Posts Tagged ‘Mammon’

God and Mammon (Revisited)

April 11, 2017

Here’s an old post (lightly edited) from seven years ago that I’m putting up again. It deals with one of my biggest annoyances: the false assertion that Americans are a “religious people.”

I read in different places that the United States is a Christian nation, that Americans are a deeply religious people, and that as a religious people, we are naturally conservative, since religion is conservative. But not one of these statements is true. We are not a Christian nation, neither legally nor spiritually; we are not religious; and religious people are not conservative—at least not in the conventional, thoughtless sense of the word.

When writers and commentators say that we are a religious nation they’re simply taking at face value the assertions of the self-described “religious.” In this country, we have an easy definition of religious. Essentially, it means anybody who says they believe in God. Atheists are content with the definition since they prefer that religion appear shallow. And the “religious” are content with it because it lets them off the hook. They don’t have to take on some extraordinarily difficult teachings. One notable example:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

This is not a conservative idea; it’s a radical idea. It’s universal, unequivocal, and has many implications, few of which are ever addressed by anyone within Western Civilization. One of its simpler meanings is that we shouldn’t desire “things.” And yet creating the desire for things is a basic tenet of our economic system. Economists, businessmen, and politicians are deeply concerned with how to get people borrowing and spending. We have to “grow the economy,” as they say. And the great majority of Americans believe that we should always be enjoying an ever higher standard of living. When that doesn’t happen, somebody has to take the blame in the next election.

One of the problems with defining God as a being—the anthropomorphic idea of God—is that people can soften an idea like “you cannot love God and mammon,” by insisting that they do indeed love “the big guy” more than they love things. They can talk to Him and assure Him that they love Him more than money and then feel as though they’ve met the requirement. But if you consider God to be truth, the picture changes. Loving truth more than money means living solely by principle. The deep meaning of “You cannot serve God and mammon” says that you should abandon your materialist existence and follow truth—never do anything simply to make money. To those who would question this, I will point out that the lines immediately following “You cannot serve God and mammon” are, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, not about your body, what you shall put on.” (Jesus insisted that his disciples leave their jobs and become homeless beggars.) Historically speaking, this idea is not at all strange. There are many people in many different cultures who have pursued it. It’s strange only to us here in the modern-day Western world, where power, comfort, and entertainment have become paramount. It’s not my point exactly to suggest that anybody renounce their livelihood and pursue this other way of life. But it might be helpful if people were to recognize that, as it currently stands, we are not really a religious people, that we are not really a Christian nation (we would have to follow the teachings of Christ to be that), and that religious ideas are not “conservative.” If we understood that much, it might be helpful in getting us to speak frankly with one another again.

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Where I Stand

December 20, 2016

I’d originally intended to write this piece after Clinton won the election to explain why I couldn’t vote for her. I’m writing it anyway. It’s meant to explain where I stand culturally/politically.

I was born into a mainstream “moderate to conservative” (I put the words in quotes because I think they’re deceptive) Democratic Party household. Eugene McCarthy’s near upset of Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary inspired me to leave the fold. I became what would be described today as an “ultra liberal.” Then, with the election of Richard Nixon, I dropped out psychologically and philosophically, switching my allegiance to the counterculture. The change coincided with my deepening disillusionment with Western civilization and ideas.

In its early days, the counterculture was divided into two fundamental factions: the spiritual hippies and the New Left politicos. The essential difference was that the hippies believed you had to change yourself before you could change the world, while the leftists believed you had to change the world before you could change yourself. I sided with the hippies. By the time I was 20 I completely dismissed mainstream American culture. I saw it as dying. At the same time, the hippie image and philosophy were being diluted and destroyed by the Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll crowd, who were not hippies, but looked like them. I ended up dropping out of the counterculture—dropping out of the drop-outs—and landing on the streets of North Beach, where I continued my search for what is “really real.” It wasn’t exactly a deliberate move, but neither was it an accident. I didn’t find all my answers there, but I did find many. And I came to a solid understanding that America really was in a death spiral, something that’s quite apparent now.

I remained a complete outsider—no home, no job, no ID—until the wild parrots came into my life. By getting involved with two creative projects, the book and the film, and having to present them to the public, I got pulled back into the System. (Both projects happened naturally. They were not calculated.) But I remained essentially a counterculturist disillusioned with the counterculture—not to mention the System. My return coincided with 9/11, so in 2008, I was happy to be seduced by Obama. But he turned out to be more of the same—a so-called centrist Democrat. I vowed then that I would never get fooled again. The only individual I could imagine ever supporting was Bernie Sanders. He was from the edge of the counterculture, its political side, so he felt close enough to where I stood. But I never thought he’d run, and when he announced, I pretty much ignored him. He started saying things that for so long had needed to be said, and I was amazed by how many responded to him. I was riveted throughout his campaign. But the establishment Democrats had no intention of allowing him to succeed.

Since the advent of computers the Empire has become corporate and global in nature. (That’s obvious, yes.) I am adamantly opposed to the Empire, which is indifferent to everything save money and power. Its massiveness has made it the biggest threat to world peace, a healthy environment, and a sane life. Hillary Clinton, like her husband, is a supporter of the Empire. She made it clear that she would use military power to keep the Empire in place and thriving. Trump, who is a genuine sociopath (that needs to be understood), is more like a domestic terrorist. He will fail because of his ego. The Global Empire demands an ability to work with others, something he is incapable of doing because of his “disease.” He’s going to cause a great deal of harm to his fellow Americans, but it’s difficult for me to think of Trump as objectively worse simply because he is more of a threat to me personally. If I did, it would make me indifferent to the suffering of those who Clinton would have squashed in her effort to maintain the Empire, which, like America, is also in its death throes. Both Clinton and Trump are devotees of Mammon. They simply had different constituencies supporting them in their quests for power. Mammon has no principles.

My allegiance remains to the counterculture, which needs to revive itself and develop greater maturity. There is no hope for the established institutions of the modern world, which are completely off-base philosophically. I don’t care about economics, politics, or science, all of which now serve as tools for ambitious egotists. The only thing I’ve ever cared about is love. It’s the only thing that has never fallen away from me.

The Problem of the Homeless

February 28, 2016

The City of San Francisco made the news recently by breaking up a homeless encampment on the streets, a long row of tents that Judy and I often drove past on our way to Rainbow Grocery, the store we use. The camp was the subject of a lot of controversy, especially after the CEO of some tech company wrote an open, complaining letter to the mayor, demanding that the mayor do something. The poor guy was sick of having to look at the homeless. It’s commonplace to say that San Francisco has a “serious homelessness problem,” but the entire country does, really. I read recently that my hometown of Vancouver, Washington has homeless camps. The homeless are more noticeable in a place like San Francisco, that’s all. I myself was without a home for 15 years, living on the street in San Francisco from 1973 to 1988. I wasn’t what most people picture when they hear that word, “homeless,” but I was out among the homeless much of that time, and I have a decent idea of what’s going on. When I hear people talk about the problem, I realize that no one even comes close to understanding it, that it’s only going to grow.

For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out a simple way of describing what I see, but only recently did I find the words I was looking for: We live in a system that creates homelessness as one of its inevitable byproducts. This society has a near-religious belief in competition, and wherever you have competition, you have, inevitably, winners and losers. You can’t have one without the other. It’s like water boiling at 212 degrees Fahrenheit: It’s the only possibility. The homeless are the ones who have lost the game. As the competition heats up—as it has been ever since Reagan—the winners keep grabbing more and more, so we have more and more losers of the game. People like the CEO of that tech company are either ignorant or arrogant. Or both. Whether he sees it or not, he‘s a huge part of the problem.

When I was on the street I was subjected to all kinds of absurd situations and arrogant treatment. One example is when people become furious with homeless people for defecating on the street. This society gives them no place else to go. There are few public toilets, at least ones that don’t cost money , and restaurants, cafes, and so on don’t want the homeless in their businesses. I never ended up in a situation where I had to do “my business” in public, but I came close a few times. When you are in an absurd situation like that and you’re surrounded by people who can’t understand the most obvious and simple thing, you tend to lose your respect for them. You end up doing whatever you feel like doing.

If we genuinely want to end the problem, we have to abandon the idea that it’s okay to accumulate as much wealth as possible. It’s not okay to be a billionaire. And if we can’t abandon the idea, then we have to prepare ourselves for the inevitable epidemic of poverty. It’s that cut and dried.

The Right to Slaughter

May 13, 2015

Many people, I would guess most people, roll their eyes when they hear the term “animal rights.” People see rights as something arbitrary that are bestowed upon us by the government. You vote for your rights. Animals can’t vote, so it’s stupid to say they have any rights. This is an incredibly superficial view of existence, yet pervasive. But the truth is that rights are not arbitrary; they are inherent. In any intelligent, healthy system, it is not the government’s role to bestow rights, but to see that they are protected.

What rights do animals have? For starters, they have the right to live out the laws of their being. That should be plainly obvious. And we human beings have an obligation, a duty, to not get in the way of that. We must create our civilization in such a way that it makes it possible for the animals to do what they do. I’m sure some oaf will be thinking, “Well, we have the right to live out the laws of our being, too. If the animals get in our way, that’s their problem.” But we are a different kind of animal. We have the capacity for huge amounts of free will. We also have the capacity to destroy all life on this planet. That’s not living out the laws of our being. That’s just being greedy and blind. We don’t know anything about the laws of our being. We can’t when all we care about is money.

The preceding diatribe is inspired by the fact that the Army Corp of Engineers has just been given permission by both the Fish and Wildlife Service and a federal judge to begin the slaughter of tens of thousands of cormorants in a nesting colony on East Sand Island in the mouth of the Columbia River. I’ve been to East Sand Island and have seen that colony. Thousands of pelicans and terns congregate there as well. The slaughter has been approved supposedly to help keep the salmon from going extinct. But that’s bullshit. What they’re really doing is trying to protect the fishing industry. They want to kill the birds so that humans can eat the fish instead of the birds. We don’t actually need the fish, but the cormorants do. And they have the right to them. That’s how nature works. And if the salmon are endangered, it’s not because of cormorants. It’s because of us, through our dams and overfishing. The Army Corp of Engineers, which thought up the plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which approved it, the federal judge who approved it, and Wildlife Services, who are to carry it out, are all killers in the pay of Mammon. I don’t believe for an instant that there is any environmental concern here whatsoever. And even if there is, it’s incredibly hubristic to think that we know what to do. We’re terrible when it comes to helping nature. All we know is how to exploit it. I, for one, can never give whole-hearted allegiance to a system that does these things.

Lean to the Left, Lean to the Right

November 4, 2014

The media talks about elections as if they were sporting events. Which team is going to win? Which one is pleasing the fans most? But it’s not like that. It’s serious business. Unfortunately, the fans have become inebriated. They want to feel good NOW. We have one party (the Democrats) that tries to serve both God and Mammon (Biblical language for money and worldly power) and ends up wispy and frightened. And we have another (the Republicans) that is all-out for Mammon, and therefore unconflicted—in an insane kind of way. When the Republicans are on the outs, they expend enormous amounts of energy trying to undermine the foundations and bring down the house. When they are in control, they pound the table, shouting “United We Stand!” It is not an exhortation; it’s a threat. I will never stand united with the Republicans. Never. Those lovers of Mammon can never represent me. If they do obtain the power they seek, then I go into radical dissident mode.

Posting Dilemma

June 12, 2013

I’d gotten so tired of posting negative assessments of the contemporary world that I decided to change course. I wanted to be more positive. So I pulled back and tried to cultivate a more hopeful outlook. The end-result is that once again I’m forced to acknowledge  just how bad are the times that we’re currently passing through. I see that I am surrounded by negative developments, negative energy. We all are. Anyone who doesn’t see this is either living in a fantasy world or is so distracted by his gadgets that it doesn’t matter to him. So I’m not going to force myself to put on a happy face here. I intend to talk about what I actually see. (I hope no one will mind if at times it seems awfully bleak. I’m not naturally inclined toward pessimism. But we have to be real. It’s the only way we’re ever going to get out of this.) One difference is that in the future I’m going to try to take the longer view, where there may well be hope. The short-term, though, is clearly very bad. It isn’t hard to understand why. This is what happens when a people is completely given over to Mammon.

Hate is Too Strong a Word

January 1, 2011

The new year is here, and one thing that I know is coming is the partial resurgence of the Republican party. For two years, it’s been kept on something of a choke chain. But now it’s going to be out of the yard, snarling and snapping at us. I’m grateful to have had two relatively peaceful years of not having to listen to crap like, “Why do you hate America?” My answer to that was, “I don’t hate America. I hate the Republican vision for America.” But then I would always have to step back and remind myself that it really isn’t okay to hate.

When you hate something, even if it is something evil, your mind becomes clouded. You can’t see straight. You make bad decisions. You are filled with the evil of hatred. This is all true. I wonder what to call the proper response to evil. Opposition? Well, that’s certainly part of any correct response, but it seems a little mild. Revulsion? Yes, but that’s a purely personal, interior response. Something has to be done to stop evil. Is contempt the same as hatred? Does anybody have a good idea for the right word?

And make no mistake. What the Republicans push is evil. Their calls for personal freedom unhindered by governmental interference is really just a disguise for unbridled egotism—the dog-eat-dog kind. In the Republican universe, money and power are King, which is your basic, garden-variety definition of evil. It astonishes me that they can claim to be the representatives of morality in America and not get called on it. If this country ever has a serious discussion on what constitutes real morality, the GOP will be utterly discredited.

Over the next two years, I have little doubt that from time to time I will slip toward the fringes of hatred. And each time it happens I will make a conscious effort to pull back. But I’m sick of this. We have to stop the Republican party. We (I don’t mean Democrats, I mean Americans) have to drive a stake through that organization’s dark heart and never let it get back up. It could be done if we all got real.

God and Mammon

November 12, 2010

I read in different places that the United States is a Christian nation, that Americans are a deeply religious people, and that as a religious people, we are naturally conservative, since religion is conservative. But not one of these statements is true. We are not a Christian nation, neither legally nor spiritually; we are not religious; and religious people are not conservative—at least not in the conventional, thoughtless sense of the word.

When writers and commentators say that we are a religious nation they’re simply taking at face value the assertions of the self-described “religious.” In this country, we have an easy definition of religious. Essentially, it means anybody who says they believe in God. Atheists are content with the definition since they prefer that religion appear shallow. And the “religious” are content with it because it lets them off the hook. They don’t have to take on some extraordinarily difficult teachings. One notable example:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

This is not a conservative idea; it’s a radical idea. It’s universal, unequivocal, and has many implications, few of which are ever addressed here in Western Civilization. One of its simpler meanings is that we shouldn’t desire “things.” And yet creating the desire for things is one of the basic tenets of our economics. Economists, businessmen, and politicians are deeply concerned with how we’re going to get people borrowing and spending again. We have to “grow the economy,” they say. And, as much as ever, the great majority of Americans believe that they should be enjoying an ever higher standard of living. When that doesn’t happen, somebody has to take the blame in the next election.

One of the problems with defining God as a being—the anthropomorphic idea of God—is that people can soften an idea like “you cannot love God and mammon,” by insisting that they do indeed love “the big guy” more than they love things. They can talk to Him and assure Him that they love Him more than money and then feel as though they’ve met the requirement. But if you consider God to be truth, the picture changes. Loving truth more than money means taking everything apart, examining it in detail, and living solely by principle. The deeper meaning of “You cannot serve God and mammon” actually means abandoning one’s materialist existence and following truth—never doing anything simply to make money. To those who would question this, I will point out that the lines immediately following “You cannot serve God and mammon” are, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, not about your body, what you shall put on.” (Jesus encouraged his disciples to leave their jobs and to become beggars.) Historically speaking, this idea is not at all strange. There are many people in many different cultures who have pursued it. It’s strange only to us here in the modern-day Western world, where power, comfort, and entertainment have become paramount. It’s not my point exactly to suggest that anybody renounce their livelihood and pursue this other way of life. But it might be helpful if people were to recognize that, as it currently stands, we are not really a religious people, that we are not really a Christian nation (we would have to follow the teachings of Christ to be that), and that religious ideas are not “conservative.” If we understood that much, it might be helpful in getting us to speak frankly with one another again.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

October 18, 2010

This weekend the New York Times published an article about the stagnant economic situation in Japan. (You can read the entire article here.) Over and over, the assumption of the writer is that there is nothing more important in life than having lots of money. And it is a mainstream view. Someday this era is going to be regarded as one of the most deeply deluded in human history.

To wit:

The Japanese “enjoyed a level of affluence two decades ago that was the envy of the world.”

A Japanese man is quoted as saying “Japan used to be so flashy and upbeat, but now everyone must live in a dark and subdued way.”

Japan has been “shriveling from an economic Godzilla to little more than an afterthought in the global economy.”

Japan is currently seen by many economists as “a dark vision of the future.”

Fortunately, Americans have a “greater tolerance for capitalism’s creative destruction.”

Indeed, “In America, the bet is still that we will somehow find ways to get people spending and investing again.” That is, unless we fall into “the same deflationary trap of collapsed demand that occurs when consumers refuse to consume…”

Just two decades ago, Japan was a “vibrant nation filled with energy and ambition, proud to the point of arrogance and eager to create a new economic order…” But “Japanese consumers, who once flew by the planeload on flashy shopping trips to Manhattan and Paris, stay home more often now, saving their money…”

Young Japanese men are “widely derided as ‘herbivores’ for lacking their elders’ willingness to toil for endless hours at the office…”

“Consumers see it as irrational or even foolish to buy or borrow.”

“Bartenders say that the clientele these days is too cost-conscious to show the studied disregard for money that was long considered the height of refinement.”

The head of a consumer marketing research institute has a name for Japanese in their 20s. He calls them “consumption-haters.” “Their habits of frugality will have cost the Japanese economy $420 billion in lost consumption.” “‘There is no other generation like this in the world…These guys think it’s stupid to spend.'”

While this is all about the Japanese, the American writer is entirely sympathetic with those who despair over the young not being willing to chase after wealth or to be “consumers.” I think the point of view reflected in this article is way off the rails.

Crisis Economics

May 26, 2010

I’m reading Crisis Economics by Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm. Roubini was the professor of economics who called the collapse of the economy several years before it happened. At the time he made his predictions, he was ridiculed. But it turned out that he was right on the money, so to speak. It’s an interesting book, even for someone who doesn’t really understand much of the time what Roubini is talking about. I’m with Henry Miller who asked, “But what makes money make money?” I just don’t understand.

As I read, one thing I notice is that Roubini’s underlying assumption is the same as the people he’s criticizing, namely that the most important human activity is economic. His issue with the businessmen who led the world into the abyss is simply that they were deluded about certain economic realities. I think that most Americans today—probably most people in the world today—would probably agree with the idea that economic activity, the creation of wealth, is our most important activity—which is to say that we live in a profoundly materialistic age. But it’s the road to ruin. The last crisis was a warning. We’re either going to let go of the chase gracefully or we’re going to be stopped, and in a most painful manner. “You cannot serve God and mammon.” It’s odd that they call this a Christian nation.