Monday, January 20, 2014

Liberation from Modern Captivity

Liberation from modern captivity. This is the message of my esteemed author to Christian intellectuals in the position paper he wrote in 1994. Due to the "notoriety" of his writing style and tone and due to the "success" of smear reviews of his books, I decided to make his name anonymous(But of course, it's easy to find out who he is by simply cutting a portion of the excerpt and pasting it on your search browser). I think that by doing this somehow our attention will be on the importance of what he has to say.

This writer wrote "The Crisis of the Old Order," which is about the ideas of five men that shaped the modern world. He argued that the ideas of these men except one are now in decline, and as a result, the humanistic foundation of our civilization is also collapsing. He is calling for Christian intellectuals to provide an alternative worldview. However, to do this, liberation from the captivity of the ideas of these men is necessary. For many, perhaps, the message of this writer is old. But to me, it's new, and I am still not familiar with the writings of these men. 

Here is the excerpt: 

"We are in the midst of a WORLDWIDE REVOLUTION. It is peaceful, so we tend not to notice its revolutionary character. It is revolutionary in the sense of the public’s shift in commitment: from the OLD ORDER TO SOMETHING NEW. . . . Three things about this revolution are obvious. FIRST, there is not ONE POLITICAL LEADER of any real substance or following who is articulating it. . . . SECOND, there is no visible SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP. . . . THIRD, the key Western institutions that the humanists have captured, most notably EDUCATION, are under constant fire from the public. There is a widespread loss of faith. . . . Only Nelson Mandella has anything like a leadership role (but he is now dead). . . . What has gone wrong? . . . . We are living in what appears to be the late stages of sensate culture, the civilization inaugurated by the Renaissance. . . . It is time for Christians to begin to think about their responsibility to offer an ALTERNATIVE WORLDVIEW, as well as working models of alternative institutions. But Christian intellectuals, to an extent that they refuse to admit, are the CAPTIVES OF FIVE MEN who gave us modern culture. . . . "

"We live in a world dominated by the theories of FIVE DEAD white European males: a physicist, Isaac Newton; a novelist, political theorist, and lying autobiographer, Jean Jacques Rousseau; an unemployed naturalist, Charles Darwin; an unemployed philologist, Friedrich Nietzsche; and a conservative politician, Otto von Bismarck. These five men created the modem world. Only Nietzsche’s legacy still seems to be in the ascent phase, and only in one area: culture. . . . "

"On the surface, NEWTON seems to be the untouchable master. His physics is still the physics of introductory textbooks. But thediscovery of quantum physics in the 1920’s ended his reign . . . . ROUSSEAU'S romanticism began the erosion of Newtonian classicism in the late 18th century. His theory of the General Will did not sweep Western political theory until the 19th century. . . . his theory of education -- not tested on his five illegitimate children, whom he turned over to public orphanages as infants, where most children died -- laid the foundations of modem education’s theory of the innocent child in need of State education. . . . DARWIN'S theory of evolution through impersonal, unplanned natural selection transformed Western religion and philosophy, as well as Western social theory. By 1880, Darwinism reigned almost supreme in every academic discipline . . . . But since the late 1950’s, Darwin’s specific explanations have been undermined again and again by those inside the camp. . . . This brings us to NIETZSCHE. His influence is still profound. Marx is now passe; Freud is suspect; and Carl Jung turns out to have been the founder of his own messianic secret society, with himself as god incarnate -- all very embarrassing for his humanist disciples. But Nietzsche, the great modem exponent of the death of God philosophy, still exercises influence through his existentialism and his control over the arts, especially rock music. E. Michael Jones has traced this cultural influence in his important book, Dionysus Rising (Ignatius Press, 1994). It began with Richard Wagner, a participant in the German Revolution of 1848-49, who subsequently used music to undemine the political and moral order. His disciple Nietzsche took this strategy one step farther: using philosophy in a cultural war against Christendom. . . . Finally, there is OTTO VON BISMARCK. It was he who, as Prussia’s political leader, put together the modern German state, from 1866 to 1871. . . . he successfully undermined the political platform of the liberals in the German parliament by proposing State-funded insurance: the first State-guaranteed pension system for all workers. This idea was adopted by the English, along with the income tax, in 1911. It was adopted in the United States in the late 1930’s: the Social Security system. . . . We do not normally think of the welfare State as the invention of a conservative, but its initial implementation surely was. For over a century, the promise of guaranteed retirement has been the most politically powerful lure of all government intervention, the basis of the most powerful organized constituency. To challenge Social Security is to touch 'the third rail of American politics' . . . . This is the most sacred of all sacred cows in Western politics. It apparently cannot be stopped through political action. There is only one way to reverse it: the BANKRUPTCY OF THE STATE. . . . "

"The modern world has placed its faith in the ideas of FIVE MEN. All of them constructed worldviews that, to one degree or other, deny the existence of the providential God of the Bible. Nietzsche was most vocal in his rejection of all gods, but intellectually and socially, all of them denied providence. . . . Our problem as Christians is that our spokesmen are, to one degree or other, dependent on one or more of these FIVE MEN. "

Source: Institute of Christian Economics

Friday, January 10, 2014

Christianity's Response

In Part 1 of "Christianity and the Class Struggle," I understand that Abraham Kuyper proposed a "form" of Christian social consciousness using the antithesis between nature and human will. However, he stated that human failed in its task to bring peace and happiness due to error and sin. In the 2nd part of his book, Dr. Kuyper explained how Christianity addressed the social problem caused by error and sin. In this article, I just want to share my overview and reflection on Kuyper's paper about the disintegration of the Roman Empire, the nature of Jesus' response to social problems, the meaning of usury, the assessment of Jesus' contribution, the role of the church, and the failure of the church. 

The Disintegration of the Roman Empire

Dr. Kuyper opened the 2nd part of his book by recalling the downfall of the Roman Empire. He saw similar symptoms that caused the collapse of the Empire, which were also evident in his generation. He described those symptoms as follows: 
"....the balance between the classes was lost: there was defiant luxury next to crying need; immense accumulations of capital and beggarly poverty concealed in the slums of Rome; and, necessarily following, there was corruption in government ; sensuality rather than morality setting the tone of public opinion; and the masses, carried away by need and passion, ready at any time for rebellion, murder and plunder" (p. 25). 
The Kind of Hope that Jesus Offered

While such imperial disintegration was occuring, the hope for humanity dawned in Bethlehem through the person of the Son of God who took a human form. Dr. Kuyper explained the nature of this hope so as to distinguish it from the misapprehension of the socialists and the revolutionaries. Jesus was neither a "social reformer" nor a preacher of revolution. "Savior of the world was his higher and much richer title" (p. 26). 

The hope that Jesus offered to humanity was important both for the future and the present life, though the primary emphasis was always on the importance of eternal life (p.26). In relation to combating error and sin, Jesus opposed them by truth and by giving up His life. Dr. Kuyper explained this kind of social response: 
"And if you ask then what Jesus did to bring rescue in the social need of those days, here is the answer. Since he knew that such defiant abuses arose from the evil roots of error and sin, he placed the truth over against this error, and He broke the power of sin by shedding His blood for this sin and pouring out His Holy Spirit unto His own" (p. 26).
Dr. Kuyper further explained the social response of our Savior in terms of "moral motivation" and his "personal life." Jesus had a word for both the rich and the poor. He did not hate the wealthy. What he hated was the corrupt means in obtaining wealth. 

"In Jesus' heart there dwelt no hatred against the rich, but rather a deep sympathy for their pitiable state....Only when possession of money leads to usury and harshness is Jesus angry..." (p 27). 
What is Usury?

I just want to expand this idea about corrupt means to attain wealth. Kuyper specifically mentioned "usury," and He asserts that Jesus is angry with such financial practice. Usury is commonly defined as charging excessive interest to a loaned money. Granted that Kuyper's assertion is correct, then Jesus would be very angry with the existing monetary system since it is far worst than usury. I think it is Edward Griffin who coined a new definition of usury. To him, the existing fiat money is actually made out of thin air, and then it is loaned as debt to earn interest. If charging an excessive interest to an actual and existing loaned money is usury, how will you describe the interest asked from a money made out of nothing?

Following the information Abraham Kuyper shared in the first part of his book about the influence of the intellectuals and the wealthy using the government "to build systems which licensed injustice" (p. 20), I cannot avoid to think that the existing monetary system is one of those systems. I first heard this idea of "licensed injustice" from Frederic Bastiat, a classical liberal political economist, but he used a different term, "legal plunder" and applied it in not to the financial but to the legal system. These systems that Kuyper, Griffin, and Bastiat described during their time are still prevailing up to our time. And we wonder now why the global economy is like this?

Now if Jesus is angry with such a usurious and "licensed injustice," how come the contemporary church is not? Does it mean that the church lost its connection from her head? Or does it mean that the church believes that a neutral ground exists in this matter? What should take place before the church will realize that the myth of neutrality never exists?

An Assessment of Jesus' Contribution

Dr. Kuyper mentioned other details that require longer attention. I agree with most of his statements except for at least three that I think need further clarification. Subjects, which I have reservation are related to capital accumulation, the understanding that Jesus is on the side of the poor, and about the financial life of the apostles. What does Kuyper mean by "to cease his accumulating of capital...?" Are all kinds of capital accumulation prohibited by Jesus? Is Kuyper biblically correct? How about economically? If all types of capital accumulation is wrong, how can we reconcile this with biblical material teaching about wealth as outcome of God's blessing? Surely capital accumulation is a legitimate way to attain such wealth. Weren't there specific historical factors that we need to take into consideration? How about the status of those poor? Doesn't the Bible qualify those who are "poor in spirit"? Were the poor during Jesus' time the same with modern day poor? How about the financial situation of the apostles? Are they temporal or permanent? Are they normative or descriptive? Do modern day ministers have to follow their financial lifestyle?

Dr. Kuyper mentioned another feature of Jesus' response that though brief, is worthy of attention. This is related to his explanation of fighting error and sin with truth and the life of the Lord. As already mentioned, the nature of Jesus' response was classified as a kind of "moral motivation" both through his teaching and his personal life. Connected to this are his qualities of "devotedness, self-denial," and "divine pity" (p. 29). As a whole, this is Dr. Kuyper's assessment of Jesus contribution:

"Such a presence, such a preaching, such a death, would already have exercised an influence for good in social relations. The overthrow of the idol of Mammon and the transplanting of the purpose of existence from earth to heaven must even by itself bring about a complete revolution in the self-consciousness of the peoples" (pp. 29-30). 
The Role of the Church

The response of the Lord Jesus Christ to the social problems was not confined in his teaching and personal life. It is also done through the ministry of the church. Dr. Kuyper identified at least three: ministry of the Word, organized ministry of charity, and instituting the equality of brotherhood. He explains: 
"But Jesus did not stop with this. Jesus also organized. Did He not cause His church to go out among the nations; a church which was destined to triply influence the life of society? First, through the ministry of the Word, insofar as the Word constantly fought against greed for money, comforted the poor and oppressed, and in exchange for the suffering of the present time pointed to an endless glory. Then, second, through an organized ministry of charity, which in the name of the Lord, as being the single owner of all goods, demanded community of goods to this extent, that in the circle of belivers no man or woman was to be permitted to suffer want or to be without the necessary apparel. And, third, by instituting the equality of brotherhood over against difference in rank and station, through abolishing all artificial demarcations between men, and by joining rich and poor in one holy food at the Lord's Supper, in symbol of the unity which bound them together not only as "children of men," but, more importantly, as those who have collapsed under the same guilt and have been saved by the same sacrifice in Christ" (p.30).
As a result of the presence and ministry of the church, society experienced great trasnformation compared to its previous condition. For Dr. Kuyper, this is an established fact: 
"And indeed it is a fact that, as a direct consequence of the appearance of the Christ and of the extension of His church among the nations, society becomes markedly different from what it was in the pagan dispensation. The Roman society of that time was strikingly like what Jesus once called a "whited sepulchre which on the outside is beautiful, but inside full of dead bones," and that whited sepulchre crashed into ruins. And without wishing to say that the new social order which arose as though spontaneously from these ruins corresponded in any sense at all to the ideal cherished by Jesus, we may nevertheless gratefully acknowledge that more tolerable social conditions were born. Earthly welfare no longer weighed heaviest in public estimation; eternal well-being also had weight. Slavery was broken at its root, and underwent a moral criticism which demolished it as an institution. Men began to be concerned about the care of the poor and of orphans. The accumulation of too much capital was checked by the opposition to usury. Higher and lower classes approached each other on a footing of freer association. And while the contrast of surplus and scarcity was not erased, the antithesis between overweening luxury and pinching poverty was not so sharp" (pp.30-31). 
The Failure of the Church

Unfortunately, the church lost her way since the time that she gained influence and affluence through the conversion of Constantine the Great. Dr. Kuyper reminisced such lost opportunity:
"Man had not yet arrived at an ideal state, but at least he was started on a better path; and had not the Church gone astray from her simplicity and her heavenly ideal, the influence of the Christian religion on the state and on social relationships soon would have become dominant" (p.31).
Dr. Kuyper narrated further how the witness of the church started to deteriorate: 
"But, first of all, the Christianization of Europe went too quickly, and the folk-groups which had to be assimilated were altogether too massive. And the conversion of Constantine was for the Church the signal to wed itself with the power of the world, thereby cutting the nerve of her strength, and from then on there was in consequence an infiltration again of the world into the church. Instead of disciples who went out without purse or food, richly endowed princes of the church, housed in magnificent palaces ; and as the heirs of the Galilean fisherman at the head of the Church, a series of popes displayed a royal pomp, and in a Julius II or a Leo X seemed more bent on paganizing Christianity than on Christianizing the life of the world. So the salt lost its savour; and social corruption regained its ancient strength; a corruption which was checked, but not conquered, in the lands of the Reformation ; and in that portion of Europe remaining Catholic, speedily spread in such fashion that finally royal absolutism and aristocratic pride evoked the unbearable social tension which issued in the French Revolution, revolution, therefore, which broke out on Catholic territory"(pp. 31- 32).
Dr. Kuyper discussed in the next part of his book the lessons we can learn from French Revolution. 

Source: Kuyper, A. (1950). Christianity and Class Struggle. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Piet Hein Publishers.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Reformed Christian Social Consciousness

Abraham Kuyper's "Christianity and the Class Struggle" was published by Piet Hein Publishers in 1950. Though 64 years away from us, I find the message of the first chapter relevant to contemporary social issues. In it, he dealt issues like economic inequity, socialism and state interventionism (of course he did not use this last term but the essence is there). In this article, I just want to share the growing recognition during Kuyper's time for the lack of social consciousness among Christians, Kuyper's lament for delayed response, and his suggested form of Christian social consciousness. 

Photo Credit:

Absence of Social Consciousness

John Gritter honestly accepted that many Christians including the Reformed community "seem to realize absolutely nothing of the implications of their religion in the social realm" (p. 7). This is despite of their zeal for Christian Education and Christian Mercy. He believed that "the application of Christian principles to the social problems is sorely needed!" (ibid.). He was not alone in that conviction. Many intelligent young people who were "impressed with the beauty and the urgency" of Calvinism confirmed that the absence of such application was indeed a serious situation (ibid.). And so for John Gritter, the appearance of Abraham Kuyper's book was timely. 

"In the political sphere we are doing almost nothing; in the matter of social justice we are not doing much better. We have a principles also in the social sphere, will have to start again from the bottom up. We are as yet pretty much at sea as to just how we are to proceed. We are baffled by many practical questions to which we have no answer. In seeking such answers Kuyper can help us. The thoughts expressed in this book were first set forth almost sixty years ago, but they are today as fundamental as they were at that time. Many of the practical questions which Kuyper faced are with us now" (pp. 8-9). 
It was Gritter's prayer that this little book would find its way to receptive readers and would somehow result into a movement for social change. 

"May it be widely read and earnestly studied. May the assimilation of it produce an urgent consciousness of our calling, our God-given duty, to apply the truth of God also in the social sphere. May it blossom forth in a strong movement to fling out the banner of our Lord also in that domain of life" (p. 9).
Kuyper's Lament for Late Response

In the opening pages of the first part of the book, Kuyper described the gathering of Christian leaders in the Netherlands to discuss the economic issues of that time. Kuyper acknowledged that none of the delegate was an expert in economics. However, despite of their limitation, their goal was to seriously tackle what they should do about the social ills of their time. His regret was that compared to Christian leaders in other parts of Europe, their response in Netherlands was delayed. 

Christian leaders outside Netherlands held their own meetings in search for solution to the social challenge. Instances of these were the meetings of Christian Workers Party in Berlin, Christian Socialists in London under certain Rev. Headlam, Christian Society for Social Economy in Geneva and the Catholic initiative under the influence of Le Play and Von Ketteler. They held series of congresses in Germany, France and Belgium. Also Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical about this issue. 

And then Kuyper recalled the past. He reminded the delegates that delayed response was not a usual feature of Dutch Christianity. Under the intellectual contribution of Bilderdijk, Da Costa and Groen van Prinsterer, they had always been ahead when there was a social problem. Bilderdijk, an advocate of traditional liberalism, exposed the false theory of charity as early as 1825. Kuyper quoted him saying, "'Whenever a people is destined to perish in sin. It's in the church that the soul-leprosy begins'" (p. 15). Da Costa, in his Song of 1840, denounced Plutocracy, the "'rule of money'" (ibid.). For him, Luxury turns into a "'sap-destroying like a cancer, and as it were, destroying the balance between the classes'"(ibid.). He actually lead a meeting for this issue "at London in 1864 a quarter of a century before Karl Marx" (ibid.). Groen van Prinsterer in 1853 called Dutch Christians to extinguish the fire of socialism believing that "'socialism finds its source in the French Revolution'" and "'is conquerable only by Christianity'"(p.16).

Kuyper continued his lament that Dutch Christian leaders had been positioned in the "rear guard" not only by other Christian leaders in other parts of Europe but also "by the Socialists themselves, who constantly appeal to Christ in support of their Utopias..." (ibid.). He described these Socialists as continually holding "serious mottoes from the Holy Word..." and had "not hesitated to present Christ Himself as the great prophet of Socialism..." due to what they believe to be a strong bond between "the Socialist need and the Christian religion..." (ibid.). 

And then Kuyper expressed the uneasiness of a certain Adolphe Naquet also from a traditional liberal school the way Socialism is advancing Christianity. Naquet said, "'You do the work of religion. . . when you put in the foreground exactly those problems in whose solution Christianity is so closely involved'" (p.17). Kuyper saw in this statement a commendation of the power of Christianity to aid the social ill. 

Kuyper then introduced a most illuminating statement from Fichte.
"'Christianity conceals in its womb a much greater treasure of rejuvenation than you surmise. Until now it has exerted its power only on the individual and only indirectly on the state. But anyone who, as believer or as unbeliever, has been able to spy out its secret dynamic, must grant that Christianity can exert a wonderful organizing power on society also; and not till this power breaks through will the religion of the cross shine before the whole world in all the depths of its conception and in all the wealth of the blessings which it brings'" (ibid.).
Dr. Kuyper concluded his litany by embracing the undeniability of the connection between the social question and the Christian religion. He affirmed, "...Christian religion and the social question, are intertwined. The conviction that such a relation exists is not enough. It must also take on form and shape for us. Only so can it speak to our consciousness." Again, his only regret was that the Dutch Christian leaders have not spoken louder and have not acted earlier. He was so ashamed for such inactivity. 

The Need for a Christian Social Consciousness

Kuyper then started to expound about his idea of a "form" or "shape" of Christian social consciousness by explaining the "antithesis" between nature and art. He ascribes power to both. By nature, he meant the power that lies beyond human reach. By art, he meant the power derived from human will to properly utilize nature. He gave several examples of this such as the breeding of horses, irrigation and the education of our children. The goal is "to unlock the power concealed in nature," (p. 19) and he believes that God is pleased with such exercise of the will. 

Unfortunately, man did not properly use this higher power derived from human will. Instead of experiencing peace and happiness through the appropriate use of such art, its misuse brought countless miseries. Kuyper describes this misuse as "series of misdirected actions" (p. 20) originating from "two-fold unchanging cause, error and sin" (ibid.). 

Concerning error, Kuyper explains, "Error insofar as there was ignorance as to the essence of man and his social attributes, and ignorance equally as to the laws which govern on the one hand human association and on the other, the production, distribution and use of material goods" (ibid.). And regarding sin, Kuyper mentions greed and ambition. These two "disturbed or opposed the sound growth of human society, whether through force or through vicious custom and unjust law, and sometimes for centuries abetted a very cancerous development" (ibid.). And then through time, both error and sin "joined forces to enthrone untruthful principles, which did violence to our human nature ; and out of these false principles to build systems which licensed injustice . . ." (ibid.).

Kuyper described such social ills with another name, "reckless play" (p. 21) that is done by the intellectuals and the wealthy, and through their influence, found way through the government. From this point, we read that Abraham Kuyper was not uninformed about the evils of statist interventionism though he did not use the term. 
". . . . actually there has never been a government in any land of the world which did not in various ways dominate both the course of social life and its relations with material wealth. It did this through the various enactment of civil laws ; through trade laws ; and indirectly through its criminal law and penal code; and as far as concerns the relation to material wealth, more particularly through inheritance laws, through the system of taxation, through regulation of exports and imports, codes for purchase and rent, agrarian regulations, colonial rule, control of coinage, and much more" (ibid.).
Kuyper further described the social and economic results from such a "fixed rule" (p. 22) used by those who are stronger for their own advantage. 

"The ineradicable inequality between men gave the stronger an advantage over the weaker, and as though an animal rather than a human society were involved, produced a world in which the fixed rule prevails that the stronger devours the weaker; and the stronger, almost without exception, have always known how to bend every usage and magistral ordinance so that the profit was theirs and the loss was for the weaker. Men did not literally eat each other like the cannibals, but the more powerful exploited the weaker by means of a weapon against which there was no defense. And whenever the magistrate did come forward as a servant of God to protect the weaker, the more powerful class of society soon knew how to exercise such an overpowering influence on the government that the governmental power which should have protected the weaker became an instrument against them. And this was not because the stronger class was more evil at heart than the weaker; for no sooner did a man from the lower class rise to the top than he in his turn took part just as harshly, and indeed more harshly, in the irreligious oppression of those who were members of his own former class" (ibid.). 
Kuyper ended the first chapter of his book with a solemn warning based on Biblical material.
"No, the cause lay in this, that men regarded humanity apart from its eternal destiny, did not honor it as created in the image of God, and did not reckon with the majesty of the Lord, who alone is able to hold in check, through His grace, a race sunk in sin. This unjust situation was already born in ancient times of which the Preacher so movingly complains (Eccl. 4:1) : "So I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of the oppressors there was power, but they had no comforter. " It is a situation like that when Naboth was murdered so that Jezebel might add his acre to the royal park of Ahab; or, if you will, a state of affairs once and for all typified by our Lord in the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus; and against which James hurls his apostolic ban when he writes: "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth-eaten. You gold and silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth' (p.23). 

Kuyper, A. (1950). Christianity and Class Struggle. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Piet Hein Publishers.