Austin Bay On the Libyan War

Friday, September 2, AD 2011

I have long been distressed at the poor level of reporting on wars.  Most media people have no military experience and it shows in their news story which read as if a deaf person is trying to describe a symphony.  Austin Bay, a retired Army Colonel, Armor, who earned a bronze star in Iraq in 2005, and his analysis of the Libyan War is a welcome oasis in the desert in comparison.  I have been playing board war games since the early seventies, and I have long been familiar with Austin Bay, designing war games being one small part of his multifarious career.  If you want to keep abreast of military developments around the globe Strategy Page, run by wargaming legend Jim Dunnigan and Colonel Bay, is the place to go.

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21 Responses to Austin Bay On the Libyan War

  • Watch The Tillman Story, a documentary of how the Army spun the fratricide death of Pat Tillman in an attempt to turn him into a national recruiting poster. Along with the phony Jessica Lynch “saga” fabricated by the Army and mass media, two of the most disgusting propaganda campaigns in military history.

    BTW, I served in the Navy and although I saw no combat, Don, I am a voracious reader of WWII history and have rarely if ever seen a non-sanitized, realistic report except for raw unscripted raw footage.

    Regarding the above, it sounds like the same bilge spewed by the White House and Pentagon. Bay’s use of the term “notorious dictatorship” comes right out of the Saddam Hussein playbook (effective demonization), which follows his introduction that the so-called “rebellion” was spawed by the “Arab Spring revolution.”

    He then with a straight face talks about the “rebels” launching “a very sophisticated operation” as we see a bunch of ragtag guys, some wearing Nike T-shirts and ball caps mounted on Toyota pickups whooping it up on their way to some remote village where no doubt NBC’s long time Pentagon stenographer Richard Engel is lurking for one of those ubiquitous on-the-scene reports about the “pro-democracy forces” sweeping the region.

    Then we get more spin with the statement that NATO entered the “conflict” to “protest the mass murder of civilians at the hands of Ghaddafi,” once again evoking images of a bloodthirsty madman rather than a head-of-state who is trying to crush an insurrection.

    Throughout the commentary, the term “rebels” is used repeatedly unlike the term “insurgents,” which was used in Iraq and elsewhere, to evoke the intended reaction on the part of the viewer — one of sympathy for them and, per corollary, by using constant adjectives such as “notorious” and “murderous” in describing Ghaddafi, painting him as the villain. In Saddam’s case, the word “brutal” was the adjective of the day,

    Near the end of the video we are told “another dictator has fallen” and “regime change has succeeded,” coinciding with a close-up of someone’s boot stomping the head of a statue (presumably Ghaddafi’s), simulating the faked pulldown of Saddam’s statue orchestrated by the CIA for the cameras and seen by millions back home in the USA as stunning visual evidence of Saddam’s unpopularity among “the people.”

    Finally, we’re told “Topping a murderous dictator is still a victory. The Libyan rebels earned their victory. That common investment of blood, toil, sweat and tears and bullets is a basis for rebuilding and modernizing their country.”

    I almost fell out of my chair when I heard Churchill’s famous words shamelessly expropriated to support this CIA-sponsored propaganda piece.

    Nowhere did we see scenes of mass looting by the “rebels,” nor can anyone seriously buy the “victory” claim given that Ghaddafi is still holed up somewhere with plenty of ammo and likely to prolong the war until death, as he has vowed.

    The U.S. backed Saddam, Ghaddafi, Mubarak and many other strongmen for years; now suddenly we’re on the “rebels” side, the side of “freedom and democracy,” yada yada. Listen to the new mantras these days and then keep in mind the following:

    “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”
    — Joseph Goebbels

  • Your comment is rubbish Joe from beginning to end. I do not have time to deal with it now as I have a busy day at the law mines awaiting me, but I will dissect your comment in detail when I have the leisure either this evening or tomorrow evening.

  • Have had it, Don. I have a thick skin.

  • I agree with Joe.

    Gaddafi was ok after he turned over his WMD’s. The your divisive, failure, job-killer-in chief and the eurozone weaklings decided Col Muammar needed to go; and the rest of North Africa needed to be turned over to AQ and the muslin bros as training areas for terror . . .

    I give Bay as much credibility as I give Andwew Bacevich a twin retired, bird colonel Armor (FART). At least Bay’s command didn’t go up in smoke.

    We need generals that, when planning for action, ask themselves “What would Generals Patton and LeMay do?” Not, order 86 staff weanies to add 155 pages to the ROE so we don’t discomfit the “enemy.”

  • Don’t know enough about Libya or Ghaddafi (also seen it spelled with a Q) to say whether the “spin” is accurate or not, but it is hard to deny the spin is there. Maybe he was a murderous dictator, maybe not. You can’t deny that some spin is going, though, by use of the terminology above.

  • A general observation at the outset. I posted this video because Colonel Bay gives an excellent military analysis of the war in Libya, something lacking in news coverage of the war. That none of the commenters chose to address this aspect of his video speaks volumes about the military illiteracy I hope this video, as the first of a new series here on TAC, helps to combat.

    T. Shaw, your comparison of Colonel Bay to Bacevich merely indicates that you are deeply ignorant of Colonel Bay. They are diametrically opposed, Go to his blog and read some of his posts please before you make another massively ill-informed comment on this thread.

    http://austinbay.net/wordpress/

  • Don, allow me to temper but not retract my comments by saying that some of what Bay said was insightful. No doubt he has excellent sources in the military and elsewhere and I wouldn’t discount everything he says just because some things in the video struck me as carefully crafted propaganda. I’ll click on your link and read some more.

  • “Watch The Tillman Story, a documentary of how the Army spun the fratricide death of Pat Tillman in an attempt to turn him into a national recruiting poster. Along with the phony Jessica Lynch “saga” fabricated by the Army and mass media, two of the most disgusting propaganda campaigns in military history.”

    What this had to do with the video beats me Joe. I guess you were just in full rant mode. Jessica Lynch was a creation of the media, which, on partial reports, ran with the story. The true heroes of the Jessica Lynch story were the men who successfully rescued her and who received scant press coverage, as have most of the heroes of the War on Terror, and their have been many of them. We don’t deserve such men and women but we get them anyway.

    In regard to Pat Tillman, their was an initial attempt by his unit and immediate superiors to hush up that he died as a result of friendly fire, something that happens in every war. Within a month of his death the Army, after an investigation, told his family the true story. A criminal investigation was initiated Paranoid nuts on the left and the paleocon right have attempted to pass this CYA of some members of the Army into a vast conspiracy with accusations that Tillman was deliberately murdered. Such accusations are completely baseless and say more about the accusers than the Army.

  • “Don, allow me to temper but not retract my comments by saying that some of what Bay said was insightful. No doubt he has excellent sources in the military and elsewhere and I wouldn’t discount everything he says just because some things in the video struck me as carefully crafted propaganda. I’ll click on your link and read some more.”

    Thank you Joe. The video was not put up to say “Rah, rah, war in Libya!” but rather as an analysis of the conflict from a military expert I highly respect. I hold no brief for the rebels, since I do not think that anyone knows which of the various factions will come out on top. I do like the fact that the Butcher of Lockerbie is apparently nearing the end of his 42 year reign. More on this tomorrow after I have rested after a very long day and am in a better humor.

  • Don, the Tillman and Lynch episodes are quite relevant inasmuch as they reveal the depths of deception and duplicity our government will go to to avoid telling the truth. Tillman was whitewashed, a scapegoat was found (a retired Army general who wound up losing a star) and the higher-ups including Rumsfeld and the top brass weaseled their way out by saying “I can’t recall” 89 times before a congressional “investigation’ that proved to be a total farce.

    Charges that Tillman was “deliberately murdered” may be baseless (we’ll probably never know), but his death was officially attributed to “friendly fire,” an oxymoron if there ever was once, and it has NEVER been satisfactory explained why, as conspicuous as he was in uniform, he was targeted by his fellow soldiers. Lastly but importantly, Tillman turned against the war and actually had lined up a meeting with Noam Chomsky that never came off. I’m not buying into any conspiracy theories but the whole mess stinks to high heaven. The Tillman family, to their credit, never claimed their son was a hero, as the Army did, and simply wanted the facts. They have still to get them.

  • Don, I promised to read the Bay blog objectively as I, too, am crabby right now and not exactly in top thinking form. : )

  • It has been my observation that Colonel Bey is one of the best analysts around.

    And that video is the best summary of military opertions in Libya, no matter what one thinks of of the politcs.

  • Don

    Way back in the Grenada Operation I noticed how the quality of the press converge declied after the press was allowed in.

    The American Press is possibly the only one in the world whose coverage improves under military censorship. This I not good how can they fulfill a fourth exte function if they have no clue about what they are covering?d

  • Hank, the basic problem is that most reporters simply are completely clueless about military operations. They almost all have no prior military service, did not take military history classes, in the unlikely event any were available, while they were in college, and obviously have done zero study on their own. Fortunately there are a precious few independent reporters, like Michael Yon, who are doing their best to make up for the useless coverage of the Mainstream media.

    http://www.michaelyon-online.com/

  • Ditto: I expect reporters to know nothing. They are generally clueless about the workings of most of that on which they “report.”

    They need to confine themselves to asking questions and videotaping or writing down answers.

    That “business model” went out the window years ago. Too often the truth would get in the way of the agenda.

  • Bay’s commentary seems to fit pretty well with what is generally understood and is similar to George Friedman of Stratfor. On the surface of things, I agree with what has been presented – Gadaffi as a ruthless dictator and international paria, but nevertheless generous to his own people – that is, his own tribal group. It is tribalism in Libya which is the “now” problem, and the “Arab Spring” caption, to my mind, is premature and probably false. In a year or so we may know how things really are going to be.

    The deeper issue is why NATO came in on the side of the rebels, a largely unknow ragtag bunch – initially, anyway. There have been issues raised WRT Libya’s financial manouverings, undermining the western banks and the US dollar with the setting up of an independent African Bank. Is this a reality? Time may tell. But it would be interesting to know whether or not the claims that Libya was completely debt free, and the various other claims that underpinned NATO’s entrance on the side of the rebels. All is not always as it seems, aside from “creative journalism”.

  • Bay’s use of the term “notorious dictatorship” comes right out of the Saddam Hussein playbook (effective demonization)…
    Joe Green

    (1) “Notorious dictatorship” is a truthful description of Ghaddafi’s rule in Libya.
    (2) Can’t demonize a demon, Joe.

    He (Austin Bay) then with a straight face talks about the “rebels” launching “a very sophisticated operation” as we see a bunch of ragtag guys, some wearing Nike T-shirts and ball caps mounted on Toyota pickups…

    (3) When operating on a shoestring as Strategy Page is, you go with the open-source video you have not the video you’d like to have.
    (4) It was their strategy and tactics that made it “a very sophisticated operation,” not their clothing or vehicles.

    Then we get more spin… evoking images of a bloodthirsty madman rather than a head-of-state who is trying to crush an insurrection.

    (5) Ghaddafi is “a bloodthirsty madman,” Joe. And with the words “dictorship” and “rebels” that you quibbled about earlier, Austin Bay has already established (for the attentive viewers, anyway) that Ghaddafi is “a head-of-state who is trying to crush an insurrection.”

    Throughout the commentary, the term “rebels” is used repeatedly unlike the term “insurgents,” which was used in Iraq…

    (6) “Rebels” is an accurate label for the Libyans attempting to overthrow the decades-long Ghaddafi regime that has been ruling Libya. In Iran, the fighters labeled “insurgents” were not attempting to overthrow an established government.

    I almost fell out of my chair when I heard Churchill’s famous words shamelessly expropriated to support this CIA-sponsored propaganda piece.

    (7) I will accept that you occasionally have trouble keeping your balance, Joe.
    (8) Where’s your evidence that Austin Bay’s work is a “CIA-sponsored propaganda piece”?

    The U.S. backed Saddam, Ghaddafi, Mubarak and many other strongmen for years…

    (9) For years, the alternatives to Mubarak were worse.
    (10) The U.S. did not “back” Saddam or Ghaddafi.

    …now suddenly we’re on the “rebels” side

    (11) Now suddenly the U.S. has alternatives it did not have before.

    Listen to the new mantras these days and then keep in mind the following:

    “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”
    — Joseph Goebbels

    “USA bad” is the point you keep repeating over and over, Joe.

  • Micha, i see. Muslim radicals are better than Mubarak. Rumsfeld never shook Saddam’s hand, the U.S. never helped Iraq fight Iran, and furthermore there is a Santa Claus.
    I understand. Everything my government tells me is truthful. I get it. The CIA had no role whatsoever in any “rebellion” in any foreign country.

    Thanks for disabusing me of my skepticism. I now will accept everything that comes from the White House and Pentagon as gospel. I will now take the word of a “retired colonel” because, having earned a Bronze Star, he can’t possibly be wrong on any account.

    Appreciate the clarity, Micha. Good guys wear white, bad guys black. USA good, other guys bad. I got it. Thank you.

  • You never can tell. Regime changes may generate worse (terror/jihad enablers) regimes than the SOB’s they replace. The Arab has no democratic institutions or traditions or infrastructures.

    You gotta make the most of it. These crappy, little wars are the only wars we have.

  • You gotta make the most of it. These crappy, little wars are the only wars we have,

    Shaw, the implication is that a crappy big war would be preferable. : )

  • Right. I served a while in SAC: “Peace is our profession.”

Tea Party is the New Neocon

Thursday, September 1, AD 2011

So I guess that makes it neo-neocon.

The Washington Times reports on a poll released by Rasmussen on the relative popularity and unpopularity of various political labels.

• 38 percent of likely U.S. voters “consider it a positive” when a political candidate is described as “conservative,” 27 percent say it’s a negative.

• 37 percent say “moderate” is a positive label, 13 percent say it’s a negative.

• 32 percent say “tea party” is a positive label.

• 56 percent of Republican voters agree.

• 38 percent of voters overall say the tea party label is a negative.

• 70 percent of Democrats agree.

• 31 percent of voters overall say “progressive” is a positive label, 26 percent say its negative.

• 21 percent say “liberal” is a positive label, 38 percent say it’s a negative.

What jumped out at me is the disparity between how the term “conservative” is received versus the term “tea party.”  The positive/negative spread for “conservative” is 38/27, but it’s 32/38 for “tea party.”  Now, conservative/tea party fares better than progressive/liberal, and that is probably worth a discussion in and of itself.*  But I want to focus on the conservative versus tea party aspect of this poll for a moment.

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12 Responses to Tea Party is the New Neocon

  • Most people, regardless of political affiliation aren’t very capable of understanding nuance. They oversimplify things because they’re incapable of understanding things more fully.

  • I first heard the term “progressive” to describe the modern liberal wing of the Democratic Party in college right after I’d read That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. In the book the “progressive element” are the bad guys who do all manner of despicable things. I’ve always found the term creepy. It has this Orwellian vagueness about it. Progress toward what exactly? I’d rather vote for a liberal any day.

  • That Hideous Strength is probably the best takedown of the “Progressive Element” that I’ve ever read, and it’s also pretty darned accurate in its depiction of what Progressivism is all about.

    It’s kind of interesting that both “conservative” and “progressive” are favorably viewed (though conservative moreso) when you consider that they are two labels that have completely opposite connotations.

  • Paul, polls ought to be taken with a grain of salt by a thinking person. But their impact in shaping public opinion cannot be underestimated. For example, one recent poll, I think conducted by Harris, asserts that roughly half the population supports so-called gay marriage. Either the polled were lying for PC’s sake or we’re in a lot deeper trouble as a society than we thought.

  • I definitely am not one to hold polling information up as sacred, but there definitely seems to be a more negative perception associated with “tea party” than “conservative.” I see this often on other blogs where “tea party” is all but a dirty word (or words).

  • AJ Grendel, on 09/02/11, remarked that, “Most people, regardless of political affiliation aren’t very capable of understanding nuance. They oversimplify things because they’re incapable of understanding things more fully.”
    Actually, I have to disagree that nothing could be further from the truth. As Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”
    People who fully comprehend an issue can encapsulate the matter simply, while complexity is the analysis of the less comprehending.

  • The media also has done its level best to vilify conservatives and conservatism, so I don’t think the difference in popular reaction to the “tea party” label vs. the “conservative” label can be chalked up to media bias.

  • I think “tea party” has become a swear word for liberals and for big government, intellectualista, professional coservatives – that disparage the great unwashed, e.g., Sarah Palin.

    A question from one of the lesser unwashed: The obama Regime has either adopted or conformed to nearly every national security policy of the Bush Administration.

    Does anyone consider Obama a neocon?

  • ”Actually, I have to disagree that nothing could be further from the truth. As Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”
    People who fully comprehend an issue can encapsulate the matter simply, while complexity is the analysis of the less comprehending.”

    It appears you’re taking that Einstein quote out of context, or you missed my point entirely.

    I’m not talking about people simplifying concepts, I’m talking about people lumping together largely unrelated political ideologies simply because they’ve heard them described as ‘right-wing’ or ‘left-wing’.

    When lefties try to lump AnCaps, neo-fascists, paleoconservatives, neoconservatives, libertarian conservatives, traditionalist conservatives (who are often more moderate on economic policy, but socially conservative), libertarians who favour capitalism but aren’t conservative and many other groups they see as ideological enemies together it makes them seem foolish, and also weakens their arguments, as these groups all have dramatically different ideologies.

    When right-wingers do the same to libertarian socialists, democratic socialists, various authoritarian Marxist-Leninist ideologies, progressives and social democrats all together they appear similarly foolish, and it similarly weakens their arguments, as again all of these groups tend to be dramatically different in ideologies from one another.

    And of course, lumping your enemies in with the Nazis seems to be popular with everyone.

    It seems to come down to the idea that people aren’t very comfortable with recognizing various shades of grey, or admitting that people they oppose on some issues they might agree with on others.

  • There is actually a Tea Party Caucus in Congress that, unlike others, is unwilling to even eliminate tax deductions.

  • RR: Them tea extremists (“even eliminate tax deductions”) are so evil they oppose giving the gangster government more money for socially just causes such as loaning $500,000,000-plus to the Geo. Kaisers (billionaire Obama campaign contributor) of the world to quickly go broke and default on the loans?

    Those evil tea partiers!

    That is Obama’s Enron. But, the lying, liberal media and you fabian commies will never call it “evil.”

  • PS:

    Evil, rich Americans already suffer elimination of tax deductions through the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which requires add back (and pay 26% on) of most tax deductions (except evil charitable contributions and qualifying mortgage interest). The AMT applies to couples with adjusted gross income over $250,000.

    Plus, think it over. The elimination of tax deductions will impact limo liberals in high tax, inflation ridden blue states.

Employment for All: A Debate

Thursday, September 1, AD 2011

Alex of Christian Economics is a thoughtful guy who adheres to some economic theories (specifically the Modern Money Theory of economics) that I don’t hold with. Thus marking out one of my rare areas of agreement with Paul Krugman.

Alex and I were looking for topics to have a sort of slow-motion blog debate over, and there seems no better place to start than one of the bigger policy proposals which many MMT adherents support: having the government become an Employer of Last Resort. Alex has a substantive post up to day making the case for an employer of last resort program from a Catholic and economic point of view. I’ll be writing and posting reply-post in the next couple days.

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40 Responses to Employment for All: A Debate

  • I’ve suggested something similar in the past. Blackadder responded that it might be cheaper to hand out money without the make-work. Also, to better comport with CST, the wages would have to depend on household size and that might destroy the economic benefits of the plan than Alex talks about.

  • “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

    Do your part.

    In 2012 vote for anybody but job-destroyer Obama and dem/progressive/tree-hugger economy destroyers.

  • One of many, many problems with the government as an employer of last resort is that the government creates no wealth. It merely is a parasite existing off of the efforts of the private sector. When government expenditures get too far out of whack in regard to the ability of the private sector to create wealth, the ill effects on the host of the parasite are rapidly apparent. A great lab experiment of this taken to the furthest extreme was the old Soviet Union where the parasite killed and attempted to supplant the host. The Soviet currency was worthless paper outside of the Soviet Union and the workers of the Soviet Union, and everyone else luckless enough to live there, except the nomenklatura of the party, enjoyed, probably not the proper term, a gray Spartan existence. The life was summed up by a proverb among Soviet workers: “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” After so many disasters along these lines, I wonder when we will be free of the superstition that government has any wealth of its own for anything, other than what can be squeezed from the private sector?

  • RR — I’m not sure how it would be cheaper to just give the unemployed money, unless you gave them less than a minimum wage. Also, determining a just living wage is extraordinarily difficult. One has to take into consideration size of household, geographical location, particular needs of the family (such as a child having a disability that requires more care than say another family’s children), etc. It also requires prudence and temperance on the part of the wage-earner to use his/her wages justly. In regards to the program, I recommend a flat wage to all in the program, with any extra need covered by other welfare programs.

    T. Shaw — I’m not sure how that adds to the discussion.

    Donald — You clearly are no fan of government, and that is your prerogative, but I disagree that the government is simply a parasite taking from the private sector. The government’s initiatives often create more wealth in the private sector than the private sector would create by itself. The government can certainly appropriate all (or most) private output to itself as the Soviets did, or it can appropriate some output toward socially desirable goals agreed on by a group of representatives elected by the people. Do I think that it does this perfectly? Certainly not…there is much corruption in Washington and Wall Street, but simply regarding government as a parasite is unhelpful and also doesn’t add to the discussion. If it is ALWAYS a parasite sucking from the private sector, then tell me how and why.

    The job guarantee program is meant to give the private sector more wealth, not take it away or create it for government.

  • “If it is ALWAYS a parasite sucking from the private sector, then tell me how and why.”

    The government has no funds for its initiatives other than what is taken from the private sector. The creation of money out of thin air only has value based on the creation of wealth in the private sector. Zimbabwe can print as many trillion dollar notes as it wishes and all it will have is a heap of paper. By definition government is a parasite on the private sector. The only exception I can think in regard to this is the sale or rental of assets owned by the government, such as federal land, but the income derived thereby is minimal.

    Have private industries made out like bandits due to government spending? Of couse. However, government is merely appropriating resources with one hand, and spending it in the private sector with another. Much better, if a productive economy is the goal, to simply lower taxes and allow more of the funds to be used in the private sector, rather than have the funds take a detour through the sticky fingers of government.

    Of course when the government attempts to own industries, a la nationalization, the result is invariably disastrous for the taxpayer, with inefficiency at high cost the result.

  • Milton Friedman said it well back in 1978:

  • Alex, there would be significant bureaucratic costs that can be avoided by just cutting checks without the work requirement.

  • Somebody’s lamenting the lack of Dickensian prisons and workhouses?

  • RR: Where will Obama get the money? If you envision the government is the economy . . .

    Alex,

    Repeat after me. Supply and demand; uncertainty and volatility; action and reaction; rational individuals acting in their best interests.

    The Obama government is the problem.

    The consumer (70% of the economy) isn’t buying.

    The only bright stop exports is crash diving.

    Business isn’t hiring.

    Don’t listen to what the low lifes in the WH and senate say. Watch what they do.

    Uncertainty and volatility. Obama’s gangster Gulf drilling moratorium (one of hundreds of job killers) cost over 200,000 jobs. The EPA war on coal and electric generating utilities will soon reap its devastating effects. Business doesn’t know how much obamacare will cost and it won’t hire. Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will impair consumer credit supplies and raise costs.

    They are destroying the economy to save Gaia from SUV exhaust and 86 trillion bovine farts. SWAT teams attack farmers to ensure they don’t sell whole milk. The banks are starting tens of thousands more lay-offs. The robo-signing witch hunt du jour will lessen availability of residential credit and raise costs. Moronic loan modification programs and four years (12 years in the worst SMSA’s) of excess housing supply will keep housing in depression for years. Construction jobs don’t exist. Obamacare will cost millions of jobs. I could go on for about 200 pages.

    Obama and the senate are sworn enemies of the private sector and they are killing it.

  • Alex has taken the time to write a fairly in-depth post explaining his views — I want to strongly encourage people to read that an respond to it rather than responding to my couple sentence summary. (If you’d rather respond to what I write, hold off and respond when I get my response post written.)

  • I question the spiritual benefits of having a job with no accountability, which is exactly what is being proposed. If no one can be fired from these jobs then no one has to do anything for their money. If the “living wage” being offered was not that much lower than what I’m making now as a small business owner (and it probably isn’t), I’d quit. I’m especially slothful, and this would work out great. I could stay home with the kids as an “artist,” and we’d make macaroni art all day while pulling in a paycheck. If we made some lifestyle cutbacks, Mr. Zummo could stay home and be an artist too. We could become complete dependent children receiving our government allowance. For many the fear of want is the only thing that keeps them from being total lazy slobs. I suppose there are a few filled with graces who are productive without any accountability, but I certainly am not.

  • “In nations where the gov’t doesn’t fix their currency to a commodity or another currency, that is, in nations with a sovereign fiat currency, there is no constraint to government spending. The issuer of the currency defines the currency and cannot go bankrupt or default on its obligations.

    So going bankrupt or spending more than it “brings in” is not a reason we can’t have full employment. I also argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with deficits. I argue that they don’t crowd out private spending by raising interest rates (the central bank controls interest rates), they do not burden future generations, and they do not lead to financial ruin or a weak currency.”

    Could you present your arguments for this. I ask because it seems part of the concern both here and in Europe is default on govt. debt.

  • “I suppose there are a few filled with graces who are productive without any accountability, but I certainly am not.”

    No, no! I’d be happy to slave twelve hours a day in the law mines whether I needed the money or not. I’d do it simply for the privilege of seeing justice done and enjoying the warm camraderie of my fellow shar–attorneys. Nothing makes me more joyous than seeing a desk clogged with paperwork, 12 phone calls to return and 3 clients waiting to see me! 🙂

    (Exit Don stage left pursued by men carrying a white garment and wielding a large net.)

  • Donald,

    It’s not really fair to say that government is a parasite. There’s a whole swath of economic literature devoted to explaining the provision of public goods, and why these goods would be underprovided by the private sector. Only the staunchest libertarians would argue against this theory on the grounds that there is no “social optimum” or common good — but we’re Catholics, and we don’t buy that premise. We’re not on board with the idea that social goods are incommensurable.

    When you say that government is merely appropriating funds on one hand and spending them on the other, you’re basically describing all economic exchange. One entity provides income/revenue to another entity in exchage for some good or service. The only way I can think that gov’t transactions differ from private exchange is that taxation is distortionary to prices and introduces deadweight loss — certainly a concern, but hardly enough to call all government transactions parasitic.

    Perhaps part of your concern is that the goods and services provided by gov’t are somewhat amorphous at times and fraught with waste and inefficiency — what kind of service, exactly, is “regulatory compliance,” anyway? And am I getting my money’s worth for it? But that is a different color argument, whether we like what we get in return for our taxes. As a conservative myself, I think that’s a very good argument to have, but it’s not the same as saying that government is a parasite.

  • Back on the topic of MMT (by way of the employer of last resort issue), perhaps Alex can explain why seigniorage is not inflationary in his view? There are basically three ways government can raise revenues: taxes, debt, or printing money. The first two don’t seem to add to the money supply (unless investors acquire government debt through their own borrowed funds created by banks? And my knowledge of the Fed here is also lacking — doesn’t it create reserves to buy back government debt?), but printing money clearly does.

  • “It’s not really fair to say that government is a parasite.”

    It is far more than fair, it is accurate. Government produces no wealth of its own but lives off the wealth that it confiscates by law from others. I did not argue that nothing done by government is useful. Just as there are useful parasites in nature, government, when kept at a minimal level, provides useful functions, most notably defense, law enforcement and a legal system for resolving civil and criminal disputes. When government, like parasites in nature, grows too large, and I think clearly government is far too large today in the US and all other Western countries, it can harm the health of the host and even kill it.

  • Government produces no wealth of its own but lives off the wealth that it confiscates by law from others.

    I think the question here hinges on what one means by “producing wealth”.

    I think I’d be basically ready to get behind a definition along the lines of, “You produce wealth when you produce some good or provide some service which others are willing to assign value to — the amount of wealth you produce being equivalent to the value which is assigned to it.”

    In this sense, I think one would have to say that government does produce some wealth, in that it provides some goods and services (road building, policing, defense, etc.) that people would willingly pay for if it were not being provided to them already.

    Now, since the government is funded through non-voluntary payments, I’d argue the prices are set poorly — it may not have the right incentives in place to do only the amount of road building that people actually want, and to deliver it at the prices that people would consider worth paying if there were an actual price mechanism in place. But in that many of the services government usually provides would exist (though in some other form) as private, paid services if government were not providing them, I think we’d have to say it produces some value.

    (Of course, in your analogy, so does a beneficial parasite, so that doesn’t necessarily rebut the parasite analogy.)

  • What’s your definition of wealth? If you mean that the government doesn’t own factories that manufacture and sell products, then you’re right – it doesn’t do this (thank goodness!). But the “wealth” of the nation is measured by other real goods and services, and I would argue that the government – by marshalling the resources to produce public goods that the private sector will not provide or will provide insufficiently — does add to that wealth. Often these goods are not easily marketable, which is why we have gov’t provide them in the first place. Milton Friedman and others have suggested innovative ways to get the government out of all kinds of businesses, but the fact remains that the government still *is* in the business of providing many things, whether we like it or not.

    The goods you mention – national defense, law enforcement, and a legal system – are the typical ones that even a libertarian would agree to, but the question one should ask is, What are the attributes of those goods that make them prime targets for public rather than private provision? And the next question is, Aren’t some of those attributes inherent in other goods and services currently provided by the government?

  • An easy way to look at it Darwin is simply to ask most people to compute all of the taxes they pay each year: income tax, social security tax, medicare tax, property tax, local taxes. sales tax, taxes on utility bills, use taxes, government “fees”, etc . Then ask them if this were a voluntary transaction would they pay this amount for the services they receive. I suspect that in most cases the response would range the gamut from “No!” to “Hell No!”. The essential functions of government, Defense, Law Enforcement and the Legal System, involve only a fraction of current governmental expenditures. I am no libertarian that believes that we can dispense with government entirely, but for far too long we have lived at the other end of the exteme in regard to the role of the economy, and we have the bankrupt governments to show for it. In regard to wealth, every cent that the government uses to perform its functions, other than the rental or sale of property own by the government, comes from the private sector either directly through taxes, or indirectly, to give value to money conjured out of thin air. I think that is clearly a parasitical relationship between government and the private sector. The task for us all is to keep the host healthy and the parasite overall beneficial to the host, and I don’t think we can make either statement today.

  • Then ask them if this were a voluntary transaction would they pay this amount for the services they receive. I suspect that in most cases the response would range the gamut from “No!” to “Hell No!”

    Of course! This is how private incentives diverge from socially optimal outcomes, and it’s the reason we have gov’t tax and provide goods in the first place. I suspect the baskets passed around the pews don’t do justice to the Church, either.

    There are a couple problems with trying to make some connection between private preferences and the “price” of government services: (1) The value you receive from some government services is by design not equal to what you pay. I’m not a fan of major wealth redistribution, but there has to be some recognition of the fact that, in our history, we have chosen to use government as one way of providing a social safety net. (2) You probably don’t “see” a lot of the things the government provides to you as a citizen. You might only hear about them when they fail to do their job. There are, for example, all kinds of services in the areas of project and risk management that are basically invisible to most taxpayers, yet those services are part and parcel of delivering complex public goods like defense, law enforcement, etc.

  • Government creates wealth. It runs a mail delivery business, transportation businesses (trains and buses), health insurance businesses, annuity business, investment insurance business (AIG), and car manufacture business (GM). You can argue that it shouldn’t do those things and I would agree in most cases but “government doesn’t create wealth” is a meaningless cliche. “The government isn’t good at creating wealth” is closer to the truth.

    Government should do those things which would get done absent transaction costs but don’t. IOW, it produces a more efficient outcome than not doing it but it won’t get done by the private sector solely because of significant transaction costs most likely due to the non-excludable nature of the goods or services. This would include national defense, law enforcement, and roads.

    But that’s all irrelevant since we’re talking about welfare which is inherently inefficient but necessary.

  • Thank you for your comments! I have been very busy, but tomorrow I will have some time to respond.

  • Victor Davis Hanson, “Zero jobs last month — a net change of zero job growth?
    It was just announced that last month’s unemployment is still above 9% — despite the nearly five trillion dollars in Keynesian pump-priming, the near zero interest rates, the expanded unemployment and food stamp support, and the government takeovers and subsidies of businesses. There is a scary sort of deer-in-the-headlights look about Obama and Biden that is quite disturbing. . . . In the last 30 months, the Obama administration has created a psychological landscape that finally just seemed, whether fairly or not, too hostile to most employers to risk new hiring and buying. Each act, in and of itself, was irrelevant. Together they are proving catastrophic and doing the near impossible of turning a brief recovery into another recession. . . . Highly publicized visits to bankrupt subsidized green plants, blaming George Bush, new racially-driven invective from some congresspeople against the Tea Party, sermons about the sensitivities of illegal aliens, politically-correct tutorials about Islam — all that might rally the base or in isolation be understandable, but again fairly or not, such liberal rhetoric simply adds to the problem from yet another dimension: confirming perceptions that employers are about the last people in the world that this administration is worried about.”

    They are confiscating $25 billion (giving it to ACORN clones for campaign support) from mortgage servicers based on the robo-signing witch hunt.

    They are now suing big banks for making mortgages when the government policy was “everyone should own their home.”

    Obamacare costs – how much per worker?

    Dodd-Frank.

    The Consumer Finance Portection Bureau will stop banks from pounding on working class Americans and virtuously force them to their knees.

    The regime’s war against coal and electric generating utilities.

    Drilling bans and moratoria.
    […]

    etc.

    Four more years of that and there could well be mass starvation and cannibalism.

  • Donald – I think I understand what you mean by parasite. I guess what I’m saying is that gov’t spending creates wealth in the private sector that the private sector wouldn’t create by itself. That is, by spending it employs people and capital to produce something that would otherwise be unemployed or unused in the private sector. Gov’t doesn’t really ‘crowd out’ the private sector until full employment.

    I don’t mind lowering taxes as a means to increase employment, but it won’t provide full employment without inflation. It will only move us toward a lower unemployment level without inducing accelerating inflation.

    I also disagree with Milton in many ways, but that is another matter.

    RR – I agree. My desire for employment over unemployment insurance is based on the Church’s teaching about the dignity of work. I recommend Laborem Exercens if you are unfamiliar with what I mean.

    Micha – I don’t understand the reference. I don’t support prisons or workhouses. That is not a part of this proposal.

    T. Shaw – I don’t appreciate your condescending argument. I don’t doubt the things Obama has done has eliminated some jobs. I also don’t doubt that what he has done has added some jobs. I am looking at big picture here and NOT at other policies. Neither Obama nor Bush are to blame for our economic woes.

    Mrs. Zummo – I agree, there needs to be accountability. My proposal is for there to be some accountability, that is, administrators of the program will need to be able to discipline or fire if necessary with conditions places on rehiring. There are no doubt going to be people who are looking to take advantage of the program just like people try to take advantage of other welfare programs and just like people try to take advantage of their situations in the private sector. It is our job as Christians to change their hearts and minds. I’m hoping that guaranteeing a job will help many individuals escape their circle of poverty and help them develop as a person.

    Phillip – I recommend reading elsewhere for more in depth arguments on why governments sovereign in their own currency cannot default on their debt. The basic idea is that a government who controls its own currency can’t default. If they go crazy spending without taxing, inflation will likely be problem but not insolvency. European Union members are not sovereign in their own currency, they gave up that ability by adopting the Euro. They are similar to State and local governments in the US. In both of these cases, the governments can default on their payments, because they do not issue their own currency. I recommend http://moslereconomics.com/wp-content/powerpoints/7DIF.pdf, fraud #1.

    J. Christian – Those are good questions. Seignorage typically is inflationary. Gov’t spending isn’t constrained by tax revenue or bond sales. Deficit spending, all else equal, tends to be inflationary. Rising unemployment and underutilization of capital is deflationary. Taxes take away from the money supply. Bonds are used by the Fed for interest rate management. They drain reserves from the private sector, also decreasing the money supply. The transactions between the Fed and the Treasury are tricky accounting, I recommend going elsewhere for better explanations, as my knowledge here is also lacking.
    Maybe here: Stephanie Bell, “Do Taxes and Bonds Finance Government Spending?”, Journal of Economic Issues, Sept 2000

    So yes, ‘printing dollars’ tends to be inflationary, but in an economy of widespread unemployment and underutilization, it won’t be. So far deficits have managed to fight off deflation, but note that despite large deficits, bond interest rates are at an all-time low and inflation is very low. Japan has been a great example of the same thing.

    The ELR policy is designed to let deficits float so as to increase in a deflationary economic climate, and decrease in an inflationary economic climate. Fixing the price of low-skilled labor will help to stabilize prices as well (much like the gold standard…the major difference is that labor is a much more important ‘commodity’ than gold in our economy).

    DarwinCatholic – Part of what causes inflation is the government paying for goods and services at the “market price” from businesses that continue to raise prices because they know they’ll have a contract from the government and also because the government buys too much in some cases and too little in others. This contributes to inflation. Pegging an important price will help to stabilize this problem.

    I also think that gov’t spending allocates resources toward providing things that wouldn’t be provided by the private sector (or at least not enough of the good or service provided to enough of the people). If it were provided by the private sector at a price that allowed enough of the people to use it so that it was deemed ‘socially optimal’ than the gov’t would have no need of stepping in. I recognize that doesn’t stop them from stepping in, but I don’t think that much of what the gov’t provides through its spending would be deemed socially optimal if the private sector were the sole provider.

    Donald – The federal gov’t cannot go bankrupt, unless they voluntarily declare it.

    J. Christian – I agree completely.

    RR – I agree. This program isn’t meant to be welfare, however. It is meant to provide full employment and impart some price stability on the economy, which in addition to helping our overall economy has the added benefit (and perhaps more important benefit) of allowing individuals to develop as persons by providing for themselves and their families and growing in virtue.

    T. Shaw – I agree somewhat. A lot of what Obama has said and done has been unhelpful. I don’t think he or Bush are completely to blame for our economic woes, but Obama and Congress can do something. They can recognize that the federal government can’t go bankrupt, that inflation isn’t a problem in an economy of widespread underutilization, and can therefore increase deficits which add to private sector wealth which stimulates the economy and adds jobs. It does matter how those deficits are spent. They need to be given to the private sector to be spent and not saved. If people choose to draw down their private debt which seems rational, it won’t help the economy in the short run and therefore may actually hurt their long-run prospects via the paradox of thrift.

    This proposal will take some time to implement and would not be an immediate fix, but would be a long term help to our economy. For immediate help I recommend a payroll tax holiday for both employers and employees and a large amount of stimulus sent to the state governments to prevent cuts in police, fire, education, etc.

    It doesn’t seem like Keynesian prime pumping has worked because it really wasn’t big enough. Proof is the lack of recovery with simultaneously low inflation and historically low interest rates. If there were no recovery but inflation and interest rates were high, then Keynesian pump priming would be proven to be unsuccessful. EU nations can’t engage in Keynesian stimulus because they don’t issue their own currency.

    I appreciate all your comments. I would prefer that the debate be about the program and not about government in general. I think most can agree there is a role for government in our society, I’d like to debate about whether one of those roles should be as an employer of last resort. I am happy to debate it among so many Catholics and Christians who will not only argue from economic reasoning but who also care about the Church’s social teaching and see a higher purpose for government and economy than simple want/need satisfying.

  • Alex,

    I’m not sure the article you linked is persuasive. Sorry, I’m still not persuaded that your premise that allows unlimited debt is valid.

  • Fair enough, but please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that unlimited debt is good, I am simply saying that governments sovereign in their own currency cannot go insolvent. Inflation would certainly be an issue if spending far outpaced receipts. I am saying that we haven’t reached that point yet and that we aren’t anywhere close.

    Perhaps the Modern Money Primer at New Economic Perspectives will help.

  • If government creates no wealth whatsoever, then that paycheck I get twice a month must just be a figment of my deranged imagination, as is all that money I pay for rent, utilities, gas, food, clothing, etc. Funny, but neither my landlord nor any of the merchants and vendors I patronize has ever complained about the fact that I have been propping them up with their recycled tax dollars all these years 🙂

    Seriously, though, instead of claiming that government creates NO wealth or that it is a mere parasite it might be more accurate to say that its ability to create wealth is LIMITED in comparison to that of the private sector.

    Obviously government employees get paid real money (at least for the moment!), support real live families and households, and buy real homes, cars, and other stuff so they have some positive effect on the economy. The question is whether or not the economic benefit their spending generates outweighs the economic “drag” of the taxes required to support their jobs. That answer will vary depending on what kind of jobs are involved, the level of additional taxation or debt required (if any), etc.

  • Confiscation of the wealth produced by others Elaine is not wealth creation and that is how the State pays its bills. (I mean no disrespect to public sector employees, especially since I am not infrequently appointed by courts to represent indigigent individuals and I am then paid by county funds. The system is broken and those who work for the government are just as much victims of it as those who are not.) In Illinois I think the current government of our state is doing its best to vividly demonstrate how government can kill the private sector.

    http://blogs.wttw.com/moreonthestory/2011/05/09/illinois-gets-bad-grade-for-business/

    I thank New York and California from keeping Illinois from being completely at the bottom.

    This is a completely government created disaster. Illinois is a wealthy state, but the feckless policies of our state government have landed us in de facto bankruptcy.

  • Pacem, Alex and Mac,

    Whew!

    “Opinion is not truth.” Plato. “Theory is not reality.” Me.

    Alex, I apologize. I thought you made up that nutty stuff about “modern money theory” (MMT). Google tells me it was dreamt up in the 1920’s.

    I say if it was ever implemented the economy would fall apart by the first sunset. Some blasted fact that we have been working with since the day of creation would rear up and knock it over.

    Anyhow, Krugman’s embarce of MMT may explain why he is a raving lunatic.

    MMT and “income redistribution”: they ought to shut down the entire economist profession.

    “MMT aims to describe and analyze modern economies in which the national currency is fiat money, established and created exclusively by the government. In MMT, money enters circulation through government spending; Taxation is employed to establish the fiat money as currency, giving it value by creating demand for it in the form of a private tax obligation that can only be met using the government’s currency.[2][3] An ongoing tax obligation, in concert with private confidence and acceptance of the currency, maintains its value. Because the government can issue its own currency at will, MMT maintains that the level of taxation relative to government spending (the government’s deficit spending or budget surplus) is in reality a policy tool that regulates inflation and unemployment, and not a means of funding the government’s activities per se.”

    MMT is the statist’s equivalent of winning the Lottery. It works really horridly in Zimbabwe. We better not let them try it here.

    Reality: Even with Federal Reserve Notes, “confidence and acceptance” in the “full faith and credit” are waning as evidenced by gold is now worth over $1,900 worthless Federal Reserve Notes an ounce. And, 20% of t we the people can’t find work.

    Bastiat:

    “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

    “Taxes must, in the end, fall upon the consumer”

    “The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.”

    “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force; like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” George Washington, Farewell Address

  • So the USPS “confiscates” wealth while UPS, what, merely requests it? When I get on a NYC bus my money is stolen but when I get on Greyhound it’s voluntarily handed over?

  • Alex, I mentioned the dignity of work when I proposed a similar program on this blog before. Some responded that there isn’t much dignity in picking up trash.

  • “So the USPS “confiscates” wealth while UPS, what, merely requests it? When I get on a NYC bus my money is stolen but when I get on Greyhound it’s voluntarily handed over?”

    The USPS is a government monopoly RR that is going broke. I can think of no better symbol for the parasite state’s futile efforts to foster a pretend “independent” business than the USPS.

  • RR — I’d love to read your proposal. Do you have a link?

    I think there can be dignity in picking up trash. It doesn’t seem like very pleasant work, but it does clean up our environment. I’d say it depends on how the worker was treated on whether or not he/she received dignity from such work. Do we as a society treat them as trash because they pick up trash, or do we thank them for doing work that seems quite undesirable to us?

    I think the degradation of work comes from people more often than it comes from the actual work being done.

  • T. Shaw — No, I didn’t make it up, but I don’t think it’s nutty either. You misunderstand it, and it sounds as if you do it almost deliberately.

    MMT is a description of money from a balance sheet accounting perspective, not a way to use gov’t finance. Zimbabwe didn’t “use” MMT, but the way they spent and taxed can be explained by MMT and their hyperinflation easily predicted by MMT. Understanding MMT doesn’t automatically lead to Zimbabwe. In fact, understanding it would lead to greater price stability and economic prosperity because you would understand that deficits DO matter, that is, the level of spending and the level of taxation DOES matter for determining the value of the currency. Zimbabwe had very little tax enforcement, as did the Confederacy. Their inability to enforce tax payments coupled with their spending levels led to their hyperinflations.

    Krugman doesn’t embrace MMT. I don’t know where you get that from, he’s clearly rejected several times now.

    Flight to gold often happens in recessions because people think its ‘safe’. Flight to US Bonds has also happened. Do you think that would happen if we were heading toward Zimbabwe?

    So we don’t “implement” or “use” MMT. MMT describes what is already happening. If you take it seriously then you would see that we need higher deficits right now, not a balanced budget. This isn’t a pro-big gov’t stance, it’s reality. The gov’t defines our currency, our money. We can vote and demand from our representatives what we want gov’t to do in our society. We can have a smaller gov’t or a larger gov’t and still be described accurately by MMT. If you want a smaller gov’t, great! But don’t expect things to turn around if you want to get there by balancing the budget.

  • Alex, my idea was basically identical to yours without the economic arguments. I accounted for household size but I think your idea to have a flat wage and take care of household size independently is probably a better idea.

    Sure, picking up trash SHOULD be dignified work, but society doesn’t view it as such. Given reality, can it still be said to be dignified?

  • Alex,

    “Zimbabwe had very little tax enforcement, as did the Confederacy.” Does that mean when Jeff Davis and President for Life Mugabe ordered the mints to print C$15 billion and Z$86 quadrillion, respectively, they forgot to order the CIRS and ZIRS to collect suffucient proportional taxes of the C$15 billion and Z$86 quadrillion to make MMT function efficiently in the CSA or Zimbabwe?

    Try these quotes.

    Head of Deutsche Bank, “It is an open secret that numerous European banks would not survive having to revalue sovereign debt held on the banking book at market levels.” PS: US banks had a similar poblem with LDC debt in the early 1980’s. “There is nothing new under the Sun. ‘

    ZeroHedge:
    The cost of a weak country leaving the Euro is significant. Consequences include sovereign default, corporate default, collapse of the banking system and collapse of international trade. There is little prospect of devaluation offering much assistance. We estimate that a weak Euro country leaving the Euro would incur a cost of around EUR9,500 to EUR11,500 per person in the exiting country during the first year. That cost would then probably amount to EUR3,000 to EUR4,000 per person per year over subsequent years. That equates to a range of 40% to 50% of GDP in the first year.

    Walter Russell Mead: “An economic crisis is nature’s revenge on those who make and those who accept false promises; it is a holocaust of lies when the dross is burned away and only what is real and true remains. Think of cotton candy melting and charring in the flame of a blowtorch; that is what is happening to the secure retirements that ‘caring’ blue politicians and ‘committed’ blue union leaders promised gullible (Rhode Island) state workers.”

  • T. Shaw — I don’t know what the leaders of Zimbabwe thought would happen, but I am saying that those who understand MMT would have known that printing and spending so much gov’t currency would lead to inflation if it wasn’t backed by a sufficient tax increase.

    Quotes from famous people aren’t good arguments in and of themselves.

    European Union members who adopted the Euro gave up their ability to issue their own currency thereby making it possible to default in the Euro–they may actually “run out” of Euros. Note that the UK and Switzerland don’t have this scare because they kept their currency.

    I actually agree that economic crises are somehwat a result of making and accepting false promises, e.g., the enormous buildups of private debt that stimulate bubbles and financial crises. I don’t know enough about Rhode Island politics to say whether the promise made was good or bad or held up, but that is beside the point (note that U.S. states are like EU members in that they use another institution’s currency and don’t issue their own). What does it have to do with this debate?

    Your knowledge of quotes is fairly extensive, I am impressed. Try reading and learning more about money and the history of money and you will see that what I’m saying is not madness, but is, in fact, quite likely very true.

  • RR — I guess I have hope that it can. Whether it is or ever will be dignified, I do not know. Maybe if more of us spread the word that such work can be dignified our society will see it a different way. Our society once thought slavery was necessary and morally acceptable.

  • Alex,

    I misspent the past 34 years working in the banking system. In that time, I’ve seen good times and bad. I dealt with (hands on) the financial and credit solutions to the “lesser developed countries” debt crisis; the Ag and energy crises of the early 1980’s; the S&L crisis (the FHLBB magnified that massive national loss/fustercluck about 2000%); the 1990’s Com’l RE crises; and in 2005 I saw coming this housing bubble/bust.

    You have a question, I will answer it.

    You do understand this unnecessary hell/housing bubble burst in 2007. It’s 2011 and the idiots that run the Fed and Congress are nowhere near achieving a housing recovery after four years. My associates and I saw it coming. No one listened. They were making too much money, BUT no wealth was created. Plus, the ratio of housing prices to disposal income (in the USAF they called that trajectory “going ballistic”) was a (800 lb gorilla in the room) clue that no one wanted to see.

    I know who invented the gold standard, and why it was required.

    I know how money is created: I do not mean printed ala Monopoly Money. Plus, there is, believe it or not a velocity of, or turnover of, money that can be accelerated or decelerated.

    Economic growth and development are principally/simply based on fostering physical resources, (educated, trained, virtuous) labor and capital/entrepreneurship. This regime is at war with (what it views as) the evil, unjust private sector. This country, and especially its so-called leaders, suffer from surpluses of vice and deficits of virtue.

    PS: Believe it or not, I have a BA in economics.

Council of Jerusalem

Thursday, September 1, AD 2011

A question arose yesterday in a thread, posed by Michael:

I have a real question. Homosexuality, as a sin an abomination, is mentioned in Leviticus. That book, however, also says:
 – disrespect of parents should be punishable by death
 – sleeping with a woman during her period should make both parties outcasts
 – don’t eat pork
 – shellfish are an abomination

So my question is, why are some of the verses ignored and others so important?

It is a good question and sometimes confuses Catholics and non-Catholics.  The answer to the question is in the very earliest history of the Church.  After the ascension of Jesus, the apostles went about the great task of making “disciples of all the nations”, and Christianity began to spread among Jew and Gentile alike.  The question quickly arose as to whether Gentile converts would have to be circumcised (the males only of course!) and follow all of the Jewish laws regarding ritual purity.  If they were asked to do this, it would mean a complete revolution in their life.  They would no longer be able to even eat a meal with their Gentile relatives and friends.  Like the Jews, the Christians would be a people set apart, cut off from interacting in the simplest ways with non-Jews for fear of violating the hundreds of laws of the Old Testament regarding ritual purity.

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47 Responses to Council of Jerusalem

  • EXCELLENT post, Don! I don’t believe I have ever seen this issue explained more clearly and concisely. This should be a “must read” and a “must link” throughout St. Blog’s.

  • Thank you Jay. The Old Testament laws and their applicability to Christians is an issue that keeps coming up in current debates and Catholics need to know that the answer is a pretty simple one.

  • Jesus and then Paul were asking the Jews to chuck 4,000 years of following the Law and sacred traditions as they understood them. It’s easy to grasp the reluctance of many to adopt the “new covenant” on the mere say-so of a dozen followers of a man claiming to be God. Jesus claimed to fulfill the law, of which the curse was sickness, poverty and death.

    As these things continued after Christ’s death, many understandably could not embrace the new religion. This is the “stumbling block” that remains for Jews to this today and many others including atheists and agnostics.

    Don, your explanation as to why some portions of the OT apply and others do not rests on Paul and the other apostles’ interpretations solely. As Saul he was the chief persecutor of the followers of Jesus, then claimed to be his chief supporter. A 180, which we are to believe was the result of his “vision” on the trip to Damascus. Likewise we are to take at face value Peter’s “vision” about which animals are OK to eat.

    Down through the centuries, men and women have claimed to have “visions,” which they subsequently offer as “proof” of divine instruction to pass along as the “truth.” These would include Joe Smith as well, who launched Mormonism as well as Mohammed and countless other major and minor prophets. Which of these “visions” are valid and which are bogus? It boils down to who one choose to believe and nothing more.

  • If you believe in Christ Joe, you believe in what Saint Peter and Saint Paul taught, and the authority of the magisterium of the Church, since Christ granted to the Church through Saint Peter the power to bind and to loose. Saint Peter and Saint Paul believed in what Christ had taught and the evidence of this is the martyrdoms they embraced.

    I answered the question posed by Michael as to how Catholics determine what Old Testament laws are binding and what are not. The doubt that has eaten away at you for so long is something that only you, with the grace of God, can address for yourself. For all of us the essential question always remains the one posed by Christ to Saint Peter: “Who do you say that I am?”

  • Joe, I don’t think that Donald was offering a proof. He lays out a consistent rule and explains its origins. Nothing wrong with that.

  • For all of us the essential question always remains the one posed by Christ to Saint Peter: “Who do you say that I am?”

    I ask myself that same question every day and every day I come up with the same answer: “I don’t know.”

  • While everything you say about the Council is true, it doesn’t apply to some of the Levitical Laws such as disrespect of parents should be punishable by death or having “Cafeteria Jews” put to death, otherwise most Jews would have been dead by the time of Jesus and the prophets would have no-one to rail against.

    As with Catholicism, Judaism is not a religion of the book. The laws were understood in community and they had a purpose. For instance, the law for parents to kill disrespectful children was not so much a commandment for parents as protection for children since in order to carry out this commandment you needed to go to priestly council to pass judgment. Most parents would not go that far since they love their children, and those who would have, would likely have killed their children anyway. Once at the council, there priests can talk to both parties and achieve reconciliation or use other means such as disowning the child to protect the child. If you look at Jewish historical records you will see that such disrespectful child executions rarely happened, so that pastoral counseling must have worked.

    Protestants have a much harder time with the Council of Jerusalem since they can’t make an Ecumenical Council “God Breathed” since that would mean Catholic doctrine was true, but if they don’t, they can’t abandon Jewish Law since neither Paul nor Peter nor an Ecumenical Council that took the words of Paul or Peter has the authority to repudiate Jewish Law. And even if they could, “since it is in the Bible”, the council merely stated gentiles should follow the Seven Laws of Noah which are binding on gentiles and Jews alike and nothing in the Bible says that we have the freedom to eating of flesh cut from a living animal (more than a few food Christians commonly eat qualify, especially some ham and sea food) or be blissfully unaware of how the food was processed.

  • I’m not sure the following is 100% correct.

    I’ve read that Leviticus distinguishes between two types of laws:
    (1) Laws for the Jewish people
    (2) Laws that prevent “defile the land”

    The first type of laws (like not wearing polyester) apply only to those initiated into the Mosaic covenant.

    The second type of laws, laws prevent the defilement of the land, apply to all peoples, regardless of whether or not they are initiated into the covenant. Lev. 18:26: “The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things” lest “the land become defiled.”

    Here is a list of all the “sins which defile the land,” all the Old Testament laws which non-Jews had to obey, or be “cut off from the community.”
    1. Exod 12.19: Do not eat leaven at Passover
    2. Lev 17.8-9: Only offer sacrifice at the Tabernacle door
    3. Lev 17.10-12, 14: Do not eat blood
    4. Lev 18.26: Do not commit sins listed in 18.6-26 (including homosexuality)
    5. Lev 20.2-3: Do not give children for Molech

    Do these laws which Judaism extended to all people also extend to Christians?

    The Council of Jerusalem, which decided to admit Gentiles to the Church, admitted them to the Church on four conditions (Acts 15:29):
    • Do not eat things polluted by idols (#2 & 5 above)
    • Do not commit porneia (sexual immorality) (#4 above)
    • Do not eat whatever has been strangled (#3 above)
    • Do not eat blood (#3 above)*

    In other words, the only condition which the Apostles laid down for Gentiles to enter the Church was that they keep all the laws which the Jewish Law commanded non-Jews to keep.

  • Jesus and then Paul were asking the Jews to chuck 4,000 years of following the Law

    1,000 years.

  • Art, give or take a millennia or two. Supposedly, Adam and Eve were created around 4,006 B.C., according to Bishop Usher (Oct. 15 if memory serves at around 9 a.m. eastern standard time), and since the Hebrews soon followed, 3,000 years would seem to be in the ballpark. But whatever the number, the original point holds: that for a long time the ancient Jews subscribed to rigid ritual.

  • “They were required to fellow the ten commandments” If that is so, then we should be going to church on Saturday, nor could we have statues or pictures of Jesus. The ten commandments were a part of the Old Covenant, as much as the law of kosher was. The laws of God existed before the Old Covenant (see Genesis 26:5), so this isn’t an arguement for antinomism. We do use a form of the ten in cathesis, but it isn’t the ten commandments of the Old Covenant. Jesus in the Sermon On The Mount, went beyond the mere letter of the law, and taught us the intent or the spirit of the law. we are no longer under the letter of the law, which kills, but the spirit of the law which gives life. (IICor 3:6-18)

  • No Stephen, the Ten Commandments, as interpreted by the Church, are still in full force and effect, as the Catechism amply demonstrates:

    “2068 The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the
    justified man is still bound to keep them;28 The Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bishops, successors
    of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to
    every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the
    Commandments.”29”

    Just one of many gifts that the Church has received from God through transmission by our beloved Jewish brethren.

  • Joe, if you don’t mind me saying, you describe your agnosticism like you’re in a dead-end relationship with it. Usually people stay in a dead-end relationship for a reason. So what are you getting out of it?

  • Just a lot of agonizing frustration, Pinky. Not much else. The search goes on.

  • Stephen, I believe your assessment is correct. The council dealt specifically with Jewish identity markers that were being forced upon Gentile converts. It did not deal with ‘the law.’ The coucil had to meet becasue there was a definite transition by the time that’s narrated in the Acts. It was peculiar to that time; this sort of thing could never again arise. Councils can and have been called ever since in various forms for different reasons. But who can say that the Spirit decided the results in each instance? I would never assume that.

  • The Sabbath Day of the Hebrews was Saturday because that is the day God rested. Christians came to have Sunday as Sabbath because that is the day of Christ’s Resurrection. The religious art was/is not worshipped as were idols.

    I look at the history as relayed, Stephen. Jesus, Divine and human, came to live among us and renew our spirits. We were, at the end of the Old Testament, fully involved with legislating the letter of the law with inhumane actions basing these on the Ten Commandments of old. As God saw the need for his people to have guidelines for worthy lives then, He also saw how we lost its meaning through lack of love of Him and one another. We made the laws to be ones that kill. He made them to give life to His people. So, the New Testament.

    In the New Testament, Jesus was born a man to clarify and help us get away from being bogged down with the letters, the way we do. He taught the spirit of the law, loving God and neighbor, which necessarily entails lovingly obeying the Ten Commandments. I think He came as a reminder that that God loves His people beyond our capability of understanding the depth. I don’t agree that He meant that we forget any of His guidance throughout the ages. Jesus also added the neighbor consciousness to determine that we understand Gentiles are also God’s children, who had customs different from those of Hebrews which were not going to make a difference in spiritual salvation.

    Thank you for this post on the Council of Jerusalem. It’s such a clear approach. I was thinking of how to reply to Michael’s question. All I could come up with was unclean: shellfish being bottom feeders (no plumbing then), pork somewhat the same reason (garbage for a diet), the woman unable to conceive at this time would entail pure lust, and the parents being an example of how unlovingly man tweeked God’s law – all evidence of no chastity or raising mind and spirit above the organs below the waist.

  • I suspect that the command against eating meat from strangled animals and consuming blood refers more to some kind of (for lack of a better term) “active participation” in pagan sacrifices or rituals, than it does to simply eating meat or meat products that have not been processed in accordance with specified dietary laws. Otherwise eating blood sausage would still be a mortal sin, I’d think. I believe this is also one of the biblical passages that the Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret as forbidding blood transfusions.

    In any event I have always understood that the command against “porneia” or “immorality” meant that all Old Testament laws defining certain sexual RELATIONSHIPS as immoral carry over into New Testament law and are also binding on Christians — including laws against homosexuality and incest.

    Furthermore, the Greek word “porneia” used here also occurs in the Gospel of Matthew when Christ states that anyone who divorces his wife “except for immorality (porneia)” and marries another commits adultery. Now many Protestants interpret this to mean that Christ allowed divorce if either spouse commits adultery, but the most common and orthodox Catholic reading of this passage that I have heard, is that it probably refers to already married converts from paganism who would never have been allowed to marry under Jewish law because their relationships were considered incestuous or immoral. Those couples were free to dissolve their unions and marry again, but not anyone else.

    However, other sexual purity laws such as the rule against intercourse during menstruation and the accompanying necessity for women to ritually purify themselves every month (google “Laws of Niddah” or “mikvah” if you care to know more about it), do not carry over into Christianity.

  • While everything you say about the Council is true, it doesn’t apply to some of the Levitical Laws such as disrespect of parents should be punishable by death…

    Anil Wang

    That law was the reason why the request of the Prodigal Son was so scandalous to Jesus’ hearers when He spoke the parable of that name.

    By the way, do you have any historical evidence to demonstrate that Judeans normally carried out executions in the name of this law?

  • Don

    you knocked it on the head. keep up the good work.

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  • Really ,this is a lot of stuff. Love and Honor God .Love and Honor your neighbor and the rest of the words are meant to make some people think they know more than they really know.
    Listen to the reports of some of our dedicated priests about the actions in Philadelphia and Kansas City.These dedicated men have to deal with the shame brought on by the pedophile priets and that heirarchy who covered up for them.

    A lot of prayer and love is needed.

  • @ Joe

    You are right, the million dollar question is, who was Jesus? Was he just a crazy man or was he really God made flesh? It is obviously an all or nothing question, but how do we know?

    The way to know can actually be answered by your reference to Joseph Smith. You asked what is the difference between trusting Peter or trusting Joseph Smith?

    Well first we know that Peter was taught by Jesus directly, while Joseph Smith claims to have had a vision from an Angel.

    Second, Peter’s words can be checked against the other 10 Apostles whom were taught directly by Jesus, while we are left to just take Joseph Smith at his word, that he really did see an angle, that the gold tablets really did exist, that he was actually able to translate them, etc.

    The list could actually go on, but you can read if you are interested in seeing the differences.

    So, it seems that if you are going to trust someone, it should be Peter, but that begs the questions, can Peter (or any of the Apostles) be trusted?

    I believe Peter can be trusted exactly because he has 10 other Apostles who say the same thing he did. But was it a conspiracy then, did all the Apostles create a big lie? Well if they did lie, they are both incredibly smart and incredibly stupid. I mean think about it. They were able to convince other people to follow them, even to the point of death, so they must have been really good “liars”. But they also must have been idiots because they didn’t gain anything from their “lies”. Not money, or fame, or women, or anything, except certain death.

    So to me, it seems that they were not lying, and that all of them must have been convinced that Jesus was in fact God. But what do you think?

  • Oops, I tried to put an HTML tag in my message but it didn’t work exactly right. Sorry about that, but you can still click on it and get the article I was trying to reference.

  • Paul also deals with the Jew/Gentile transition in a bit of a different way, I think. Rather than a council, he recommends private conviction. The ‘strong’ are not to pick on the ‘weak’, and neither is to judge or try to change the other in such matters of food, drink, and ceremonial days, etc.

  • Joel, I think Peter has much more cred than Joe Smith given he was a contemporary of Jesus and the apostles, according to the New Testament. Whether Peter or anyone “lied,” I cannot say, but just because many followed him and died as martyrs is not persuasive in and of itself. More than 900 people followed Peoples Temper leader Jim Jones to the grave in Jonestown in 1978.

    What is more convincing, however, is the undeniable magnetism of Christ. i would be willing to admit that Jesus of Nazareth is the most compelling person in all of history and his mark on humanity supersedes all others. I think about him every day. He has said, “come to me all ye who are weary and I will give you rest.” Although I do not pray much any more, that is the one hope I cling to: that I may have rest either in this life or the next.

    Thanks for your kind words.

  • I think what is convincing is that Christianity has lasted as a very significant world religion, and has since grown too. Also, it’s profoundly impacted and shaped cultures right up till the present. I don’t see those kinds of results happen so dynamically in the case of other religions. A few come close, perhaps, but don’t reach the extent Christianity does.

  • Am I right to believe, then, that the prohibitions in Leviticus concerning homosexual practices carry forward to the New Testament?
    That seems to be the case as from what I read and what one priest told me homosexuals found guilty of abominations were being executed right up into the 18th century.
    Please understand that I’m not advocating here for queers to be put to death but rather to genuinely understand what’s going on.
    Patrick Madrid says that Jesus Himself did away with the laws of Leviticus, at least concerning homosexuals, when He said “let him without sin cast the first stone” but how does Jesus’ retort reconcile with my second paragraph if in fact it’s true?

  • If you don’t remove me from moderation I will no longer offer my comments here.

  • Yes they do Michael, especially since Saint Paul repeats the condemnation of homosexual conduct. The Church has always condemned it, as did virtually all Christian churches until the day before yesterday in historical terms.

    Romans of course legislated against sex between free born men as early as the Lex Scantinia, in 225 BC so the Christian attitude against homosexual sex was not sui generis in the ancient world.

    Jesus extended mercy to the woman caught in adultery and saved her from the equivalent of a lynch mob. The act of Jesus in giving mercy to the woman caught in adultery has never been considered as voiding the laws of Leviticus regarding homosexual conduct. Judging from the article linked below by Patrick Madrid I’d say that you have misinterpreted what he wrote. If you would care to link to the article where he made the statement you refer to, I would be happy to look at it.

    http://www.thebostonpilot.com/articleprint.asp?id=7081

  • Pat,

    It was needed in a prior posting.

    You’re back off moderation.

  • Donald, I still have Madrid’s email where he told me exactly what I said he said, so I’m not misrepresenting anything.
    He might’ve changed his tune since he said that to me, but what he said is what he said (I have it in writing) and I find it unfortunate that you would jump to the conclusion that he didn’t say what he said and then ever so subtly put my integrity on the line by saying I misrepresented him.
    That said your reply leaves me even more in the dark as to why the punishment of death for homosexual abominations no longer applies and when it was lifted and by whom.
    I’d be so grateful to get answers to those queries.

  • No Michael what I said was that what you said Madrid wrote appears to contradict what he wrote in the article I linked to and therefore I assumed that you must have misinterpreted what he wrote. Post what he said to you in the e-mail and I will look at it. I will go farther than that. If there is a contradiction I will send off an e-mail to Mr. Madrid asking him to comment. I do not know how I can be fairer than that.

    In regard to homosexual conduct the penalties were always in the hands of the state and not the Church. The death penalty for all sorts of offenses was much more common in the Eighteenth Century than in either the Nineteenth or the Twentieth centuries.

  • Looking at that article I linked to by Madrid, I see this paragraph:

    “In the Old Covenant, homosexual activity was punishable by death: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them” (Leviticus 20:13). Thankfully, in the New Covenant, that punishment no longer applies, but the Church reminds us of the much worse eternal punishment that awaits those (whether homosexual or heterosexual) who refuse to repent and turn from their sins.”

    If he is saying that Christians did not use the punishment of stoning, he is correct. I think there is nothing in that stating that the condemnation of Leviticus as to the conduct was not still in full force and effect, but that death by stoning was no longer required as a penalty. If your point Michael was Madrid stating that the penalty was no longer as set forth in Leviticus then what you are stating is correct. Of course the secular authorities were free to assess any penalty they wished to under the criminal law.

  • Donald moving on from Madrid what I am getting at is this.
    If Iran or any Muslim country for that matter were to put a queer to death for an abomination, in your opinion would Catholics and Christians, generally, be justified, perhaps even compelled to support what Iran did using Leviticus as their grounds since, as you confirm, Leviticus carries forward into the New Testament?

  • In thinking about the original post more, it dawned on me that Jesus himself laid the ground work for the Apostles to teach what they taught at the council of Jerusalem.

    Matthew 15:11 “Not what goes into the mouth defile a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” See verses 10-20 also.

    So this is good reason to reconsider the defilement laws of the Old Testament. But does that mean that the New Covenant was entirely replaced by the Old? Did Jesus ever say that homosexuality is not wrong? Not in so many words, but he did say this:

    Matthew 19:4-6 “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

    This clearly reaffirms that God created male and female, who are intended to be together. Also, if anyone is interested in what it means for the “two to become one” I would recommend the book “The Good News About Sex & Marriage” by Christopher West.

    @ Michael: Your questions regarding when crimes punishable by death were lifted, was clearly in John 8:7, “”Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” So if there were people still stoning homosexuals, they were wrong to do it. But can you be specific? Was there ever a Church document put out that said to stone homosexuals? When and where are you talking about when you say “right up until the 18th century”? The more information you can give, the better the answer you will get 🙂

  • “perhaps even compelled to support what Iran did using Leviticus as their grounds since, as you confirm, Leviticus carries forward into the New Testament?”

    No. Christians agreeing that particular conduct is sinful does not require support for a secular punishment of that sin. That has never been taught by the Church.

  • Plato: “Opinion is not truth.”

    T. Shaw: “Opinion is not reality; but you have a right to stick your fingers in your ears and feverishly stamp your feet.”

    Here is a list of the “sins which defile the land,” the Old Testament laws and were enforced for non-Jews, or they were “cut off from the community.”
    1. Exod 12.19: Do not eat leaven at Passover
    2. Lev 17.8-9: Only offer sacrifice at the Tabernacle door
    3. Lev 17.10-12, 14: Do not eat blood
    4. Lev 18.26: Do not commit sins listed in 18.6-26 (including homosexuality)
    5. Lev 20.2-3: Do not sacrifice children for Molech

    The Council of Jerusalem decided to admit Gentiles to the Church on condition (Acts 15:29):
    • Do not eat things polluted by idols (#2 & 5 above)
    • Do not commit porneia (sexual immorality) (#4 above)
    • Do not eat whatever has been strangled (#3 above)
    • Do not eat blood (#3 above)

  • Wonderful commentary. I always look at the Council of Jerusalem as a fulfillment of Matthew 16 and 18 and John 20. Peter and the Apostles where given the authority to bind and loose. In the Counsel of Jerusalem two fishermen and ex Pharisee overturned Law given to us by God through Abraham and Moses. The only way they could do that was if they were given authority by God. What ever they bind is bound, what ever they loose is loosed. The Church is the hand of God in the Church Militant, if they say do it you better do it, if they say you don’t have to do it then you shouldn’t do it. It seams pretty simple to me. It all comes down to authority, those that follow this teaching are Catholic those that go against this teaching are Protestant no matter how they actually refer to themselves.

  • Thank you, Tito. I’m aware that there are a variety of ways to view the council, what its import is for the church down through the ages. I don’t think it’s correct to view all councils as binding, since the test for me is whether it squares with scripture. If it squares with Scripture, then I consider it Spirit-inspired. It’s an application of the Bible within a particular context in that case.

  • I was not going to reply back to this, because I know it does not relate to the original post, but it is all I have been thinking about.

    Joe said: Joel, I think Peter has much more cred than Joe Smith given he was a contemporary of Jesus and the apostles, according to the New Testament. Whether Peter or anyone “lied,” I cannot say, but just because many followed him and died as martyrs is not persuasive in and of itself. More than 900 people followed Peoples Temper leader Jim Jones to the grave in Jonestown in 1978.

    I agree that Peter has more credibility than Joe Smith. I think we can know whether Peter or the Apostles were lying (at least with as much certainty as anything else we can know). But your comparing the followers of Jim Jones to the followers of the Apostles is not exactly the same. Those people apparently committed suicide (although who knows how many really knew what they were drinking?) while the Apostles and their followers were killed by other people. This is significant because all the Apostles or their followers had to do was recant their beliefs and they would have been spared. This is a crucial difference when we take into consideration what I was saying before, about did the Apostles lie about Jesus’ resurrection or did they tell the truth. Why would all 12 Apostles and Paul lie about Jesus being resurrected? What did they have to gain? I can see why someone like Joe Smith would lie, he had lots to gain (money, power, polygamy). Or Jim Jones can be explained with a simple: he was crazy and found other crazy (or easily convinced) people to follow him.

    But then could Jesus have been crazy and have found 12 crazy people to follow him? Well we have to ask ourselves, did Jesus rise from the dead? Either yes, which means he is God, or no. If no, then those 12 crazy Apostles decided to lie about the resurrection. Then we are to believe that all 12 crazy Apostles (and Paul came along a bit later) all worked together and were able to create what has to be the greatest conspiracy of all time. I mean think about it. All it would have taken to destroy the “lie”, would have been for just 1 of the Apostles to spill the beans. Yet we have no record of this happening. Why would Paul have done his ‘180’ and converted to Christianity? He had a great life and yet we are to believe that he “threw” it all away for a lie, but to gain what?

    So for me (I was once agnostic when it came to God, but it was thinking about this stuff that got me started down the proverbial rabbit hole) it is exactly because the Apostles had nothing to gain and they all remained united in their beliefs even to the point of death, that I can be sure that Jesus rose from the dead. (There are other things to further support the belief that the Apostles were not all lying: Peter having the title of First Apostle and the special place he has [why did no one else fight him for this], the unity of all the early church’s [they were all considered One Church, but how easy it would have been for say Thomas to go out and create his own church] etc.).

    What is more convincing, however, is the undeniable magnetism of Christ. i would be willing to admit that Jesus of Nazareth is the most compelling person in all of history and his mark on humanity supersedes all others.

    I am not sure exactly how “magnetic” Christ was? Obviously people sought him out, but it seems to me that it was more because of the miracles that he was performing. Obviously we view him as a great teacher, but many viewed his teachings as heretical and blasphemous. Read John Chapter 6, first he feeds the five thousand, but the next day he taught them about the Eucharist and said that to be saved they had to eat his flesh. John 6:66 says, “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him.”

    But what really sets Jesus apart from all other “prophets” or “great teachers” is the claim that he rose from the dead which would mean that he is God made flesh. Once I had accepted that, then I could move forward with understanding the Scripture. Otherwise, a person just thinks Jesus was a great teacher, then the Bible is really confusing and actually doesn’t make sense. The Early Church fathers used to say, “Either Jesus was God or he was a crazy man.”

  • Joel, I’ve heard the “either crazy or God” argument before, used I think by CS Lewis. But there’s a lot of in-between. Maybe Jesus truly believed he was the Son of God, a self-delusion alluded to in “The Passover Plot.” Perhaps, egged on by his followers, he reluctantly assumed the role. There are some ambiguous passages in the NT: “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” “The father is greater than I.”, etc.

    If the Apostles stuck with him to the end, willing to be martyred, they would hardly be the first to follow their leader to the grave, as I mentioned before. The Japanese samurai did it routinely, as did countless soldiers in battle. What did the apostles have to “gain”? Who knows? Maybe the assurance of an after-life from their master was enough, maybe they were just resigned to their fate. Renouncing Jesus likely would not have gotten them off the hook. Peter was going to be crucified one way or another for defying Roman authorities.

    I don’t rule out returning to the fold some day; but at this juncture I have too many burning questions, too many problems and issues with God to submit. Not the least of which is the age-old “problem of evil,” which has always been a huge hurdle for many wanting to believe. The failure of prayer is another. I have seen the righteous pray constantly for others, only to see their prayers unanswered. Innocents die, the wicked live on. Life is not fair. God is the author of life. God is not fair. That is my thinking. I can’t change it until I understand.

  • Joe, numerous theodicies have of course been written and nothing new can be said on the matter. Here’s my take based on my reading of the Bible: God created a perfect world. We became wayward. He calls us back to Himself but we continue to have a certain amount of free-will. As it’s exercised, this free-will is often used sinfully, which affects ourselves and others. The Lord deals with that on a higher level. But he doesn’t intervene so far as to eliminate that free-will with the entirety of results which follow. If He did, there would be grave problems for us philosophically. For example, are we not creatures endowed wtih choice-making ability? Does not God love us and wish us to respond in kind? If the answer to either or both those questions is negative, we are then faced with an even more difficult quandary.

  • Joe, please forgive this following. I’m just getting concerned about you.

    “What did the apostles have to “gain”? Who knows? Maybe the assurance of an after-life from their master was enough, maybe they were just resigned to their fate. Renouncing Jesus likely would not have gotten them off the hook.”

    The Holy Spirit on Pentecost visited them in the Upper Room, a visit that became the Catholic Church’s birthday. I wish for you such a visit – being sort of worried about your spiritual state of affairs.
    That old problem, Satan, is part of this vale of tears until the last day when Jesus comes back as promised. Our part is to strive to reach the fairness of God in eternity through virtues taught by Jesus, in the Gospels. Life isn’t fair, prayer lets God know us, we can’t tell Him what to do; but, I have to think that nothing we do without trying know Him is a waste of the time we have here. Please just don’t judge God as not fair, and shoot for understanding. You can get past your judgment.

  • Joe, I can see you have thought about this and are continuing to struggle, which is good.

    I would say though that the main point to consider is: did Jesus rise from the dead? If that question can be answered, then so many more will follow like domino’s.

    If he did, then obviously he is God. Which then answers the question as to why the Apostles would stay true to their beliefs.

    If he didn’t, then the Apostles lied about it. These 12 men must have had some reason for lying. What that reason would be, completely escapes me. The Apostles would have realized that their leader was dead. Their two options would have been to go home or pretend Jesus came back to life. Amazingly then, all 12 decided to take option number 2 and lie. Then even more amazingly they all continued to lie right up until their deaths. Who would do that? What are the chances that even one of them would not have said the heck with this, I am going home? And then their was Paul, who joins their ranks, but not like we would expect. He was doing quite well for himself, but he apparently threw it all away and joined the Christians. Why? I could understand if Paul had been given something (money, power, etc) but he had nothing. He was put in jail numerous times and was obviously going to be killed eventually. Are we to believe that he lied about Jesus blinding him on the road to Damascus?

    I know I can’t prove any of this to be 100% true, but when I consider the most likely scenario, 12 crazy apostles that lied just doesn’t seem plausible. So this leaves me with the first choice, that Jesus did rise from the dead.

    I am glad that you have engaged with me in this conversation because it helps me to grow in my faith when I have to explain what I believe and why. A lot of the atheists and agnostics I try to talk to just brush religion off as fairy tales that shouldn’t even be discussed because they feel as though nothing can really be proven. I obviously feel the opposite. I think that Christ and his Apostles can be proven in as much as we can weigh the different scenarios and believe the most likely one from the evidence. The final step is having faith, but it really becomes the same faith we have that the sun will rise tomorrow or faith in “what goes up, must come down”.

  • Joe Green,

    The apostles were not soldiers looking to take other lives with them like Muslim “martyrs” do.

    The apostles willingly went to their death peacefully and forgiving their persecutors.

    THAT is huge.

    Using your line of logic, can you convince 12 of your closest friends to die for a lie?

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