Category Archives: The culture of the North

The lesson from Matthew 18

One of the main reasons why Christians became Protestants is that it was a set of religious beliefs that tended to lead to prosperity.  Not always, of course, and there were times when Protestants could become seriously ugly but they were the first to condemn human slavery (Anabaptists / Mennonites 1534), they organized the first true Protestant state that was astonishingly successful (Dutch Reformed from 1581-1795) they triggered the Industrial Revolution in England (Quakers and other dissenting Protestants) they organized the first working social welfare system (German Lutherans Krupp and von Bismarck 1889) etc.  One of the prime reasons why the prosperity charlatans running those mega churches get away with their send-me-money-and-God-will-make-you rich scams is that in Northern Europe and North America, living like a Protestant tended to lead to unheard-of levels of prosperity.  There is an historical basis for these beliefs.

But here's the problem.  Protestant beliefs can be terribly cruel.  The other side of the you're-rich-because-God-loves-you-and-has-blessed-you is the-you-are-poor-because-you-have-sinned argument.  Germany and Greece may consider themselves secular societies but there is a LARGE element of that argument when the Germans blame the economic woes of Greece on laziness.

Fortunately, debt restructuring like the Greeks need has been covered in the foundation text of Christianity—the Bible.  I have reprinted the text in full just so there is no debate about its meaning.  And here is what cannot be forgotten, Wirtschaftswunder—the postwar German economic miracle—was a combination of many factors but one of the most important was debt restructuring of Germany at the London Conference of 1953.  They had 50% of their debt wiped out.  No debt restructuring—no Wirtschaftswunder.

What is so amazing about the Greek debt problem is that a majority of the loans are held by large institutions like the European Central Bank.  Those folks could push some sort of reset button and wipe out serious amounts of Greek debt and nothing bad would happen to the ECB.  Greece could get around to restarting their economy at a pain to almost no one.

Angela Merkel is the daughter of a Lutheran devine.  Either dad never preached on Matthew 18 or she slept in that Sunday.  Damn shame because she and her ilk are on the verge of blowing up the EU over what is clearly mistaken theology.  Angela, dear, people DIED so we could be Protestants.  It's pretty clear you haven't the foggiest notion why they would do that.  Hint—it's economics, dummkopf, and you are doing it all wrong!

Matthew 18:

23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brothers their debts.

The debt write-off behind Germany's 'economic miracle'

Text by Benjamin DODMAN 2015-01-30

Six decades ago, an agreement to cancel half of postwar Germany's debt helped foster a prolonged period of prosperity in the war-torn continent. The new government in Athens says Greece – and Europe – now need a similar deal.

When discussing Greece’s whopping $310 billion debt, the country's new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras likes to recall a time when Europe's great debt offender was not Greece, but Germany, today's paragon of fiscal responsibility. The leader of the radical-left Syriza party refers in particular to an international conference held in London in 1953, during which West Germany secured a write-off of more than 50% of debt, accumulated after two world wars. Back then, with memories of Nazi atrocities still fresh, many countries were reluctant to offer such generous debt relief. But the US persuaded its European allies, including Greece, to relinquish debt repayments and reparations in order to build a stable and prosperous Western Europe that could contain the threat from Soviet Russia.

“Tsipras is right to remind Germans how well they were treated, with both debt relief and money from the Marshall Plan,” says Professor Stephany Griffith-Jones, an economist at Columbia University, referring to the US programme to help rebuild European economies after World War II. She believes Greece is justified in demanding a more generous approach from its creditors, despite obvious differences between its current plight and that of war-ravaged Germany. “In fact, Greece’s situation is perhaps more urgent because the pressure from markets and the financial sector is so much stronger than in the 1950s,” she says.

West Germany’s debt at the time was well below the levels seen in Greece today. But German negotiators successfully argued that it would hinder efforts to rebuild the country’s economy – much as Greek governments have in recent years, in vain. Under a crucial term of the London Agreement, repayments of the remaining debt were made conditional on West Germany running a trade surplus. In other words, the German government would only pay back its creditors when it could afford to – and not by borrowing even more money. Reimbursements were also limited to 3% of export earnings. This gave Germany’s creditors an incentive to import German goods so they would later get their money back, thereby laying the foundations of the country’s powerful export sector and fostering its so-called “economic miracle”.

Germany ‘the biggest debt transgressor’

“Germany's resurgence has only been possible through waiving extensive debt payments and stopping reparations to its World War II victims,” economic historian Albrecht Ritschl told Der Spiegel in 2011, describing Germany as “the biggest debt transgressor” of the past century. “During the 20th century, Germany was responsible for what were the biggest national bankruptcies in recent history,” Ritschl said, pointing to the collapse of the German economy in the early 1930s, which sent shockwaves through global markets. “It is only thanks to the United States, which sacrificed vast amounts of money after both World War I and World War II, that Germany is financially stable today and holds the status of Europe's headmaster. That fact, unfortunately, often seems to be forgotten.”

In recent years, Greece has been subjected to a very different treatment, described by some as “shock therapy”. In return for two bailouts worth €240 billion, the country was forced to impose savage spending cuts and tax rises that, critics say, effectively killed off any chance of economic recovery. Only 10% of the bailout money made it into public spending, with the rest going to debt repayment. What little money the country made was used to service the interest on its debt, which has actually grown larger as a percentage of GDP because of the shrinking economy. After a six-year depression, industrial output has fallen by a third and millions have been pushed into poverty, with little or no prospect of living standards returning to pre-crisis levels in the near future.

As unemployment skyrocketed in Greece, so did anti-German sentiment among the population, with anger at Germany’s insistence on austerity mingling with residual resentment of its role during the war. Once again, the London Agreement is at the heart of the dispute. Back in 1953, the money Greece gave up included a loan extorted during the gruesome Nazi occupation of the country, when thousands of resistance fighters and civilians were murdered and hundreds of thousands starved to death. Even before Syriza’s electoral triumph, Greek newspapers were awash with calls for Germany to repay the loan, the exact amount of which is a matter of historical dispute. Estimates range from $24 billion to five times the amount. While few Greeks expect Berlin to pay up, many believe that Germany was let off the hook after the war and should now be more generous in Greece’s hour of need.

Lessons forgotten

Alexis Tsipras’s decision on Tuesday to lay a wreath at a memorial to Greek communists murdered by the Nazis, in his very first outing as prime minister, was widely interpreted as a reminder of Germany’s historical debt towards Greece. But Greece’s new leader has not built his case for debt relief on the debatable premise that his country "deserves" it. He believes a write-off of at least part of Europe's unsustainable debt is, ultimately, in everyone’s interest. A growing number of economists share this view. Syriza and its Spanish ally, Podemos, were recently singled out as the only European parties currently backing "sensible policies such as debt restructuring" in a widely quoted article by the Financial Times. "The tragedy of today’s eurozone is the sense of resignation with which the establishment parties of the centre-left and the centre-right are allowing Europe to drift into the economic equivalent of a nuclear winter," the article read, warning of decades of economic stagnation if Europe insists on using austerity as the sole remedy to its debt crisis.

The contrast between the postwar write-off of German debt and today’s intransigence is a measure of how much economic thinking has changed since the London conference. “The lessons of Keynesian economics about how to respond to economic crisis have been forgotten,” says Professor Griffith-Jones, likening the present treatment of Greece to the drastic belt-tightening imposed on Latin American countries in the 1980s. “It was only when debt relief kicked in that the situation improved in Latin America,” she says, adding that Greece’s new government “also needs some breathing space to boost spending and promote economic growth”. Indeed leaked minutes of IMF meetings in 2010 have shown that Latin American countries expressed serious misgivings about putting Greece through the same ordeal.

Though crediting the German government with having helped save the euro, the Columbia professor says European policymakers have lost touch with the “vision of peace and prosperity” that underpinned the European Union and inspired negotiators in 1953. The view at the time was that the punishing terms imposed on Germany by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles had scuppered the country’s chances of recovery and favoured the rise of Nazism. Six decades later, that lesson has been largely forgotten. Warnings that the austerity imposed on fragile economies in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis could lead to similar upheaval have fallen on deaf ears. Mercifully, a new ruling party with a progressive agenda has emerged from the ruins of Greece’s economy. But the third place secured in Sunday’s snap election by Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party, and the rise of xenophobic parties across Europe offer a reminder that things could have gone – and indeed may yet go – very differently. more

Merry Christmas

...and on earth peace, good will towards men.
Luke 2:14—the absolute central message of Christmas

Yes, I know, there are plenty of people who call themselves "Christians" who are lying, warmongering, thugs who literally worship ignorance.  Those of us who hail from the more enlightened precincts of the faith are truly embarrassed by such creatures.  But what can you do?  Blithering Buffoons like Mike Huckabee (and seemingly the whole cohort of Baptist divines) are useful to the multi-$billion military-industrial complex.  The peacemakers obviously are not.  Huckabee is a regular on TV.  Guys like my dad—not in a thousand years.

In the spirit of peace, some pictures from winters past.  We will have a snow-free Christmas this year.

It must get VERY cold to freeze a creek running this fast

There is no quiet like the woods in winter.  Nothing moves and the snow absorbs sound

A solstice sunset taken from the Veblen tombstone at Valley Grove cemetery.  The sun may be coming back, but it has gone very low in the sky.

This tombstone

We might be having a brown Christmas this year but this is what the snowpiles looked like last year.

A picture taken by my father after a nasty blizzard in 1951.  The two on the left are my sisters—five and six years old.

That's me in the window.  I am almost two.  Note the huge ice dam / icicle.  That house was almost new so it reflects the primitive state of the art for insulation.

Luther was right

On Dec 21, 1943, my parents got married in a big North Minneapolis church.  While it was a large and happy affair, it was not expensive because neither of my parents could afford that.  My father, the photobug, gave his camera to a friend to record the event but friend neglected to take off the lens cap so one of the biggest events in my parent's lives would never make it to the family scrapbooks.  They would make it quite clear to us children that they had chosen the day with the longest night of the year quite deliberately—it was a family joke we all knew long before we had any idea what it meant.

The reason my parents could have a big sprawling wedding without it costing much was because my father was in his last year at a Lutheran seminary and my mother was this highly popular parish worker at the big church.  So we children would be preacher's kids.  This is a difficult life.  Everyone knows who you are and everyone believes they have a right to pass moral judgements on your actions. Personally, I hated every minute of it.  But my mother would make it a point to remind me just how many PKs in Nordic Lutheran history made important contributions to human progress.  This wasn't a lot of comfort but I grew up hoping that this highly stressful childhood could possibly lead to some very successful outcomes.

This leads to a very interesting question.  If becoming a clergyman was a preferred occupational destination for bright young students for the last 2000 years in Christendom, shouldn't there be a difference in outcomes between the societies that removed their clergy from the gene pool and those that did not?  When Martin Luther, a man once sworn to celibacy fell in love, he needed a set of rationales for why Lutheran clergy should marry.  Mostly, he explained, a man without a family is unqualified to understand the problems of parishioners who have families.  And from all accounts, Luther obviously loved his wife and children going so far as to compose music for them.  The Catholics who want to believe that Luther was a great heretic who destroyed the unity of the church often point to his failure to keep his vows of celibacy as proof positive that he was a bad person.

As a practical matter I decided as a child that I could never be a Catholic for the simple reason that if my father had been one, I would not exist.  Buying into my mother's notion that a childhood in a parsonage was this special gift that would lead to making me a significant person in the culture like Ingmar Bergman, was MUCH more difficult to believe when asked to sit on wooden pews through very long devout observances.  I still don't see the link.  Nevertheless, it is quite obvious that the Protestant clergy have far fewer problems with sexual issues like pedophilia.  Yes they have sex scandals, but they are of the regular variety—the preacher has an affair with the organist, etc.  Luther was right!  It is a good thing for the clergy to have normal sex lives—the kind that includes the preacher and his wife bragging to their children (every year on their anniversary) that they chose the longest night of the year to marry and that sex is a gift from a loving God that is intended to make us happy.  My parents had many hang-ups—sex was not one of them.

I see some Australian Catholics have come to agree with Dr. Luther.  And while I would strongly suggest that they abandon clerical celibacy, I would also suggest they look into the question of the resulting preacher's kids.  After all, they can be real troublemakers. They can also become real reactionaries—yes Frau Merkel, I am talking about you.

Catholic Church In Australia: 'Obligatory Celibacy May Have Contributed To Abuse'

Religion News Service | By Josephine McKenna  12/14/2014

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Roman Catholic Church in Australia acknowledged that “obligatory celibacy” may have contributed to decades of clerical sexual abuse of children in what may be the first such admission by church officials around the world.

A church advisory group called the Truth, Justice and Healing Council made the startling admission Friday (Dec. 12) in a report to the government’s Royal Commission, which is examining thousands of cases of abuse in Australia.

The 44-page report by the council attacked church culture and the impact of what it called “obedience and closed environments” in some religious orders and institutions.

“Church institutions and their leaders, over many decades, seemed to turn a blind eye, either instinctively or deliberately, to the abuse happening within their diocese or religious order, protecting the institution rather than caring for the child,” the report said.

“Obedience and closed environments also seem to have had a role in the prevalence of abuse within some religious orders and dioceses. 
Obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse.”

The council’s CEO, Francis Sullivan, who has held various administrative roles in the health sector, including heading Catholic Health Australia, said clergy training should include “psychosexual development.”

“It’s a no-brainer,” Sullivan said. “You need to address how sexuality is understood and acted out by members of the clergy.”

But the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which represents around 20,000 victims worldwide, said the latest report did little to help protect those at risk from abuse.

“Decisive action is needed, not more reports,” SNAP national director David Clohessy said. “The church hierarchy knows what’s needed. It simply refuses to give up its power and enable secular authorities to investigate and prosecute those who commit and conceal sexual violence against the vulnerable.”

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, could not be reached for comment Friday. But Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former chief prosecutor for abuse cases, tried to put the report in context in remarks to the Italian daily La Stampa.

“You mustn’t forget that most abuse occurs in the family,” he said. “Obviously I don’t exclude individual cases where celibacy is lived badly that may have psychological consequences. But it should be said clearly that it is certainly not the origin of this sad and very painful phenomenon and remember that there is no nexus between cause and effect.”

The suggestion of a link between celibacy and child sexual abuse has divided Australian Catholic leaders in the past.

Cardinal George Pell, former archbishop of Sydney and now head of the Vatican’s powerful economic ministry, acknowledged there may be a connection when he testified before a separate government inquiry in Australia last year. He was unavailable for comment at the Vatican Friday.

The independent Australian council is made up of church and lay members and is supervised by some of the nation’s senior archbishops, though its views do not necessarily reflect those of all senior clergy. more