Violent Charity and the Trouble With Minimum Tips

“People who can’t imagine order without imposition always end up favoring power over liberty.” – Jeffrey Tucker

I had a conversation with a friend not too long ago about the nature of violence in taxation, and how that violence stood in contrast to any charitable end one might hope to achieve through the state.

“Who said anything about violence?” she responded.

Yet if a man stops paying taxes he finds that he is summonsed by the courts and ordered to pay. If he again refuses he finds that armed men eventually come to his house and take everything he has under threat of violence.

Taxation by the state – the appropriation of one man’s life and production for the purposes of “the whole” – is fundamentally a violent act.

Note that I do not mean to imply here that violence is always evil, or always uncalled for. Did not Jesus drive the money changers from the temple with violence? Do we not believe that a man can take up arms in defense of his neighbors – indeed he should do so to protect the innocent?

But when it comes to charity, to helping those in need, there would seem to be an inherent incompatibility with violence. The idea that we could commit violence against one, who has done no wrong by simply rising in the morning and working hard all day, and somehow justify it by accomplishing a benevolent act towards another is, well, perverse.

I say this to point back to my longstanding position – social benevolence programs run by the state (i.e., via taxation) are immoral. The benevolence may itself be a good thing, but the violence committed to accomplish it through the state undoes any good that was hoped for. (There may be pragmatic reasons for those programs, but the justification must then be pragmatic in nature, not moral.)

As I laid this position out to a different friend some time ago, she responded with an interesting order of events. “I agree with you, and as soon as the church is answering the call on all of these various needs then we should end the government programs.”

The statement honestly took me by surprise. It was an acceptance (by someone who I would consider liberal on a political scale) that the state’s benevolence failed to be charitable. However, the order of outcomes seems to be only a half-step to acceptance, and fails on two fronts.

First, it suggests that failing to meet the human needs of some is a greater sin than the violence we commit in taxation. I reject this idea.

I will not tread down the road of “no big or small sins” – when we are talking about sins committed against one another there are bigger and smaller sins. The Golden Rule alone tells us that we can weigh the severity of outcomes by putting ourselves in the position of the other. I’d rather you steal my wallet than kill me. Both are sins, but one is worse in the eyes of the victim, and so one is a greater sin.

In our situation, I hold that the violence of taxation is the greater sin. The sin of violent commission, of seizing a man’s life for the benefit of another man’s life is greater (in my mind) than the sin of failing to willingly meet the needs of others.

The second issue is systemic in nature. It is the problem of the minimum tip. Have you ever been to a restaurant with a large party and found that the server included a minimum 15% gratuity? I understand why they do this – large parties have a way of seeing the absolute dollar amount of a percentage-wise small tip and saying “that’s big enough”. Servers have been burned by this so they started a minimum percentage for large parties.

Every time there is a minimum gratuity there is also a line for “extra gratuity” – you can always pay more than 15%, just not less. I always, always, always refuse to pay extra, even if the service was great.

At its root it’s a feedback problem. Bad service does not get punished in the face of the minimum, so the tip has lost its function.

The allegory is not perfect, mind you, but the idea is still there. Christians across this country will look at their annual tax bill – money they are told they must pay or go to jail, and much of it devoted to “benevolent” programs – and rightly ask “why do I need to do more?”

We were not given the opportunity to do less if doing less was warranted (sometimes needs should go unmet in order to induce a change in behavior). We were not given the opportunity to direct our monies toward the most effective means of helping (some legislator or bureaucrat who has no idea of the situation on the ground made those decisions). We were handcuffed from the start – you took a sizable portion of our available resources.

The idea that, inside this system, there is any way that the free will benevolence of the church (which always has conditions of grace – but not cheap grace) will rise above the no-strings-attached giveaways of the state and eliminate the “need” for those programs is a bit silly.

So how do we get there? Well, I would love to think we could simply make the argument to a country that claims to be 70%-80% Christian and let the democratic process work it out. Alas, we saw how well that worked at eliminating slavery (when the percentages were much higher).

I think the answer, if there is one, lies in decentralization. In response to the recent “Calexit” post, a friend noted that California pays far more into the Federal coffers than it gets out, and that this is unfair. I agree – but no centralized system of generalized tax code intake and entitlement outflow will result in the states getting out exactly what they put in (in aggregate). The only way to do that would be to let all programs be administered at the state level by state taxation and entitlement processes.

This solution has another benefit – it allows ideas to compete with one another and free men to choose what works best for them (and even vote with their feet if they don’t like the local situation). I suspect that localities that eliminate the most superfluous giveaways – the free money for nothing handouts – will find that the best and brightest and most productive want to live and work there. The rest will take care of itself, and the church will have its opportunity to answer the call.

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Calexit – Everyone Has Principles When It Goes Horribly Wrong

Whoever wishes peace among peoples must fight statism” – Ludwig Von Mises

I’ve seen quite a bit of post-election hand-wringing by the California Left over the notion of “Calexit” – California’s proposed secession from the union. We don’t want to harp on the utter unworkability of this plan, as there are deeper issues at play. But for a moment, consider:

  • To be recognized by the US government (i.e., not an act of war) the secession would require a constitutional amendment and ratification of 3/4 of the states (hint: no liberal states/representatives would vote for the plan as it would put them in the continual minority)
  • Succession of a state likely sparks a run – why would Texas, New Hampshire, or South Carolina stick around if breaking away were this easy? Would 3/4 of the states grant the “black swan” moment of the union?
  • Much of California (especially southern California) is dependent on water that comes from rivers in the rest of the United States (which could quite easily be cut off in the event of a secession)

These are just a few of the practical issues. I for one am more interested in what the urge for Calexit means in regards to a democracy.

It has been noted in times past that people are generally OK with tyranny, as long as the tyrant acts and thinks like them. In the case of Calexit, the California Left was fine with imposition of liberal will on conservatives and conservative states. But, as soon as the role is reversed (not that I think Donald Trump to be a conservative), they start to wonder why they have to put up with it.

Why should Californians have the “majority rule” (or “majority of electoral college rule”) of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin forced on them? Of course, when the roles were reversed, why should South Carolina, Alabama, and Utah have the “majority rule” of New York and Washington forced on them?

It’s not just Calexit, of course. My liberal friends all seemed to accept majority rule when Obama was in power and the House & Senate were held by Democrats. (“It’s majority rule and we can’t make everyone happy” – direct quote.) But now that Republicans will soon control the White House and both houses of Congress they have suddenly discovered their love for individual liberties.

My conservative friends, of course, played the game with exactly reversed roles. Individual liberties were all the rage when one-party rule by Democrats was the way of things. Now they seem to be fine with Donald Trump’s day-by-day decision to browbeat otherwise free companies into staying in the US or get “punished” for going overseas.

It seems folks have principles – a deep seeded belief in individual liberty and the rights of man – when those rights are threatened by democracy. But, alas, when it is democracy that is oppressing the “other” – the “deplorable” – the one with whom we most disagree – then, well, that’s just fine … perhaps even good.

For my part, I hold that individual liberty is the very expression of the Golden Rule acting within a democracy. For me to enforce on you anything more than collective defense of individual rights (e.g., the democratically enacted law prevents you from stealing or killing) is for me to say that you, though created in the image of God, are not entitled to fully exercise your humanity. That you, though created in the image of God, are somehow rightly subjugated to me if I can convince others to join me in the vote. That you, though created in the image of God, have no right to live your own life, to love who you will, to fail as you will, to seek out your own salvation with fear and trembling  – even though He gave you every right to make your own choices and your own mistakes in life.

Your love of Him is of little value if you did not choose it freely. And nothing can be taken as more trustworthy, than that the majority of fallen men will reject God, and therefore should be limited in their power over others as much as possible.

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Castles in the Air over the Eccles Building

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau

Last week the Federal Reserve Open Markets Committee (FOMC) held its September policy meeting in its usual haunt – the Eccles building on the corner of 20th and Constitution in DC. At the time we were guessing that they would raise rates by some smidgen (see “Clutch Time at the Fed“) and that the market would respond violently. Why raise rates? Because to not do so when “inflation” (by the Fed’s preferred but clearly flawed measure) is running at 1.8% (target of 2.0%) and unemployment sits at 5.1% (a rate not seen since April 2008) would be tantamount to admitting that the emperor has no clothes. If the “goals” of the committee have been fully met, why are they still in an emergency policy mode? I have my theories … back to that in a moment.

It has been pointed out in many places (and we’ve certainly discussed it here before) that the fractional reserve banking system is fundamentally built on fraud. In a society with legitimate property rights, no two people can hold sole claim to the same asset at the same time. Yet that is exactly what we have with fractional reserve lending. My deposit in a demand account is available to me on demand. And yet the bank lends these deposits (at interest) to borrowers who do not have to return them to the bank on demand. Q.E.D.

So why doesn’t the system collapse? Well, as long as we don’t all go down to the bank and demand our deposits back, then the fraud isn’t uncovered in any meaningful way. The system can churn along and the banks can survive with these massively leveraged loan books drawing in some interest and paying hefty salaries. But as soon as there is a serious demand to get cash out the whole thing unwinds.

It’s happened here before. We’re not just talking 1929 and the It’s a Wonderful Life scenario. In 2008 the US saw bank runs on Wachovia, IndyMac, Washington Mutual, and Bear Stearns (yes, even investment banks can suffer a run). More recently the entire country of Cyprus saw a bank run and had to shut the whole financial system down, leaving depositors to eventually be “bailed-in”. That is, when the dual claim fraud was finally unraveled, it was the depositors who realized that their claim on their assets (i.e. money in the bank) was not real.

When you build castles in the air, you’d better get the foundations under them fast

Of course the fractional reserve principle isn’t confined solely to the modern banking system. Financial derivatives have ensured that people can take leveraged bets on asset price movements. That is, with $1000 one can take out a position worth $10,000 or $100,000 (in some extreme cases). If the price only moves by a small amount then the gains and losses don’t exceed the $1000 initial stake. But if prices collapse badly in the wrong direction, said “investor” is wiped out and the counter-party has yet to collect their full payment.

It is this latter part that is the more disconcerting for the system. Those of us who are old enough remember the Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) debacle of the 90s. These guys used leverage to make significant returns early on, but when things went south they went south quickly. Before the end LTCM had over $100 billion in open positions, but only $400 million in actual capital. That means that a 0.4% move in aggregate asset prices would wipe out all remaining capital, and a 0.5% move would mean that somebody out there was owed $100 million but there would be no money to pay up.

So what happens to businesses when they are owed money but not paid? Well, you can bet that the vendors to whom they in turn owe money will also not be paid. Eventually the whole “daisy chain” of credit comes crashing down, all because the guy at the end of the line couldn’t make good. The same is true in the financial markets and banking. When you build fragility into the system (by allowing and encouraging leverage) one little bobble, one little “Black Swan” – and the whole thing unwinds.

OK, back to the Fed. Why would they hold rates at near zero even though their official goals have essentially been met? Nobody wants to take the blame. Consider the following two charts of the S&P 500. The first is year-to-date, the second is the past 10 years.



Say what you will about “Technical Analysis” – I may well say worse – but there is at the very least an inherent recognition that fundamentals don’t drive prices, the buying and selling decisions of the masses drive prices. In a perfect world fundamentals will drive those buying and selling decisions, but in a massively contorted, over-financialized, free-money, margin-driven world … who knows. The technicians would see the recent price action as a collapse and consolidation; a closing wedge pattern that clearly points towards a “big decision” in the very near future. By the way, the final “spike and collapse” in the chart is the momentary euphoria after the Fed’s decision. Not much follow-through there.

(Side note: in the world of algorithm and high-frequency trading, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that if there is a collapse it will hit a positive feedback cycle and things will go pear-shaped faster than we’ve ever seen before.)


In terms of overall price action, the recent move is rather small. But what if there’s more to come? If everything was fine the S&P wouldn’t have dropped like a rock when things got sideways in China. If everything was fine we wouldn’t need emergency interest rates. If everything was fine, everybody wouldn’t be so frantic to explain that everything is fine.

So is this the next great stock market collapse? How should I know? My point is simply that if the Fed had hiked rates and the market collapsed then the Fed would have taken the blame. (Rightly so, of course, it is their fault that the market is so far removed from fundamentals anyway.) Nobody wants to take the blame.

Not to worry though, Janet – the scapegoat approaches. In just eight calendar days there is a very real chance that the Federal government will shutdown over a budget impasse. You only have to hold on until then. Will a shutdown cause the market to collapse? No – the market should cheer such an outcome. But, if the government shuts down and the market collapses then Ms. Yellen will have her scapegoat. “It’s those darn Republicans in Congress. If they had just kept the deficit spending going everything would have been fine. My central planning of interest rates has been clearly flawless. Yet those malcontents and scapegraces in Congress couldn’t hold it together and now everybody will suffer.” … or something like that.

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Clutch Time at the Fed

Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”  The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.” Amos 8:4-7

Today is Thursday, 17 September 2015. Today the Federal Reserve “Open Markets Committee” (… they promote open markets the same way Kim Jong Un promotes freedom …) will again set the short term interest rate used in the US banking system – the “Fed Funds Rate”. It could be an interesting day.

Since the “Great Recession” the FOMC has held short term interest rates at zero in an attempt to spur the economy. The cover story for this is some Keynesian nonsense about “aggregate demand” and the notion that fiat currency can be used to generate an economic perpetual motion machine – we’ll just print our way to prosperity. We’ve had zero percent interest for about seven years now, yet it doesn’t seem that the economy is roaring. In fact, all through history we’ve never seen a single instance of using printed money to create aggregate wealth. All it can do is transfer wealth from on group to another – which is exactly what it has done here in America. The big bankers and the government cronies have made quite a bit of money these last seven years. Not so for the common man.

Our view on the matter is well known. The dual mandate of full employment and stable prices is a cover story for printing money until systemic financial risks threaten the system. See the Bernanke (now Yellen) FED decision tree here:

Bernanke Decision Tree

If you attempt to buy the cover story, surely the whole thing seems ridiculous. Does anyone really think that raising the short-term interest rate from the current 0.0%-0.25% band, which typically works out right about the middle of 0.125%, to a paltry 0.25% will threaten economic growth?

So what will the Fed do today? Every prognosticator under the sun has a guess, surely someone will be right. My guess: they’ll raise the rate by 1/8 of a point, not 1/4 – either to a “band” of 0.125%-0.375% or to a fixed 0.25%. The market will react violently lower. Then Janet Yellen will take to the podium and ensure the markets that the printing will continue if it needs to (i.e., if the markets crash). Regardless of the outcome, whether they hold at 0-0.25, or raise by a full 0.25, expect volatility around 2:00 this afternoon.

Long term is a different story. The global money-printing shell game can’t go on forever. Systemic capital misallocation and malinvestment will unwind at some point. (Possibly having violent effects on markets thanks to high-frequency- and leveraged-algo-traders.)

Nobody ever looks forward to such a scenario – and it is only a scenario. But, in the midst of a crash, or a recession, or a depression, it is important to remember the John Mills dictum: “Panics do not destroy capital; they merely reveal the extent to which it has been destroyed by its betrayal into hopelessly unproductive works.” (or, in this case, hopelessly unproductive share-buybacks on Wall Street and ghost cities in China.)

So if you’re around the computer at 2:00 this afternoon, you might check out the stock market / bond market / currency market reactions right at 2:00 (when the algos auto-read the text of the statement and react immediately) and then again at 2:30, when one misinterpreted word at Yellen’s presser moves billions of dollars across the markets. What a silly time we live in.

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Obamacare vs The Fed – Maybe He’s Playing the Long Game

Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:5

A Brief Recap of Fiat Currencies and Monetary Policy …

We’ve written on multiple occasions that the fiat monetary system and the shenanigans at the Federal Reserve are the mechanism by which the wealthy and powerful transfer money from the poor and middle class to themselves.

To the common man, money represents a medium of exchange and a store of value – and it must serve both functions to be money. We exchange our production with one another using money as an intermediary, lest we be reduced to barter – a much less efficient method of exchange. The money in our pockets represents the exchanged value of our productive lives. It is what we have gained in exchange for our ability and our quite-limited supply of time. It is what we have produced but not yet consumed. (Thus, when our “neighbors” tax us and take our paychecks for their own consumption, we take it personally – it is the democratic form of slavery.)

When the Federal Reserve prints money out of thin air (or banks lend it into existence out of thin air) they have generated something that competes directly with the exchange of our production, our lives, and our time. They have generated, with nothing more than the wave of a hand, the ability to bid in exchange for other goods and services. Thus, those with “first access” to the newly printed money – the government, the crony capitalists, the banks, and the already wealthy – gain something at the expense of the rest of us (it is zero sum … until it’s worse than zero sum). It is very much an “oppression of the hired worker in his wages” – to use Malachi 3:5 parlance.

They Keynesian justification for the fiat money system is just a facade. The elites need a reason to print; it’s now they stay elite.

At present, the justification for money printing (or, more correctly stated – “interest rate repression”) is the Fed’s dual mandate of stable prices and full employment. For whatever reason, “stable prices” has been defined as “2% inflation” and “full employment” has been defined as “around 5% unemployment”.

The Dual Mandate and the Obamacare Effect …

The Fed is now running into a problem with definitions. If you ever write down a set of conditions for the governance of monetary policy, people will take note if the conditions are met and yet you keep the printing presses going.

In the past these issues have been dealt with by changing the definitions (e.g., the removal of food and gas from “core” CPI), or by adding mandates (adding “full employment” to “stable prices”). More recently these issues have been addressed by calling into question the Fed’s own statistics (e.g., when the unemployment rate falls solely because the participation rate plummets). We discussed this last one further in “Bernanke Prints On“. (Remember, they always want to print – it’s how the elites stay elite. They only stop when the system threatens to blow up Wiemar style; a loss of confidence in the Fed is a game-ender.)

Of late the Fed has found an interesting foe in its printing policy: Obamacare. Through economically unproductive means, Obamacare appears to have brought about meaningful “improvement” in the Fed’s preferred statistics. (We use the scare quotes to note that “improvement” isn’t always a good thing – particularly when we’re talking about the goal of rising prices.)

For years now we have known that Obamacare reduces unemployment without improving the employment situation. First, Obamacare defines “full time” employment as 30 hours per week. Second, it makes stricter requirements for employers with 50 or more full time employees. Thus, small and medium sized businesses have an incentive to reduce hours below 30 per week and hire more people to fill the gap. No increase in production, but a decrease in unemployment – more hired workers.

Now Obamacare seems to be hitting the second part of the dual mandate as well. The latest CPI figures (released Friday) show a 0.2% decrease in aggregate prices, but a 1.8% increase in prices when ignoring food and energy. (Food and energy prices have been trending lower of late.) Why the massive increase in “core” CPI? Healthcare costs are spiking … thanks to Obamacare.

We’ve often harped on the fact that Obama follows the “favor-the-wealthy” policies of previous administrations. But here we have his signature legislation taking the legs out from under the Fed’s dual mandate for printing money and stuffing it in the pockets of the powerful. Do we dare give him the benefit of the doubt? Is it possible he’s been playing the long game this whole time?

I doubt it, but I do find these developments interesting to say the least. So, will the Fed finally raise short term interest rates from zero (or near zero) now that their favored measures (unemployment and core CPI) are very near the goal?

I obviously have doubts, but sooner or later they have to either raise rates or admit that fiat money has run its course and cannot be propped up any longer. If they do raise rates, I think a bit of the “forcing of the hand” will have to be attributed to Obamacare.

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Sometimes Words are Cheap … But Sometimes They’re Not

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy;
    do not desire his delicacies,
for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.
    “Eat and drink!” he says to you,
    but his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten,
    and waste your pleasant words.” – Prov 23:6-8

I’ve gone rounds with a handful of Christian brothers over the meaning of Proverbs 23:6-8. Actually, the debate began over the first half of verse 7, which the ESV (above) translates as “for he is like one who is inwardly calculating”. The KJV  renders this “for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Some of the word-faith ilk seize on this poetic translation into the king’s English of 400 years ago to claim that the Christian experience of today ought to resemble something akin to New Age Mysticism with “thought power” and “self-actualization” and the like.

Of course the verse means nothing of the like. It simply means that a man may say one thing while thinking something completely opposite in his heart and mind. A modern, colloquial translation might render this as “words are cheap”.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I was surfing around the 24-hour news channels. I was looking for updates on the Philadelphia train derailment, but when I tripped across Fox News I found them dredging up quotes from President Obama in 2009:

“I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street”

I thought immediately of Proverbs 23. You’ll have to forgive me, Mr. President, but words are cheap. You may recall that this is the same Barack Obama who supported the Troubled Asset Revitalization Program (TARP) during the 2008 financial crisis (and presidential campaign), a $400,000,000,000+ taxpayer funded bailout of the massive margin call that was about to wipe out every Wall Street investment bank. Around the same time, the federal government took Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship (backstopping trillions of dollars of debt with, you guessed it, taxpayer backing). Then there’s the 2009 Public Private Investment Program (PPIP), again using taxpayer dollars to backstop the unloading of toxic assets (basically, we would partner with Wall Street to buy worthless paper and share in any losses or … snicker … profits).

None of this gets to Mr. Obama’s greatest giveaway to Wall Street fat cats – the Federal Reserve. Since 2009, the president’s Federal Reserve chairs (Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen) pegged short term interest rates at zero and the purchased some $4,500,000,000,000 of U.S. government bonds and mortgage backed securities (remember the “worthless paper” from above?) – money that pushed stock prices to never-before-seen heights but did little to help the real economy. It was one of the greatest transfers of wealth in all of history – without firing a shot – and the man at the helm the whole time middle-class America was forced into Wall Street fealty … Barack Obama.

Mr. president, you may not have run for office to help out fat cat bankers on Wall Street, but that will be your legacy. And while your words have been cheap, your policies have cost the common man plenty.

Speaking of the Fed and Janet Yellen, they find themselves in an awkward situation these days. In past boom-bust cycles, the Fed was able to hike interest rates when their inflationary policies started hitting the wallets of the common man. These hikes always preceded the next market collapse, but they gave the Fed room to lower interest rates again, ostensibly to “rescue” the economy.

This time around things could be different. Interest rates have been at zero since the 2008 crisis. And yet, the economy appears to be slowing (all of the indicators of late have been seriously below estimates, and GDP was barely positive in the first quarter). We could already be in a recession (Mish thinks so). What to do if you’re the Fed?

If you raise short-term rates now and a recession follows (or is already in process) you’ll get blamed for raising the rates too early. But if you hold rates at zero and a recession follows you have little-to-no room for maneuver, and you risk your entire approach to monetary policy being called into question on a broad scale. (“You kept rates at zero for seven years and we still went back into recession … why do we have you again?”) It’s a pickle. Yellen and the Fed may be stuck with choosing the less embarrassing of two evils (and then deflecting blame onto Congress or perhaps even Ben Bernanke).

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:5

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Can the Church Survive the American Experience?

“12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” – 1 Cor 15:12-19

It’s been about a year since I’ve written (getting my family moved and settled into a new house turned out to be quite an undertaking). In that time plenty of worthwhile topics have come and gone – and we’ll try to pick them up as time permits. For now, I want to pass on a quick thought on something the preacher said in church a few weeks back.

The comment was simple enough (I’m paraphrasing): “without the resurrection of Christ, there is no Christian church today.” Now, as a religious expression the thought is unassailable. As Paul notes in 1 Cor 15 (above), without the resurrection there is no point to Christianity. The message would be both false and futile. But I think the sentiment has truth beyond the obvious religious context.

Any organization, or movement, or social undertaking relies on people to choose to participate. We are creatures of free will, and any enterprise that cannot get people to choose to participate will not last long. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the choice is made of hope or good  will – plenty of choices are presented to us as the lesser of a multitude of evils. These are choices all the same.

Without naming names we note here that there are plenty of religions that have carried on through the ages by social convention, by parental indoctrination, and even by threat of violence. People chose to maintain those religious foundations – even if the choice was not based on a heartfelt conversion, repentance from sins, or a brazen hope in a loving God.

At its foundation though, Christianity had none of these modes of promulgation available. There was no Christian tradition – these were the first Christians. There was no parental indoctrination – nobody was “raised in a Christian household” at the time. There was no threat of violence (“convert or be killed”). There was no threat of social ostracization – we were the outcasts. There was no means to maintain the religion other than the heartfelt conversion of the new believers, a repentance from sin, a brazen hope in a loving God and a willingness to abandon all for the sake of knowing Him. (And it cost many their lives.)

So, could the church have started without the resurrection? I say no. But this leads us to a more ominous question. Can it continue without the resurrection? Can it continue without the gospel? Here the answer is not so simple.

In America today there are plenty of reasons one might become a Christian that have little to do with loving Jesus. In some parts of our society (read “the Bible Belt”) one may find himself a social outcast by not choosing to participate regularly in church attendance. Furthermore, America has seen the rise of mega-church social clubs, where people join to fit in, join to be part of the excitement of something that is growing. I don’t mean here that mega-churches are expressly evil, simply that one can conceive of how they can grow and exist apart from the gospel.

My point here is simply that I am dubious of a Christian organization that can grow and thrive apart from the gospel. That’s not an accusation of wrongdoing – Christians in America are not to be held to account for the fact that they happen to live in a time and place where the church faces little-to-no opposition. But it is often the “trial by fire” as it were that purifies. Such fire would appear to be scantly seen in America today (… but this could certainly change).

Ultimately the church will survive the American experience. If the “gates of hell” cannot prevail, then obviously ease and comfort will not succeed in destroying the message either.

For now though we must wryly shake our heads at an American Christendom that appears to speak the loudest on such topics as “immigration reform” (doesn’t our Bible tell us to be gracious to the “sojourner”?) and enforcing morality through the ballot box (isn’t such morality farce?). More on the social wars later. For now, I’m off to work. (It’s good to be back.)

“I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested. I like to think that if I was I would pass” – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

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