’t inherent. Whether the “divine” rights of kings (going back to Augustine and Luther) or today the divine rights of wealth and power, rights are almost always taken for granted. Power doesn’t often give up power except for tactical reasons. The only reason you have any rights at all – the few rights that you, in practice, have – is that no one has yet succeeded in taking them away from you. They are “yours” only because they’re not yet someone else’s.

Almost all wealth derives from theft. Even inherited wealth usually comes, ultimately, from theft. In other words, maybe you got it from your father, and he got his start with what he received from his own father – from your grandfather – but as the family fortune grew, it was probably by means of theft.

Where are all of these thieves? Why aren’t they locked up? That most people don’t see that the thieves are in charge, attests to the moral depravity of our society, of our empire. Even the laws reflect the extent to which crimes are seen as acceptable, even to the point of being perceived as doing good rather than doing evil. A rich man has a “right” to whatever food and shelter he wants, but a poor man has no “right” to eat. As Anatole France put it, “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.” As for your right to “freedom of speech”, if you say this too loudly, then you are considered a “communist” or a “terrorist”, and you don’t get a job, or maybe you are locked up. Is that what Jesus had in mind? Apparently, the Christians, following Augustine and Luther, believe so. Such is how the lawyers kill the prophets. Jesus asked us to share our food with the poor: it violates the most important law not to love your neighbour as you love yourself. The lawyers and the Christians, however, tell us that, if we say that a wealthy man has no right to luxury while millions die of hunger, then we are subversive, that we are a threat to democracy and to the government. Lawyers can make law, and you can be punished for not following the lawyers’ law, but Jesus can only give advice, and the people themselves must follow the lawyers, not Jesus. Nowadays, Jesus might not be crucified, but he would get “enhanced interrogation”, solitary confinement, and some other form of death; his personal fate would be accompanied by a campaign to malign his reputation (and the reputations of his followers), to make him look stupid or misguided at best, and evil if possible.

The thieves are not seen as what they are, because the imperial subjects worship the wrong gods. Even the word, “worship”, is misunderstood: most people envision worship as some kind of ritual: bowing down, showing obedience and reverence, and so forth. But worship isn’t, or wasn’t originally, the behaviour itself (the showing of deference and respect), it is the value assessment which leads to that behaviour. Worship was originally taken to be the condition of having worth or value. The word comes from the older word, weorþscipe; the two parts might be more easily recognized with the more modern spellings as “worth” (value) and the suffix “-ship” (condition of, as in “friendship” or “kinship”). Clearly, then we place great value in money and power – we worship them – and, when one uses the word, worth, the most common meaning is monetary value. We worship money and power, and we extend this to worship of those who appear to control or have money and power. Many Christians would say, “However, I put God first”, but Jesus clearly said that you cannot have two masters. (Besides, the Christians who claim to put God first are often lying anyway.)

(I note here that it is not only the Christians who are hypocritical. Mohammed, Buddha, and the others all agreed in this matter of single-minded devotion and the need to avoid desire for wealth. However, the Muslims killed Mohammed and the Buddhists killed Gautama and the Hindus killed the rishis, just as the lawyers killed the prophets and the Christians killed Jesus. I focus on the Christians here because I’m writing about the moral bankruptcy of the Empire, and the Christians dominate the Empire.)

(I note here furthermore that not all Christians, or Hindus or Muslims or Buddhists, fall into the same trap which I am describing. Just most of them. In fact, almost all of them. If, however, I were to say “almost all Christians” every time instead of simply writing “Christians”, it would lead to even more tiresome prose, and, at the same time, almost all Christians, if they’re still reading along, would each be thinking himself or herself to be one of the exceptions. Christians reading this: I probably mean you, personally.)

So, are these things more than rhetorical or philosophical problems? In order to begin to appreciate the full scope and magnitude of the situation, a little background is necessary. We’re going to have to change some beliefs, as beliefs are central to the argument.

We learn from experience, including what we see and hear and otherwise perceive, and we also learn from what we are taught. If we encounter fire, we may by pain learn that it is hot, although we might also be warned of the danger by others who already, for whatever reason, hold that belief. Over time, these lessons organize to form belief systems: complexes of inter-related beliefs which shape our behaviour and our further learning. Sometimes these belief systems become impediments to additional learning, because they cause us to reject data which we wrongly believe to be false. When what we “know” or believe is “true”, then this is not a problem. However, when what we “know” or believe is “false”, then the difficulty of unlearning a false belief can be a serious barrier to acquiring more accurate, better, or more extensive knowledge and beliefs. Systems of related beliefs are even more difficult to unlearn than are isolated beliefs, because they reinforce one another.

Of course, merely because we believe something does not make that belief or thing true.

The word, faith, has a complex origin. It is usually taken to mean a belief in things unseen, but the root is from fidem, through feid, the accusative of fides, or “trust”. The word used in the New Testament is from πιστις, pistis, which in turn comes from πείθω, peitho, (persuade) + -σις, -sis, making it a noun form of the verb “persuade”. Faith isn’t expected to come without some form of “persuasive” evidence. The idea of blind faith is rather stupid, generally, although a working hypothesis is sensible. As more evidence (including testimonial evidence) is adduced and discovered, then the faith may change. Eventually, personal knowledge may convert the faith into something with more foundation. Thus, a rational person may end up changing his faith because of additional evidence.

Unfortunately, many Christians are taught that blind faith is a virtue. They claim that their faith isn’t blind, but the fact is, they resist giving up a belief no matter what they see in contradiction. Thus they are deliberately taught not to learn, reinforcing the natural tendency of the mind to reject notions which contradict existing beliefs. This practice, in combination with their belief in the exclusivity of their rectitude, is what make Christianity such a virulent meme complex.

This resistance to learning contrary to established beliefs is a relatively deep attribute of the mind. As you might imagine, it has survival value, causing the mind to filter out and to reject noise and outliers which contradict what has been already learned. However, when the fundamental learning is wrong, then it is dangerous, because it prevents questioning falsehoods. This is even true when suggestibility is heightened, when the mind is focused. Heightened suggestibility is a condition where we more easily accept what we are told. Such focus, which often leads to increased suggestibility, is seen in various situations ranging from watching television to hypnosis. A hypnotist can give a suggestion to a subject, asking him or her to believe or to do something, but if the suggestion too strongly rejects the deeply held beliefs of the subject, it will be rejected. In the same vein, beliefs and behaviours learned when young are especially hard to unlearn, even more so when such “knowledge” comes from traumatic experiences such as child abuse. The earlier experiences and instructions of life dominate and control the intake of subsequent data.

This unlearning is necessary because correct knowledge is essential to moral and ethical behaviour and attitudes. You cannot make a correct, ethical, moral decision without a correct, ethical, moral foundation. Regardless of your ethical bent, you must at least get the facts right. Accordingly, a few incorrect facts must be replaced with correct ones. Even Satan may not want you to get the facts right, but he’ll surely want to get them right for himself. So you don’t have to believe the same as I believe regarding basic moral principles, but we ought to be able agree on most of the underlying evidence.

Among the common beliefs which will be challenged are those of contemporary politics and history (that we live in a democracy, that certain things happened in history, and so on), religion (what was taught by Jesus, Mohammed, and others), economics and finance (definitions of free enterprise, utility, and such) and philosophy (the morality of our institutions). Alternatives will be presented, consistent with the facts; even more consistent, you will see, than the conventional wisdom.

(This essay will continue, with Part 3 of the series, in a subsequent issue.)

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