The theology of being good or mean

Do we need religion to tell us to be kind to others or do we need religion to give us permission to be selfish and inconsiderate of others?

This question follows from an article which outlines some of the scriptures used by some North Americans to justify policies which some of us might think are mean.

Shortly after leaving high school this guy came across a book called The Panchatantra which is part of the wisdom literature of ancient India.  One of the verses which has stayed with me through the years is:

Forget you prosings manifold,
the moral law is easily told,
to help your neighbour, that is good,
to hurt him, that is devilhood..

This simple verse is straight forward and one would think  it, or something similar, is all people need for moral guidance.  How ever , at least in our culture, some people follow it some of the time, some people ignore it all the time and some people follow it all (or most) of the time.

It would be interesting to know if this applies to all cultures or are there some in which all people follow the  principle all  the time.  To answer this one would probably have to spend several reincarnations doing field work in anthropology.

Reading the above article I note that almost all the scriptural references provide justification for being mean to others.  Could it be that if one wants to be selfish or nasty one needs divine assistance?  A lot of our economic culture is based on exploiting and taking advantage of other people.  If you are a part or nearly a part of the one percent your fortune and your status depend upon others working hard.

I think we should make a distinction between economic well-being and theological salvation.  It may be that we alone are responsible for our salvation, but people should not have to go hungry.

This blogger believes the technology which allows us to produce so much with so little effort should be a part of our collective inheritance.  The benefits should be shared equally rather than going to  few people.

Regardless of what Christian or other scriptures say, I think we should expect people to follow ancient Hindu moral law.

The complexities and limitations of freedom

We value “freedom”  so much that people have lost their “freedom” by fighting to death for it.  But it is a complex concept with lots of limitations.

This post was inspired by an article on economic freedom with a nice graph showing we now have more economic freedom than we have ever had..  I was too lazy to try to figure it out but it did get me thinking.

Definitions are sometimes fuzzy. For for this post there are two aspects to freedom.  There is the freedom to make decisions and to act accordingly and there is the freedom from having to do what others tell us.

The main factor affecting our freedom is the agricultural surplus because that relieves us of the drudgery of producing or gathering or hunting for food.  The less time we use for food the more time we have with which to do what we want or which other people want us to do.  If the agricultural surplus per person were to decrease we may find ourselves with less freedom.

Freedom varies in different parts of our lives.  In British Columbia we have freedom of religion and can attend any church of our choosing – or mostly not.  However, we are required by law to educate our children.  The options are home schooling, a few expensive  private schools (mostly religious) or public schools (in effect a monopoly) over which we have very little say.  So we have freedom of religion but very little freedom as to how we educate our children.

Here are some of the things which limit our ability to make and act on decisions.

Our own values, morals and religion.  If your religion tells you salvation comes from work, then that limits your right to goof off.  The work ethic is part of many people’s belief system but it is also very much in the interests of people who want others to work for them.

The values, morals and religion of other people.  The most evil of all people are those who try to force their values, morals and religion upon others.  Unfortunately my belief in this evil does not stop others from trying and often succeeding.  The greatest evil comes when these people get into government.

Politicians and their bureaucrats sometimes like to tell the rest of us how to live and our commitment to the “rule of law” gives them means to do so.  Try to sell unpasteurized milk in Canada and you will probably have a rule of law learning experience.

At least in the industrial countries many people worry, and probably rightly so, about their pensions and their well-being in retirement.  This could be a natural need for security or it could be a result of marketing by the financial industry.  In any case it limits our freedom to do things that do not contribute to a pension plan such as extended travel or going to live in the forest.  The problem is that our well-being in retirement will depend up on the quantity of goods and services the economy is capable of producing at that time.  Pensions and savings are vulnerable to inflation or bankruptcy.

Economics is about relationships and relationships can  be both supportive of freedom or restrictive.  I believe relationships are most satisfactory when there is a more or less equal exchange but there is no law which states that relationships have to be satisfactory.  Relationships are as complex as the personalities of the participants.  The key to happiness may be in finding a partner whose personality compliments our own.

I have long believed that little girls should not be allowed to play with dolls because they learn that they can have relationships in which they have total control over actions and thoughts.  When they grow up this tends to limit the freedom of their husbands.  Us guys have to learn to be assertive.

It may be that some people can’t cope with a lot of freedom and seek out life situations where their right to make their own decisions is limited.  Erich Fromm was concerned about populations giving up political freedom to dictators and wrote a book in 1941 called Escape From Freedom.

There are people who feel they have the right to tell others how to live their lives and these people limit the freedom of others.  There may have been times and places where these people could use force but at least is some places today force is not easy.  It is much less messy to use psychological tactics.  For example the work ethic,  fears about future security or psychological marketing can be used to encourage people to do what somebody else wants them to do.

It may be the great industrial societies in which some of us live and which we associate with freedom were in fact created because most people have given up a some of the freedom of the agricultural surplus.  Sometimes I think we have overdone the technological development and work for the sake of work although there is a lot I would not want to give up.

Freedom appears to be a complex concept which varies by individual and by the different aspects of our lives. Those of us who value the right to make our own decisions should fare reasonable well and those with a submissive personality should find it easy to meet their needs.


If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

Is economics a science or religion?

Is economics a religion or a science?  That some people ask this question is an indication that the answer could be complicated and interesting.  It could be that economics is neither and that it is in a class by itself.

Lets look at how these three disciplines handle knowledge, predictability and their psychological roles.

Science, religion and economics are all concerned with knowledge.   Science is concerned with what can be known from rational observations.  Religion gives answers to questions that cannot be answered from observations although the line between the two types of knowledge may be moving.

Economics has some problems with its body of knowledge in that not everybody even understands it and many people disagree.  A lot of economic theory and knowledge is useful although some things said are statements of faith.  One of the problems is that economics is concerned with human behavior, how we exchange goods and service, and people behave in  many different ways.  Some of us have strong commitments to the way we behave and think people who behave differently are sick.

Economics is famous for its assumptions which are taught in first-year classes and then forgotten because they obviously are not based on reality.  I like to think these assumptions should be used as guidance for policies which will take us closer to an equal and just society.

All three of these disciplines make predictions.  Scientists are generally rather good and accurate.  The accuracy of theological predictions we won’t know until a later date and economists are notorious for inaccurate predictions.  Part of the economic problem may be an assumption that economies develop in straight lines as per regression analysis.  It might be that economies are  fractal in nature in which case changes in fractal dimension (two minus the Hurst exponent) might give an indication of changes.  (I understand the Hurst exponent is used by the “quants” who have had some success in analyzing stock and foreign exchange markets.)

The most difficult part of this discussion is the psychological roles of religion and economics.  I cannot think of a psychological role for science.

Most of us have to come to terms with the emotional aspects of living in a world in which there is suffering, mortality and loneliness.  (See the lines at the bottom of this post.)  Religion provides a social life and helps people relate to the world by encouraging prayer, meditation  services, music, a work ethic and love.
The way our industrial economy is organized leaves us with a different problem – a conflict between our short-term and long-term interests.  In an economy where growth is essential and lots of people want to be at the head of the pack,  we need to use large quantities of agricultural, energy and mineral resources.  But these resources are limited, or at least those which are easily accessible are limited.  While our short-term interests are to use up resources quickly our long-term interests are to conserve these resources.

As most of us, most of the time, act and think in our own short-term we need some psychological support.  This is where economists come. When a highly paid expert knowledgeable about things we don’t understand tells us that our exchange of goods and services and our work ethic are  creating wealth, we know that our short-term view is for the best.  It is essential for most people to believe in “free enterprise” (or a government managed economy) if the current economic organization is to continue.

The role of economists is not to solve economic problems or to warn us of crises.  It is to convince us that this time is different.  Most people want to believe it.

So is economics a science or a religion?  Probably it is in a class of its own and something unique to our way of exchanging goods and services.

The following lines are from the song Wandering Star from the musical Paint Your Wagon

Mud can make you prisoner
And the plains can bake you dry
Snow can burn your eyes
But only people make you cry

If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

God’s penny

This article about the Vatican bank in this week’s The Economist reminded me of the story of God’s penny.

A priest  was out walking in the wilderness when he came face to face with God.  He was quite flabbergasted and the only he think of was the theory that God had a different time scale in which a second to God was a thousand years to us.  When the priest asked he was told that this was true.

He then thought about the repairs his church needed and asked if the same was true for money.  It was.  One of God’s pennies was worth a million dollars.

He asked God to donate a penny for church repairs.

“Yes.” replied God.  “But I don’t have one with me.  I’ll have to go and get one.  Just wait a minute.”

Feeling defeatist about the economy

Today is a day for feeling defeatist especially  on hearing the results of the French and Greek elections.

A lot of the economic hot air currently being generated is based on a faith that all our problems can be solved with the “correct” policy which will return the planet to economic growth.   The correct policy varies according to the economic theology of the writer.

My own economic theology is that a return to economic growth probably is not feasible because the root cause of the crisis is resource depletion, or rather the depletion of those resources which are easily extracted.

If this is true then there is no politically feasible solution because as well as getting most people to recognize the problem one would also have to get everybody to voluntarily reduce their standard of living.

Here in British Columbia  teachers are taking job action to support claims for a wage increase.

I would feel a little less defeatist if they were to use  their monopoly power to demand increased benefits for the homeless and welfare recipients.

Okanagan Indians. religion and trade

Early in the 1900s a Scotsman named James Alexander Teit studied and wrote about a number of the British Columbia interior  Indians includng those who lived in the Okanagan valley which runs through southern British Columbia and into Washington State.

He reports (page 253) that these people “claim that  the earth was made by the ‘Father mystery’ or ‘great mystery’ –  a mysterious power with masculine attributes ….”   I like the word “mystery” as I figure religion attemps to explaine things we cannot know by empirical observation.

“He (the great mystery) said that everything on earth should be subordinate to the people, and everything would be for their use as they were all his children; and all the people should have equal rights in everything, and would share alike.  This is why all food was shared among the people, and no one thought of  debarring any one else from access to anything required for life.”

I wish this were a part of our current religion although one can speculate the natives did not have an over population problem.  There are numerous reports that they were very helpful to the first white people to enter their territory.

Horses were probably introduced early in the eighteenth century.  It appears horses had considerable impact on the social and economic life of the people.  Previously travel was on foot or by canoe. (Some of them had access to extensive water ways.) Horses allowed more people to travel greater distances and to carry a greater quanitity of goods.  Horses also allowed new methods of hunting and transportation of food over greater distances.  There was greater intertribal trade and even intermarriage.

Today these people are mostly Roman Catholic or fundamentalist,   they live on reservations,  have to deal with terrific social problems including alcohol and drugs. I have been told that 90 percent of them were sexually abused as children. I usually get depressed every time I deal with any of them.

Franz boas and James Teit, Coeur D’Alene, Flathead and Okanogan Indians, Fortyififth Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology,  1927-1928,  United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1930.

Comparing economies

The New Years eve edition of The Economist has an article speculating how long it will be before China overtakes the United States as the world’s largest economy.

Do we really need to be so competitive?   Does it really matter which country produces the most guns and butter?

If we are going to evaluate or compare countries there may be other  interesting ways to do so.  Here are my suggestions for some questions to ask.

How many hours a week do we need to “work” the standard of living we desire and how many do we actually work?

To what extent do we “work” to support the goals and ambitions of others?

To what extent are we able to follow our own non economic interests whether they be music, art, watching television, writing about economics or vegging in the sun?

To what extent are we subject to pressure from others regarding values, morals, religion or sexuality?

To what extent are able to enjoy our sexuality in our own way and to the extent we wish?

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