St. Augustine vs. the Fundamentalists

Augustine of Hippo also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed.

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

Wicked picture, yeah? Augustine was born in 354 and lived to be 75! He is highly honored by The Catholic Church, The Assyrian Church of the East, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, The Anglican Communion, Lutheranism, and The Aglipayan Church. He was a very prolific writer and theologists.

Check this out… after a lifetime of living and writing about Christianity, he writes Retractationes (ca. 426-428) or reconsiderations . In this book, he reviews his entire body of written work… and makes corrections.

One of these is the remarkable statement…

“What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian”.

– St. Augustine (Retract., I, xiii, 3)

In other words, Christianity is but a style of the one true religion. It is a mask, a face, one of many secretaries to the president of real spirituality. Some people like to think that Christianity is somehow special, somehow superior than other religions, and this is unfortunate. This is a fundamentalist attitude that hurts Christianity in the long run. Christ never asked for the organization of the Church, instead he warned us to be wary of those seek to use religion in false ways. Have we been diligent in this task?

Christ is well known for being critical of the Pharisees; they focused too much on the rules and politics of the day, and so missed the message of Jesus. They weren’t evil, but they were blind. Therefore we should question dogma and hold fast to the spirit of His life and teachings.



Bible Study: Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street?

First of all, yes, I actually have been reading the Bible. And for those who know me: no, you are not wrong; I’m not really a God freak. I don’t go to church and by comparison, I lead a rather heathenish lifestyle. However, these are not normal times. Not only is the country struggling, but I’ve been struggling too. It’s been a very emotional month, err, couple of months. It’s not that anything specifically bad has happened. It’s just that… well, I’m poor and sometimes that really sucks. I’m not going to go into it, but there is plenty of research out there on the mental effects of poverty, especially on children. Now, I’m not that poor, compared to a lot of other people out there. I do count my blessings, but that doesn’t mean I have it easy either. It’s stressful. At any rate, the Gospels have really impressed me and helped me out this past week. I guess I’m a closet Christian. Lol. I do like Jesus, I just don’t like the church. And maybe that will change. The last time I was in church, I was a teenager.

While I was reading (and cathartically weeping), it occurred to me that there are a lot of similarities between Jesus and the Occupy movement. I decided to do some googling and sure enough, the internets is abuzzing. “Would Jesus occupy” is a popular question these days.

Lots of people are weighing in on the issue, and predictably, where people place Jesus depends a lot upon their ideology. Surprisingly there seems to be more pro-Jesus-occupy than anti-Jesus-occupy and the pro-group contains a healthy contingent of clergy. You can argue that everyone is trying to co-opt Jesus, because Jesus has power and influence and that’s what people try to do with power and influence. However, the issue that’s really being debated is whether or not the Occupy protest is valid and justified in the eyes of Christians. You can bet the conservatives and anti-protesters are bristling. It’s a minefield in the culture war, so naturally, I want to wade in.

Here’s an anti-jesus-occupy blog piece and (thank you lord!) it’s found on a Breitbart blog. You couldn’t ask for a better set-up. See “Jesus Would NOT #OccupyWallStreet

Wow, there is so much wrong here that I scarcely know where to begin.

Although Leftists often derisively dismiss the value of religious beliefs to contemporary government and economics, these same individuals now wish to claim Jesus as a fellow social revolutionary, wealth redistributionist, and civil agitator.

No and no. With the exception of deliberately provocative atheists, “leftists” do not dismiss the value of religious beliefs. They do, however, abhor the misuse of religious belief as a substitute for science, education and public policy. This is a huge difference.

Here’s my counter argument.

Point 1 – Roman Rule. First thing you have to remember is what is Jesus trying to do? Will he have fulfilled the prophesies if he provokes the Romans and is killed by them? No, he will only fulfill the prophesy if he is killed by his own people. Therefore, he does take great care to avoid direct conflict with the Romans, and therefore you get the tax scriptures that you point out. Furthermore, God is not asking Jesus to overthrow the government or insight a rebellion against the Romans. This does not mean that he is apolitical, but we’ll get to that later. The point is He has a job and he does that job.

Point 2 – pay your taxes passages. Mark 12: 13-17. This is an awesome bit here, but you’re missing the point. He is not saying the Romans deserve their tribute or that the Romans are justified, or that the oppressed should do nothing in the face of injustice. What he is saying is don’t get yourself killed or thrown in jail over something as small as paying your taxes. (and remember this question is put to Jesus as a way to bait him into making a mistake.) Since money really isn’t important to those who dwell in the kingdom of heaven, then it really makes no sense to get into a dispute over this. Winning or losing will have no bearing on your soul. Those who dwell outside the kingdom of heaven don’t understand this. They are too busy trying to serve two masters.

Matthew 17: 24-27. Again, the article misses the point of Jesus’s teaching. It’s basically the same thing as the “give unto Caesar passage;” Jesus is teaching how one should relate to God, not to political issues. True, He is presented with a political question, but He doesn’t speak to that; instead He turns this into a spiritual lesson. He tells Peter to… go fish!? Huh? Remember, now that Peter is a disciple, he is a “fisher of men”, of conscience. He is telling Peter to do God’s work and God will provide for your financial need. The message here is not political, it’s spiritual.

(I would also like to point out that the occupy movement is not against taxes; that’s the tea party.)

The last few points of the article only serve to illustrate that Jesus would not have agreed with certain individuals who do participate in the protests. Big deal, I don’t agree with using violence either. It is a logical fallacy to fault the entire movement based on the views of a few supporters. The Occupy movement is not about destroying dissent. In a democracy there are many voices. The movement acknowledges that and seeks to work with those voices, not to silence them.

I agree that in Matthew 19:13-30 Jesus is not advocating for forced redistribution of wealth, but neither is the occupy movement. The protesters have pointed out that income inequality is bad for society, democracy and the economy. Are you are saying that raising taxes on the rich or closing tax loopholes is a forced redistribution? Then wouldn’t lowering the taxes on the rich (from where they were in the 50’s and 60’s) also be a forced redistribution? And how do you defend the argument that we already live in a socialist state only that instead of favoring equality for the people, it favors corporations and the super rich? Corporate welfare state.

Now let’s get to the positive side of the argument.

Notice how when Jesus is asked a spiritual question, he replies with a parable? He replies with a story that is entirely contained within the mundane or ordinary world of everyday people. And when he is asked a question of mundane or worldly concern, he instead uses it to teach a spiritual lesson and takes no position on the mundane? Instead of answering directly (as his opponents would wish of him regarding Caesar’s taxes), he answers in such a way that the listener must carefully consider the words. The listener must engage and wrestle with the truth. This serves many purposes: 1. The truth is not self-evident, but can only be discovered through an examination of one’s values and assumptions. In other words Jesus is not giving man a fish (the truth), he is teaching man to fish (to find the truth). 2. His teachings are impressionable and easy to remember (ie this is an oral tradition). 3. His enemies have a harder time trying to pin him down. They want him to take a specific political position, in the same way that detractors and the media want the occupy movement to make demands.

OK. Now here’s the point I want to make: Jesus had enemies. Right? You know it. I know it. We all know it. Also, these enemies where politically empowered. Remember how they killed him? They used the “lawful” political system to do it. Now, ask yourself this, if Jesus was not political, then why did he have such strong, well-connected enemies? If Jesus did not threaten the status quo, why should they care about his life and death?

You’re not going to find a political treatise in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t politics in there. Jesus doesn’t lecture on or teach politics, but as anyone with half a brain will tell you, the values you hold (including religious beliefs) inform your political beliefs and Jesus is no exception to this rule. If you want to know what His political position is, you have to first know what He teaches. i.e. read the gospels.

Here’s a good one, Matthew 19: 16-30

So here we have someone who has followed the Ten Commandments and yet, is still unsatisfied. Despite his fealty to the law, something is missing; he does not yet have “eternal life”, he cannot enter the “kingdom of heaven”. Why?

The Master tells him, but he does not like the Master’s answer. (And neither does the 1%, nor the fools who support the 1%.)

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdomof God.

Although Jesus is not advocating for a “forced” redistribution of wealth, it’s obvious he is asking for the wealthy to give it up. Why? See, among many, many other passages Matthew 6: 19-34

(Back to Matt19:25)

This story is not over yet. Look how his disciples respond with a lack of faith, “Who then can be saved?” They can’t believe that Jesus would ask such a thing. And Peter asks further, what about us? What is our reward?

Notice how the Master wraps it up with this final line, the great reversal…

But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Even though Peter has been following Jesus since the beginning of his ministry, (and is arguably first or second in-line behind Him) he still has to ask, what’s in it for me? Really? This shows the Master that his disciple still doesn’t understand the kingdom of God.

And this is precisely the problem with America today. How long have we been a “Christian” nation, and yet everyone is still asking “what’s in it for me”. These are the people who shall be last to enter into the kingdom. You want to argue that by raising taxes on the super wealthy and closing corporate loopholes that this is advancing a socialist agenda and will destroy the competitive element of capitalism?  But I say to you, the demand for excessive reward is Mammon worship. Where is our social responsibility? Where is our goodwill and brotherhood toward our fellow citizens? Why is asking the government to do this any different from asking an individual to do this? Shouldn’t the government serve the will of the people?

I’m sure Jesus would challenge the protesters (to be better), but who really knows, right? What we do know is that things that Occupy is protesting against are the same things that Jesus denounced… greed, materialism, corruption, lack of compassion, etc.

What is bias? Part II: More of my biased BS.

My first comment! Thank you! (See original “what is bias” post and comment here.)

If we’re talking about the media then yes, I think, reporters should strive for unbiased reporting. And the distinction between opinion and facts should be emphasized in the public’s consideration of that reporting, more so than it is now. But I don’t mean “bias” in the sense of having a perspective, but I mean it in the negative sense… a perspective that is unfair towards other perspectives. Some dictionaries basically equate “bias” to prejudice. However, I think the connotation is slightly different.

You also bring up an interesting point… “a world where no one had opinions because they were afraid they would appear biased.”  There is a little ambiguity here. Are we talking about the negative or neutral bias? From here on out I will use the word “opinion” to express the neutral bias and “bias” to refer to bias that is unfair, because our use of the word “bias” is problematic and contributes to the confusion.

It’s not wrong to have an opinion (but it can be personally damaging), or even a negative opinion (I don’t like X). The bias, that which is unfair toward other perspectives, is the real issue and even then, it only seems to be problematic in certain situations, but I haven’t found the words to generalize it. Sometimes, an opinion is expressed, but the argument used to push that opinion is spurious or faulty, and so it’s not the bias per se that is at fault even though that’s the accusation that flies.

So, I do think some accusations of bias are unwarranted and that this may have unfairly given rise to a fear of appearing biased. It’s funny because accusations of bias are often used to silence others and therefore the accusation may itself be a form of bias. For example, I’ve heard people say “well, that article (or media outlet or writer or thinker) is biased, so it’s wrong and I don’t have to pay attention to it,” but really they mean “That article doesn’t support my point of view, so I will ignore it.” The fact that someone is expressing an opinion different from you does not automatically mean that the opinion is wrong or poorly supported. An argument ought to be judged on its merits. This kind of personal bias (like the hostile media effect) is not wrong in the same way that media bias is wrong, but I do think this is the danger that having opinions/bias/perspective/ideology present. I believe in freedom of speech and so I believe in the right to hold an opinion, but I also feel that having an opinion creates blind spots that prevent real learning and personal growth. And since democracy needs an informed populace, blind adherence to an opinion is a real problem.

“The world would stagnate!”

I think you are talking about a world where free speech is not possible, and that would definitely prohibit innovation and problem solving. If we eliminate opinions and especially opinions of ideas, then this would surely happen, but what about bias, especially against groups of people? I can’t help but think that if we eliminated bias towards people, it would make war far less common.

It’s funny because I feel the state of politics today is stagnate, and that this is due (at least partially) to society’s current stat of hyper-partisanship and ideological fundamentalism. How many times in the past year, have I heard congress people express the attitude that they’re purposely obstructing the process of democracy as a strategy to make Obama (or the other party) look bad. I also can’t help but wonder how much better voter turnout would be if we had real choices at the polls instead of tweedle dee and tweedle dum. Our bias keeps us divided and encourages us to point the finger at others.

Bias, the unfair kind, occurs when the (media or individual) purposefully discredits or silences valid alternatives to the opinion that the (media or individual) believes to be true. It does this in many ways, but one is through misuse or distortion of real information. I don’t back-check on every little detail or insinuation that makes its way into a news piece, but sometimes I do. After a while, it becomes obvious some media are biased. It’s not just the frequency either; it’s also the magnitude of the distortion from reality. Some media willingly perpetuate myths that are just the complete opposite of reality.

People can be biased too. We shut out that which doesn’t match our idea of the world, because it’s uncomfortable to consider it. But by protecting our ego, we create a barrier that blocks valid opinions and information, and therefore distort ones own reality. Reality is always changing, constantly, but to see it, you must have fresh eyes. You must be able to, once in a while, withhold your judgment and compassionately consider something that is different, or how else will you ever discover something new.

Laying a Brick: what is bias?

(Introducing the category: Laying a Brick. Since bias is a central theme of many of my posts, I thought I should try to layout some background and assumptions I am using, and to create a sounding board for further discussions. These types of posts I consider foundational because they inform the use of the term bias in other posts. and yes, I’m not unfamiliar with the scatological characterization of the bloggosphere.)

This one is a toughie. It’s basically defined as an outlook or perspective that is usually unfair or unreasonable toward opposing perspectives. We all agree that everyone is entitled to their own perspective, but how do we judge whether or not something is unfair? Especially when the judgers may use their own bias to make that decision?

The definition is also open to using the word “bias” without the implication of suppressing alternative perspectives. In that case, it just means preference or holding some value. Therefore, when the word bias is used, there’s the potential for some ambiguity. This is one reason why we must make a distinction between negative bias and neutral bias, personal bias and media bias. Personal bias can be benign or “unfair” depending on the use and context of the word, but when you have media bias, the underlying assumption (which is not always correct) is that it’s the “unfair” kind.

It is arguable that it is impossible to completely remove bias from the news, and therefore the best we can hope for is a diverse market that caters to all sides. (whoa! More on this later.) But does that exonerate the worse case offenders from not even attempting to be impartial? Does the fact that bias is nearly impossible to remove mean that we must adjust our expectations for journalistic ethics? Or can a code of ethics function as a litmus test for revealing unacceptable uses of bias?

Overtly, we agree that negative bias is bad. When a news outlet admits bias, it takes a hit. We have an interesting situation where journalists and news organizations tacitly admit bias, and yet call out other journalists and news organizations for their bias. It appears hypocritical, but maybe this is just part of the theater of opposing biases. Each side does not appear unfairly biased to itself, but each does appear unfairly biased towards one another.

This brings us to another dimension of the bias conundrum, the “hostile media effect.” This is when someone with a strong bias automatically “perceives media coverage as biased against their opinions, regardless of the reality.”

Even though we think of media bias as wrong, the market appears to the support news organizations despite their perceived biases, or perhaps even because of them. Studies show (see below) show that there is a strong influence of bias in the news market due to the demand of the news buying market. If we suppose that the market is actually open and free, then what does the current state of bias in mainstream news outlets say about the bias of the body politic? And, even more importantly, what does this say about the people?


The question is not whether there is bias; everyone has bias. The question is whether that bias is unfair or unreasonable in its treatment of alternative perspectives. Unfortunately, it is probably impossible to always objectively determine whether or not a bias is unfair towards others. And chances are, even in the best situations, at least one person may still be entitled to call foul simply. Is it possible to offer an opinion on politics and current events that is universally unbiased? maybe, but I don’t see how. Perceptions of unfair bias are predicated upon the viewer’s bias, the ability to step outside of one’s bias and the individual’s ability to tolerate alternative perspectives.

Finally, I’m left wondering… can the journalistic code of ethics (or some type of methodology) be used with reasonable accuracy to call out bias? Is it something that can only be used with authority by those outside the bias of mainstream society? Finally what can be said about the bias against science? Regardless of the bias that may or may not have prompted it, shouldn’t cases of distortion, misinterpretation or otherwise inappropriate use of science and scientific data be called out and corrected?


(In the effort to promote transparency, enlightenment and critical thinking, I feel it is important to document the information I am using.)

The Market for News” by Sendhil Mullainathan and Andrei Shleifer published in the peer reviewed journal American Economic Review is  a study which explores the relationship between demand in the news market and it’s influence on biased news. Although not definitive proof, the study provides strong evidence that the bias present in news media is a product of maximizing profit in the market.

Another exploration of media bias and supply demand side economics is provided in “Media Bias and Reputation.” [Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro; Journal of Political Economy, 2006, 114(2), pp. 280 – 316.] Here the authors find that bias occurs as a result of news organizations effort to build a reputation of accuracy with their potential market. Gentzkow has continued this exploration in several subsequent papers. See here:

Apart from this is I used wikipedia and various online dictionaries. Wikipedia is usually a good starting point for getting some background on the issue:

Thank you, Occupy Wall Street!

For years and years, I had watched the corporate take-over of our economy, our democracy and our country. I saw it happening, and I voiced my out-rage and watched as my voice crash against the towering mountains of ignorance, apathy, hopelessness and complacency. Of course that was in the Clinton years and then after Bush took office, we had the nationalist-paranoia years. Now that the economy is really, really bad, and we’ve shook off (at least some) of the fascist’s manipulation of fear, people are finally beginning to take notice, and DO SOMETHING about it. Occupy Wall Street has awakened our hearts, our imaginations and our dreams. For the first time in my political life, I feel something like hope. There is still a long way to go. The challenges we face have never been more threatening, but before I move on, I have to say “Thank you! Thank you, Occupy Wall Street! Thank you occupiers everywhere!”