The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (6)

St Paul by El Greco

St. Paul by El Greco

Closing Thoughts

We have seen that suffering was an integral part of Paul’s experience as an Apostle of Christ.  To our surprise, the Apostle actually embraced suffering, seeing it as a means to attain deeper fellowship with his Master as well as to ensure that he remained humble.  Even more stunning, this Great Apostle welcomed the weakness that accompanied suffering so that he might become stronger by having to depend all the more on Christ.

It becomes clear that suffering, far from being an impediment, was actually seen as a powerful, creative tool of spiritual power to be wielded with confidence in Christ’s service.  We can only stand in stunned silence before such faith.  Yes, Paul was of frail flesh and blood.  All who have studied his writings know of his stubbornness, rash decisions and confrontational style.  He failed, faltered, fell; but he never stopped loving his Lord and Savior, nor seeking to serve Him with every fiber of his being.

It is always best to give this Great Apostle the last word.  May we take it to heart, for he always writes with his beloved fellow Christians warmly treasured there.

312Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians)

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The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (5)

Philippians 3:7-11

3 7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10Iwant to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Here we have a window into the Apostle’s spirit.  Through it we see a life so completely identified with his Master that everything else, that which came before, that which comes beside, anything else, is mere rubbish in comparison.

To us, caught up in our many competing cares this single-minded focus appears almost pathological.  Paul would indeed have made a poor husband, father, middle manager or soccer coach.  But these were not his calling.  His calling was to spread Christ’s Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, overcoming every obstacle set in his path, great personal suffering included.  Only a total commitment to Christ that included sharing fellowship in every dimension of His Life could prevail.

We would do Paul a great injustice were we to pity him.  For though he almost surely suffered more than most humans ever will, he even more surely knew more joy, love, hope and peace than almost any human who has ever lived. He had these riches because of the victory of Christ in him.  Would that I could surrender so completely to such a worthy King.

The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (4)

Paul-Writing

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles; Valentin de Boulogne or Nicolas Tournier; ca. 16th century

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

12 7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

The Apostle Paul was here engaged in a controversy relating to his authority in the Corinthian church. In verses one through six of this chapter he is responding to those who have claimed superior authority from having received their teachings directly from God through ecstatic visions.  Paul describes his own experience of being “caught up to the third heaven” where he “heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.

However, unlike his adversaries, Paul follows this disclosure not with boasting but with a sustained passage in which his own unworthiness and weakness is highlighted so that Christ can be exalted.  It is this attribute that ultimately separated (and continues to separate) the true from the false leaders in the Christian fellowship.  Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!

8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The Judeo-Christian tradition is replete with unexpected reversals from weakness to strength – the good as dead bodies of the aged being chosen as the wellspring of a great people of the Covenant (Abraham and Sarah, age 100 and 90, respectively), the youngest son raising above all his elder brothers, and against all social conventions of the day, to the pinnacle of power (e.g., Joseph to Egyptian Vizier and David to the Kingship of Israel), a Savior who dies in disgrace on a cross, and, yes, an Apostle of Christ who begins as the leading destroyer of His Church.  It sometimes appears that our God prefers to do His work through human weakness.  We shouldn’t be surprised by this fact.  How better to demonstrate that an end has been obtained by God’s power rather than human effort?  And yet, this is a lesson that we continually struggle to hold on to.

The Apostle Paul had no such difficulty.  So deeply had he drank of the spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14) that his identity was as completely surrendered to Christ’s service as can be imagined for frail human flesh.  Inherent in this identity was the affirmation of his own weakness and of Christ’s supreme strength.  This is the spirit-print of a man humbled down to the very foundations of his character. In his own words, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” (1 Corinthians 15:9,10a)

And so, this Great Apostle delights in weakness, in insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties, for in them he finds a deeper fellowship with his Savior and access to greater power to serve His cause.  Even more, by Christ’s own words, His power is not made stronger, or more effective, but perfect in weakness.”  When we suffer, do we not experience weakness? What of Christ’s power is being offered to us when we suffer?  To answer this question is to delve deeply into the language of suffering.

Finally, a prayer, offered at a service of worship on April 29, 2001 that explores the issue of weakness within the context of Christ’s church.

Dear Heavenly Father, we approach your holy throne this morning in prayer for your body, the Church.

We come in thanksgiving that you have given this precious gift to those that you have graciously called to be your own.

But we also come in sorrow, because the influence of your Church appears to be receding.  We see the powers arrayed against her and oh how strong they appear!  We see hate, envy and corruption organized into terrible weapons of destruction by all the energy of humanity.  In the face of these terrible machines oh how weak does the Church appear.

But she will not be cowered, she will not be defeated.

Yes, we the living members of this body are weak, but we are bound together by invisible sinews of grace and love that contain all the strength of Jesus Christ.  Empires and despots have raged against this body only to be shattered by a power that they could neither see nor understand.

Yes we are weak, but you are the God who chooses to work through weakness. Says the Apostle, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Therefore, let us, the Church, find in our weakness the humility, the thankfulness, the peace to boldly confront a dark and dying world with Christ’s message of forgiveness and new life.

May we stand before your Cross with heads lifted up not because we are strong, but because we are forgiven.   Amen.

The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (3)

2 Corinthians 6:3-10

6 3We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

The Apostle Paul’s writing can be extremely difficult to parse.  The above passage is a case in point.  There we have two sentences, the second of which contains 111 words.  I sometimes imagine grammar teachers wincing as they read sections of Paul’s Epistles.  Yet, the Apostle is dealing with ideas relating to the most complex and important subject possible – our right relationship to God.  Even more challenging, he is explaining these concepts within the context of a new and extraordinary revelation that is only a few decades old, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Lastly, he is explaining these ideas to people (i.e., Gentiles) who often have little to no familiarity with the tradition from which Christ emerged (i.e., Judaism).  Given all this, we can forgive Paul his long sentences.

With regard to the issue at hand, Paul’s suffering, the striking feature is how inseparable it is from all of the other attributes of his ministry.  Suffering for Paul is not an isolated event that pushes aside all other experience.  Rather, it is only one of the many and interrelated aspects of serving Christ. It comes along with the purity, understanding, patience and kindness in the Holy Spirit. It comes along with the sincere love and truthful speech in the power of God.  It comes along with glory, good report, genuineness, rejoicing, making many rich and possessing everything.

Yes, if we were to compile all of the words of suffering they too would make quite an impressive list. But is there any doubt as to where the Apostle has placed the emphasis?  This passage doesn’t contain so much as a comma of self-pity.  It’s closer to the excited letter home from a young person on a journey of discovery.  This comparison is not meant in the least to minimize the import of Paul’s mission or the seriousness of his suffering.  Rather, it seeks to draw out the amazing power of Christ that allowed him to live in blessed joy, peace and hope in spite of these burdens.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

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.

The Surprising Good News About World Poverty

Child's Hands Under Water Tap
At a recent Bible Study we covered Proverbs 26, which deals with the issue of foolishness and purposeful deceit. One person commented that, based on polling results, there appears to be a small percentage of the population who will support even the most ludicrous of positions. In fact, they cited a number, 12%.  I suspect that this is generally correct.

World Poverty Rate

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 7.50.52 AMI recently came across a polling result that appears to confirm this observation. A survey by Glocalities (see top left-hand chart) asked people if poverty had (a) increased by 25% or more, (b) stayed the same, (c) decreased by 25% or (d) decreased by more than 25% since 1990. It turns out that 13% believe that poverty has decreased by 25% or more.

Intrigued, I looked for corroborating data. I found similar results in a United Kingdom survey (see left-hand bottom chart) that asks a very similar question.  There’s that ignorant 12% again, right?

Igonorace-in-UK-on-Global-Poverty-University-populationWrong.

It turns out that over the last 25 years extreme poverty in the world has been reduced by more than 50%, and, that whereas in 1880 ~90% of the world population lived in extreme poverty today that number is below 10% (see the following chart, much more information at this link)!

1200px-World-population-in-extreme-poverty-absolute

How could so many people think that poverty is significantly increasing when the opposite is actually occurring? Well, most likely because we are constantly bombarded with the false, contrary position by people who claim to have authoritative knowledge on such matters.

The same people (primarily but not exclusively the Progressive Left) who claim that poverty is increasing consistently blame that (untrue) outcome on the United States. The United States became a world super-power at the end of World War II (1945). Note that by the above chart it is between then and now that the improvement in world poverty occurred. And, the massive absolute (i.e., number of people) reduction in extreme poverty occurred shortly after Communism collapsed in the then U.S.S.R. and Communist China reformed it’s economy to allow more economic (if not political) freedom (i.e., around 1990).

World Middle Class

World-Middle-Class

Washington Post

Then

World-Middle-Class-Lede

Lede paragraph

there’s

World-Middle-Class-2

Paragraphs 3 & 4

this (see left-hand figure) recent article from the Washington Post. The title is “Middle-class to make up half of planet’s population?”  The answer according to the article is “Yes!

Here’s the lede paragraph (see right-hand top figure).   Is this not amazing information?  For, if generally true, this means that not only has tremendous progress been made to reduce world extreme poverty, but also in increasing world household wealth!

But, there’s more here to challenge the Progressive narrative of the current world-order being unjust.  Paragraphs three and four deliver the shocking (to Progressives at least) news that it was the Industrial Revolution (and thus the Capitalism upon which it was based) that enabled this rise from almost universal serfdom and poverty to today’s amazing economic  “miracle” of decreasing poverty and increasing wealth.

And yet the Progressive-Left maintains that human economic freedom is an illusion by which evil Capitalists fool the general population into becoming poor so that the Capitalists can become rich.  This data argues the opposite, that economic freedom is a necessary means which, by allowing some to become very rich, allows most to experience greatly increased well-being.  But, as I have previously discussed, this reality is anathema to the Progressive movement.

Discussion and Implications

Venezuela-SocialismDoesn’t all of this suggest that there is a high burden of proof required to be met by those on the Left who demand that we scrap our current political/economic/social systems to solve the problem of world poverty? If they actually care about improved living conditions for flesh and blood humans shouldn’t they be celebrating this amazing progress rather than denying it? And, shouldn’t they have to prove to a high standard that their alternate solutions (i.e., socialism, more government power, less economic freedom, etc.) would actually improve the situation (or at least not make is far worse, see Venezuela)?

Finally, none of this changes the fact that poverty still exists at unacceptable rates throughout the world. Yes, Christians and all people of good faith should work together to eradicate poverty in ways that significantly improve human well being. Issues like clean water, proper sanitation, hunger, education, government corruption, war, energy availability, civil rights, medical care, rule of law, etc. all need continued attention.

How-can-we-shape-capitalism-to-increase-human-well-being_knowledge_standardHowever, if our goal is to actually make improvements to human life then we have an obligation to acknowledge and honor (and yes, reform and improve when necessary) that which has actually worked rather than denying because it doesn’t meet pre-determined ideological constructs.  For, if we prioritize our own desire for self-esteem over the actual improvement for human life then it is no longer humanitarianism but rather self-aggrandizement.

 

Building a Caring Christian Community

Christ_Healing_the_Mother_of_Simon_Peter_s_Wife_by_John_Bridges

Christ Healing Peter’s Mother-In-Law, by John Bridges

Recently a friend whose family has experienced long term health challenges voiced disappointment with the ensuing lack of social support.  Wrapped within this disappointment was a negative critique of religion.

They have without doubt experienced terrible pain and loneliness throughout their ordeal.  There are no adequate words that can bring comfort to such a situation.  But I did attempt to provide my understanding of the Christian community’s challenge and response to situations such as theirs.


One thing that comes to mind is that my Christian faith is built on a tragic understanding of the human condition.  That is, I understand human beings to be spiritually and morally fallen creatures who can only be redeemed by an unmerited act of grace by a merciful God.  Given our fallenness, we Christians see ourselves to be in need of spiritual and moral regeneration that occurs only partially in this life.  Thus we seek to build Christian communities in which the acts of mercy and giving that you found so wanting are taught and encouraged.  It takes decades, even generations, for these lessons to grow into the new lives and new cultures that conform more closely with Christ’s character.

This tragic viewpoint doesn’t excuse moral failure.  Rather, it seeks to honestly face up to the nature of the challenge when we seek to build more caring, giving people and communities.  We also know that even the most faithful Christian communities will yet be burdened by jealousy, selfishness, dishonesty and many other faults.  We thus will always fall short of the ideal to which we aspire.

My Christian faith doesn’t immediately make me more moral than all non-Christians and I am not a Christian because of any inherent moral superiority.  Rather, I am a Christian because God through Christ has made known to me his love and mercy. He calls me to respond in thankfulness and faithfulness to this saving act in my life.


I have tried to be a supportive friend in this case and am occasionally useful in this regard to others.  But I am exceedingly thankful for Christians who have devoted themselves to that great calling of mercy towards and comfort to those suffering illness.