The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (2)

Conversion-Of-St-Paul-On-The-Road-To-Damascus

Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus by Hans Speckaert

The Road to Damascus

Acts 9:1-19

Here Scripture describes the encounter of a man filled with hatred, ambition and violence with the risen Jesus Christ.

1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. 4 And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; 6 but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Anani′as. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Anani′as.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen a man named Anani′as come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Anani′as answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Anani′as departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, 19 and took food and was strengthened.

Much could be said about this “chosen instrument” who would boldly carry Christ’s name into the Gentile world, overcoming every barrier whether from the outside pagan society or inside the Church itself, to proclaim the Gospel.  Our focus, though, will be on Christ’s last sentence, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. 

Consider the implications of this utterance.  Christ is saying that suffering will be a hallmark of the Apostle Paul’s ministry.  He is communicating this at the very beginning, so that Saul can make an informed consent to this condition of service.  As we explore this Great Apostle’s suffering perhaps we will begin to understand why he would embrace such a fate with such joy and energy.  

We seem to live with the goal of navigating our paths so as to skirt around the storms of suffering.  The Apostle Paul, resolutely gripping Christ’s hand, drove straight towards the eye of hurricane after hurricane, until, having expended his all, he tasted the final victory.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O death, where is thy victory?

O death, where is thy sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54c-57

The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (1)

StPaulRavenna-1Opening Thoughts

The Apostle Paul didn’t begin as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  We have no record that Saul, for that was his pre-Christian name, ever laid eyes on Jesus during His earthly ministry.  We do know from the witness of Acts and from Paul’s own testimony that he began as a leading persecutor of the post-Resurrection church.  We meet Saul for the first time in Acts 7:58, at the occasion of the first martyrdom of a Christian, Stephen.

But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.And Saul was consenting to his death. (Acts 7:57-8:1a)

It would not have been by chance that Saul was present at this deadly assault, or that his approval would be noted.  Saul was a man of powerful belief and action.  His belief was that this new faith was blasphemy against God and his action was to stamp it out by any and every means available.  The story continues.

And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samar′ia, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (Acts 8:1b-3)

Mark this down with care – it is the witness of Scripture that Saul, not the Sanhedrin, not the Romans – began to destroy the church.  Yes, he would have required their authority to carry out the persecution.  But the primitive church’s tormentor had an identity; and it was Saul of Tarsus.  Perhaps we should allow the Great Apostle to speak from his Epistle to the Galatians.

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13,14)

We have here the old story of an ambitious and ruthless young man who finds the opportunity by which to quickly rise to the heights of power, and seizes it with all his might.  Please understand, there is no doubt being cast upon the sincerity of Saul’s faith.  Let’s just say that when there is dirty, wet work to be done, supposedly in the name of God, not every person of faith enthusiastically steps forward.  Saul certainly did.

It is this man of passionate hatred who set his face towards Damascus in pursuit of Christ’s scattered flock.  But unbeknownst to Saul, the Risen Christ was in pursuit of him.  Saul’s story continues in Acts.

Questions for Socialists (3)

VENEZUELA-CHAVEZ-REMAINSQ: Why did you Democratic Socialists hail socialism in Venezuela but then fall silent when the terrible consequences became undeniable?

A: Because your primary goal is power over, not the well-being of other humans.

A Thought Experiment

Let’s imagine that there is a group of people who self-identify as protectors of the world’s poor and oppressed.  Members of this group continually boast about their good intentions for and practical expertise in improving the lot of humanity.  However, as a practical matter, we all know that what is said is not always what is actually in the heart.  Therefore, there is need for a means by which to determine if these people really care first and foremost about improving the lot of the poor and oppressed.

Let’s assume that in a specific nation the ideology and associated means by which these people propose to improve the world are embraced and implemented.  And, that the leadership of this group publicly and forcefully voice their support.

But something goes terribly wrong, and rather than the expected advance towards utopia the country descends into poverty, chaos, violence and starvation.  The fact of this utter failure is unavoidable and undeniable.  Thus, the leaders of this group must decide how to respond.

Response #1

It turns out that these leaders do indeed care first and foremost about the plight of the poor and oppressed.  Therefore, they enter into a state of public repentance followed by a ground-up reassessment of their ideology to determine what went wrong.  Although they may not (or may) throw out all of their ideology, they do honestly look into where it has led to the policies that resulted in such terrible human suffering.  After this process they reengage in the public debate, admitting their failures and seeking to advance updated solutions that they honestly believe will lead to improved human well-being.

Response #2

It turns out that these leaders didn’t really care about the plight of the poor and oppressed.  What they were really doing was to use their pretense of virtue to obtain the power by which to arbitrarily and capriciously rule over others.  Therefore, they fall silent for a time and then begin making up excuses for this humanitarian catastrophe.  These excuses place the blame everywhere but on the ideology and policies that they use in their advance towards worldly power.  They never acknowledge that they had previously supported this practical application of their ideology in a specific country, hoping that it will all be forgotten.

They also, over time, have built a predictable track record of support followed by silence followed by excuses as their ideology repeatedly fails miserably to deliver the promised results.  And yet they continue pretending to be the morally superior elite whom we should follow with unquestioning obedience.

From Thought to Reality: Venezuela

Prior to the arrival of socialism Venezuela was the most prosperous country in South America.  In 1999 Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela and reigned until his death in 2013.  He instituted an ambitious set of socialist “reforms” that were “intended” to help the poor.  He funded these schemes by the looting of Venezuela’s private property.  And, as is admitted by Margaret Thatcher, there is a time in the socialist program before they have “run out of other people’s money.”  During that brief period — between when people have property and money to seize and when the economy collapses because no-one has an incentive to be productive — the two most prominent political supporters of socialism in the english speaking world, Bernie Sanders (U.S.) and Jeremy Corbyn (U.K.),  were vocal in their praise.

Corbyn-Sanders-Chavez

Socialism “works” only as long at there’s money and property to loot, so make the most of it while you can!

But, as always happens when socialism becomes the dominant governing ideology (as opposed to a mixed political economy like in the United States), societal collapse ensued.  Here is one description of Venezuela’s situation.

vz-crop

Venezuela: From one of the world’s most prosperous countries to poverty and hopelessness.

Venezuela’s economy is in freefall. It’s probably the worst in the world — literally. The country tops Bloomberg‘s “Economic Misery Index,” which looks at measures including inflation and unemployment to find the economy where things are worst for regular people.

Here is another description of the chaos and suffering in Venezuela.

digging-through-trash-for-food-venezuela-ap-640x480

Venezuela: Digging through trash in search of food.

Venezuela is a woeful reminder that no country is so rich that it can’t be driven into the ground by revolutionary socialism.

People are now literally starving — about three-quarters of the population lost weight last year — in what once was the fourth-richest country in the world on a per capita basis. A country that has more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia is suffering shortages of basic supplies. Venezuela now totters on the brink of bankruptcy and civil war, in the national catastrophe known as the Bolivarian Revolution.

Or from even the New York Times.

chaos-venezuela

Chaos and violence in Venezuela

Venezuela was once one of Latin America’s economic powerhouses…A growing number of Venezuelans are going hungry in a food shortage and dying from treatable ailments in squalid, ill-equipped hospitals…Until political prisoners are released, the prospects for a restoration of democratic rule are very dim…Inflation has soared to an estimated 700 percent, while people in this oil-rich nation are left digging through piles of trash for scraps of food.

So, have our brave, morally-superior socialist leaders behaved more like the description of Response #1 or #2 above?  They have behaved like #2.  There has been no soul-searching, no public repentance, no reexamination of their ideology.  No, they all have run for the tall grass, hunkered down and then pretended that nothing has happened.  And, their allies in the media have issued a fog of bottom-covering stories that places the blame for Venezuela’s suffering everywhere but at the feet of socialism.

So, how can we but conclude that Sanders, Corbyn, et al. don’t actually care a whit about the actual plight of the poor, or flesh and blood humans of any kind.  What they actually care about is using the ideology of socialism to gain wealth and power for themselves and their fellow looters without having to contribute anything of real value to their society.

The daughter of Hugo Chavez, the former president who once declared ‘being rich is bad,’ may be the wealthiest woman in Venezuela, according to evidence reportedly in the hands of Venezuelan media outlets.

Maria Gabriela Chavez, 35, the late president’s second-oldest daughter, holds assets in American and Andorran banks totaling almost $4.2billion, Diario las Americas reports.

So, let’s summarize by reviewing the three stages of socialism.

3-Stages-of-Socialism-Sanders

By the way, you will find the same pattern of support followed by denial for genocidal socialist regimes throughout history (e.g., the Ukrainian genocide-famine and the Cambodian genocide, among many others).  Yes, we can “make fun” of the Progressive Left’s love of socialism.  But we must never forget that this is in the end a deadly serious issue of life and death.

Questions for Socialists (2)

Q: Which political-economic system has been the most brutally murderous towards its own citizens since the beginning of the twentieth century?

A: Socialism, no other system even comes close.

The Data

R. J. Rummel (1932 – 2014) devoted his academic career to the study of what he called “democide,” which is defined as “the intentional killing of an unarmed or disarmed person by government agents acting in their authoritative capacity and pursuant to government policy or high command.”  This definition covers a wide range of deaths, including:

  • forced labor and concentration camp victims
  • extrajudicial summary executions
  • governmental acts of criminal omission and neglect
  • deliberate famines
  • killings by de facto governments, i.e. civil war killings.

Dr. Rummel taught at the Indiana University, Yale University, and University of Hawaii.  He left behind a large body of scholarly work and data on violence by governments.

Note that democide includes genocide but excludes deaths caused by wars that are not civil wars.  Thus, the Chinese civil war (1928 – 1949) is included but World Wars I and II (among others) are excluded.  This data thus allows us to examine murderous government actions outside the scope of warfare.  However, we will return to the issue of warfare in due course.

The following figure summarizes this democide data.  I have added color coding to the table’s rows to indicate the political-economic nature of the regimes.

Democide-Figure

Democide data by political-economic regime type.

Based on this assessment I have generated the total number of killings for each regime type in the following figure.

Democide-Totals

Democide total killings by regime type

Note that socialist governments murdered almost four-times more people than did fascist regimes (the second most brutal regime type) and over 133 times more than capitalist governments.  The conclusion is thus clear.  Socialist governments are the most brutally murderous by far.

However, it’s worse than that.  Dr. Rummel also studied death caused by warfare.  He then compared death by warfare and democide on an annual basis, resulting in the following figure (note that the same color coding as above is used to identify the regime type).

Democide-vs-War

Annual deaths by warfare vs. democide.  Note that it is socialist governments (red shaded) who were primarily responsible for the mass-murder of their own citizens.

The result is stunning.  Note that from 1920 to 1984 the annual rate of death by the hands of a government (i.e., democide) dwarfs those caused by warfare (even though this period includes WWII).  And, note further that it is primarily socialist governments (with a powerful contribution by fascists between 1940 and 1945) who were murdering their own citizens at rates of 5 to 20+ times greater that of warfare.

Discussion

The actual results of socialism range from economic stagnation to societal collapse to democidal totalitarianism.  The specific and undeniable examples of this last result are sickeningly numerous, including the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cambodia, Vietnam and North Korea (to name only the worst, see above for more).  Progressives may say that, well, socialism doesn’t always lead to democide.  While that’s true, doesn’t it reveal something profound when a supposedly “morally superior” ideology is by far the leading cause of governmental mass-murder?

Progressives will also say that “real socialism hasn’t been tried yet.”  But, doesn’t it reveal something profound about their actual morality when they are eager to foist a system upon humanity that has so often led to terrible consequences?  If socialism is so hard to “get right” maybe it’s because it’s an utterly evil, corrupt, idiotic idea that shouldn’t be tried anymore.

Given this track record of massive democide, why do Progressives yet embrace and recommend socialism?  In large part it may be utter ignorance about the actual results.  It still must be judged as morally irresponsible to demand that we embrace socialism while living in purposeful ignorance of its consequences.

However, I’m afraid that in too many cases Progressives support socialism while clearly knowing what has happened in the past.  For example, the editors of the New York Times shamelessly published an article that minimized and justified these unprecedented crimes against humanity (emphasis added) in order to press their demand for socialism.

We can get to this Finland Station only with the support of a majority; that’s one reason that socialists are such energetic advocates of democracy and pluralism. But we can’t ignore socialism’s loss of innocence over the past century. We may reject the version of Lenin and the Bolsheviks as crazed demons and choose to see them as well-intentioned people trying to build a better world out of a crisis, but we must work out how to avoid their failures…

What possible conclusion can be drawn other than that unless socialism literally brings Hell up to earth the Progressive Left will always ignore, excuse, whitewash and deceive in order to maintain the viability of their bloody socialist ideology?

For many others the fantasy utopia supposedly sought by socialism overwhelms all rational thought or human regard.  We err greatly by underestimating the power of idealistic, utopian thought to obfuscate hard reality.  In explaining this dynamic I simply cannot improve on this final paragraph from The Black Book of Communism’s Forward.

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-6-28-36-am

However, to embrace evil in order to pursue a fantasized but impossible end is not humanitarianism.

Finally, we must face up to the fact that many in the Progressive Movement lust after the absolute power that socialism can deliver.  As has been recently pointed out, there is a disturbing thread that ties the vile totalitarians of practiced socialism to the yearnings and behavior of many on today’s Progressive Left (emphasis added).

While the vast majority suffer under socialism, such suffering is by no means universal. Any number of commissars, Stasi informants, Cuban snitches, petty apparatchiks with dachas, etc., have parlayed their sadistic tendencies into good livings and what they want most, power over others. If you follow Twitter, or generally pay attention to the American Left, you see an army of would-be commissars who yearn for the day when they can accuse a neighbor of wrongthink and have him sent to an American Gulag. In the meantime, they settle for mob action, “doxxing,” and so on.
In spite of all this, Socialists pose as our moral betters; of being altruistic light bearers to humanity.  They do bear fire.  It is a fire that has lit funeral pyres made up from millions of state-murdered human beings.  And, in spite of this vile history, they demand that we once again place our lives and those of our children into their ideology’s blood stained hands.

Questions for Socialists (1)

Q: Why doesn’t anyone ever say “Real Capitalism has never been tried”?

A: Because even a small dose of economic freedom significantly increases the well-being of the great majority of a nation’s people, and, well-being tends to increase with more economic freedom.

China-Pre-Post-GDP

The results for a small dose of economic freedom.

With the possible exception of the U.S.S.R., (the first or second most murderous Socialist government, depending on whose statistics are used) no country has tried harder to make Socialism work.  However, the utter failure of Socialism in China over a bloody span of over four decades finally convinced its Communist leaders to allow a small but significant increase in economic freedom.  The result has been that around 800 million human beings have been lifted out of poverty.  While attempting to implement Socialism the government of China murdered between 40 and 80 million of its citizens and impoverished all (i.e., well over one-billion) but the most powerful government officials.

China has a long way to go before it’s people enjoy the freedoms that we have in our Capitalist Democratic Republic of the United States.  The Chinese Communist government maintains total political power and is still willing to murder and imprison thousands to maintain their position.  China is a bad actor in the world economy, for example by massive theft of intellectual property from the West.  Its human rights record remains atrocious and there are significant problems such as pollution and corruption, among many others.

Bur these considerations only buttress my main point.  That being, even a small dose of economic freedom significantly increases the well-being of the great majority of a nation’s people.