Friday, October 28, 2005

Ax 17, versus 1-21

Recently a fellow blogger put forth this proposition, quoting yet another blogger:

"it is important for all parties to realize it is not a blind faith." He cites Acts 17, where Paul uses reasoning and logic to convince people of Christ's authenticity.”

Let’s go to the text. From the King James revision:

“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:
And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.
And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.”


He is reasoning with Jews, in the synagogue, so where does this multitude of devout Greeks and “chief women” come in? We are told elsewhere, that Paul “as was his manner” first preached to the Jews to “stop their mouths from speaking against him for preaching to the gentiles”. If this is true, then something is wrong with the chronology here, or else he is preaching to Jews and Pagans (let’s face it!) at the same time. The passage also leaves one with the impression that Paul went into the synagogue and “reasoned” with them, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Rabbi and Cantor in a kind of scriptural duel. Have you ever tried to interrupt a ceremony of any denomination? More likely, this took place after services, where the Jews, as was their custom, argued points of Talmudic law. This was done in a formalized way, asking questions, giving answers, and supporting those answers with scripture. This is the same activity that a young Jesus was alleged to have taken part in, and so impressed the Rabbis. Paul would have been arguing , I mean “reasoning”, with some of the fiercest defenders of the Jewish faith. Anyone want to bet that didn’t get heated? But in this passage, we are led to believe that everything was civil, and Paul was winning.

I have gone back to commentaries on these passages dating back to the 1600’s. I find it peculiar that I have found no conjecture on exactly what passages Paul cited in his arguments. Can anyone help me with a reference here? One must assume that he is quoting Ezekiel, but specifics would be expected here. This is the core of his mission at this time, and all that is recorded are the day-to-day events. The actual substance of his arguments appear to be glossed over. Maybe they weren’t all that compelling? We will never know, because all we get here is something that equates to, “... and then he said some authoritative stuff.”

“But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.”

Does this make sense? The Jews are a small enclave, living in a city in Greece, and practicing a religion that was not accepted by Rome. The attribution of “envy” (translated as jealousy in other versions) sounds like an ancient case of spin doctoring. It suggests that accusation of last resort that children hurl at each other, “You’re just jealous!” How likely is it, that members of a community would be envious of an itinerant preacher of a fledgling religion with fewer followers than it would take to make a decent neighborhood? Someone who often needs to steal away in the middle of the night, just ahead of an angry mob? Yeah, I’d be envious of that.

And then we come to the part where the Jews enlist the aid of “lewd fellows of a baser sort”. First, does this sound like the way a religious community would behave? One that probably kept apart from their pagan neighbors? One that probably feared persecution at the hands of their pagan neighbors, should anything happen to piss those neighbors off? Second, do lewd fellows of a baser sort generally need encouragement? There were plenty in my High School, and they were what you’d call “self starters”. This passage reads like one of those re-writes that were common in the city of Rome, when Judaism was an outlawed religion, and the Christians were busy trying to distance themselves from their own roots. Not that it worked (roar!). “Let’s not make too big a deal about the Greeks kicking us out of every major city. Blame the Jews, those ingrates!

“And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, [one] Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.”

So... these lewd and base fellows drag Jason and friends out into the street, and turn them over to an angry mob that... takes them to the magistrate who fines them for disturbing the peace. Sounds like rabble to me. Meanwhile, Paul presumably decides that discretion is the better part of valor and practices not being found.

“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea:“

Having posted bond, Jason no doubt wanted no further trouble with the authorities, and perhaps even wanted to see his “security” again. Paul was persuaded to make his not being found a little more permanent.

“who coming [thither] went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

Ah, at last, after being booted all over Greece, it looks like Paul has found a sympathetic community!

“Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.”

Alas, it was not to be! Those damned Thessalonicans tracked him down! Somehow, they had it out for Paul. Or, maybe, a couple of folks came up the road, and related the story of the shit hitting the fan in Thessalonica. I’m guessing that the people of Berea did not need much stirring to decide that they did not want to risk the ire of their Roman overlords. Unlike today, everybody back then knew what happened when you pissed off the Romans. Look up the word “decimate” if you need a crash course.

“And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.”

There he goes again, like a thief in the night. This time they put him on a boat. As Lenny Bruce would say some 1900 years later, “There’s a boat leaving Thursday...”

"And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed."

So, how do you explain this? Paul decided while at sea that he needed some side boys with him? Or, maybe, Silas and Timmy stayed behind as a diversion, so no one would know that Paul had already done a bunk. In any case, Paul is not even settled in when he sends a message back with the crew of the ship. Perhaps he realized that a leader needs followers and thought they would set a good example of what he was looking for in Athens.

“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.”

Ok, but next we are told:

“Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.”

Are we to believe that the Jews were given to idolatry? After the 10 Commandments and everything? Perhaps “wholly” was an exaggeration, in which case exaggeration is “the Truth” since every word of this scripture is allegedly true.... I also note that Paul has abandoned "reasoning" in favor of "disputing".

“Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, [is]? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)”

“(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)” That would be everyone, and nobody did anything but gossip, so they must have all starved. All true, right? At least some of the philosophers heard Paul out. He would revile them later in one of his letters, so I guess he didn’t make that many converts.

Next time, what Paul told the Athenians

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Study Hall Puzzle Fun!

If your High School experience was anything like mine, you went to great lengths at times to amuse yourself instead of doing homework in study hall periods. One of the things we would do to pass the time was word puzzles. In the spirit of those games, here’s one for anyone who cares to play:

There is a famous Mark Twain quote that goes “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”

Just for fun, take all the quotes that you can find on what the White Hose (sic) Cronies are saying about Harriet Miers, and remove all the adjectives. So far, what I have been left with is, “She is.”

Well, it’s a fact, I guess.

Puzzle #2: Define, "Uniquely Qualified".

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Visit to the Swamp of Conflicting Ideas

I just listened to the debate on C-span between George Galloway and Christopher Hitchens on the subject of the US-British invasion and occupation of Iraq. No matter whose side you favor, both men make some interesting and revelatory statements. The problem is, both men are right, and both men are wrong. Is this because there is no black and white? No, there is black and white and all shades of gray in between. The problem has complex origins. Monsters were created and destroyed in the region for political advantage, and the flow of weapons and money into the willing hands of the power-hungry made sure that there was no stability or democracy to be had under the Marshall Plan. Every subsequent step down the slippery slope that has led to the present bizarre situation has been a logical outcome of the then-existing bizarre situation, both defensible, and debatable. In other words, and in my opinion, we just keep making mistakes.

I am reading a first-hand account of the campaign in the First World War that pushed the Germans back from the Marne, and started the long, bloody, and bitter retreat of that army back to Germany. History belongs to the victor, and most history books dismiss this series of campaigns with the words “The Germans were pushed back....” Make no mistake, this was a retreat, not a rout, and the German soldiers fought and died bravely for what they believed was a just cause. This is sadly relevant for the bloodshed that happened after that war. If you make an enemy, you might make an enemy for life. No lasting diplomatic solution ever was achieved at gunpoint. Sarajevo is a prime example; anyone care to remember the political issues that started WWI and the sequel? The peace is achieved and maintained by recognizing the rights and supporting the rights of all people. If you invade a foreign country, must you not recognize the rights of the occupied to fight back? We call these people terrorists. They are engaged in the same activities as the French Résistance in World War II. They have their own ideas who the enemy is. My opinion of those ideas is irrelevant to them. From an outside perspective, their enemies include some of their own people, but there are socio-racial groups that don’t get along in that country. Turkey has threatened to invade if the Kurds win independence. The problems are complex, and military occupation is too simplistic an answer to be the whole answer. I maintain that one can recognize the right of a sovereign people to create insurrection, and still do what is necessary to quell said insurrection.

One small mistake we can avoid making is dehumanizing and oversimplifying the enemy. This has been done traditionally to facilitate the killing of men by soldiers. Unfortunately, this kind of equivocation does not have a lasting effect on the soldiers who use it, and the deeds of war often come back to haunt them in later years. This is caused by the conflict between the social taboo against killing humans, and the need to act like a weapon when part of a military operation. There is no clear solution to this problem. Either we turn our soldiers into permanent killers, with no more inhibitions than a gunslinger from the old West, or we turn them into guilt-ridden basket cases. I think I prefer those with less inhibition toward killing per se, as long as I can trust them to remain rational human beings. In a world that contains drugs, alcohol, socio-political and religious demagoguery and fanaticism, that can be a problem in itself.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Part 4: How they do it.

This is the final post in a series on why a capitalist society would establish a large class of working and non-working poor, and create conditions wherein those in that predicament face large barriers to advancement. Wealth is power, and the poor have neither. If you want to prevent someone from accumulating wealth, depress the rate at which they are paid. The cost of living in the US, the cost of food, shelter, clothing, transportation, insurance, health care, and taxation, is much higher than say, Mexico. This means that an “undocumented alien” that crossed the border in an “unorthodox manner” and is working “under the table” can support a family back home for less money than a person with a family in the US. Such a person can and does accept a lower wage than would be a considered a decent living wage for a domestic family breadwinner. This system is working out so well for some corporate interests, that wetback labor is being viewed as indispensable and is being decriminalized. The effects on the workforce and the economy at large are less desirable however.

Going back to the model comparing money to a liquid, imagine a savings account as a bucket to be filled with water. There are three ways to prevent the bucket from being filled: put a hole in the bottom, siphon off the liquid as fast or faster than it is being transferred in, or divert the flow entirely. Hiring illegal immigrants and/or cheap offshore labor does a bit of all three. Offshore labor diverts the flow of wages and allows employers to pay wages that are lower than would be legal here. The wages paid in the US that go to feed families in Mexico, India, and other places in the world help the economies of those countries, but do nothing for the US economy. The presence of these alternative work forces keeps the minimum wage depressed below the poverty line, and creates an opprtunity to keep a wider veriety of jobs at the minimum wage standard. The minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, and the excuse for many years has been that young adults working for McDonald’s, etc., are still living at home with their parents and don’t need to make as much as a family breadwinner. Unfortunately, this does not reflect the realities of the modern work force. As often as not, an unskilled breadwinner finds him/herself working two jobs to support a family and a home. If you do the math, this leaves no time for education, and this person will never qualify for a better paying job. Most of the time, these jobs offer no medical benefits, and workers in this category wind up with higher bills than a person making less money, but only working one job with benefits. This is a trap. Many people in this trap succumb to depression and self-destructive behaviors like drinking and smoking. Drinking and smoking puts money in the government’s pocket as well as large corporations, so it is not too vigorously discouraged. To see the names of some employers with a large work force receiving minimum wage, check out the list of Republican campaign contributors in part 1 of this essay.

Another myth that is repeatedly offered is that illegal immigrants take jobs that no one else wants. This is untrue. Immigrants take jobs that won’t work for US residents with higher expectations and needs for a return on the investment of their time. My ancestors worked in mines, and in textile mills and in shoe factories. Some of my friends worked in shoe factories until the 1970’s when the factories closed. Some of the people I went to High School with own and operate successful landscaping and tree businesses. Still others empty bedpans in nursing homes. Another works in the exhaust-filled tunnels that connect Manhattan to New Jersey. The problem with the jobs that wage earners shun is not the work, it is the wage. All of the excuses are gauged to keep a stratum of the workforce willing to work for less than a fair wage. The pure Capitalists and Libertarians and Objectivists can argue for a market free of regulation, but none of them ever had to live within the reality of a 1920’s West Virginia coal miner and his family. There is corruption on both sides of the labor equation, but collective bargaining is an economic necessity. The most recent developments of offshore labor and tolerated illegal immigration is an attempt to shift the balance of bargaining power back to the employer. Their motto might as well be, “Slavery is illegal unless it is in someone else’s country.”

There is much more that I could say on this topic, and much documentation that I could offer to back up my position. For now, I leave it at this, and open the floor to any debate that might ensue. I will just mention in passing one more trick used to keep the poor where they are: schools that don't teach.