Author Archives: Meta Capitalism

Nextdoor Eliminationism

In 1950, McCarthy gave a routine speech at an obscure forum in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which, according to audience members, he claimed:

I have here in my hand a list of 205 … a list of names that were made known to the secretary of state as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.

McCarthy possessed no such list and apparently made up the number 205, which changed with further iterations. But no matter. McCarthy had struck a match in a political climate that was saturated with the fumes of suspicion and fear, and in the media explosion that followed he became the most famous man in the country. Over the next several years, he falsely accused numerous people—government officials, journalists, Hollywood writers, lawyers, professors—of espionage and communist associations. McCarthy did not possess any solid information that any of them were communists, just rumor and innuendo that had long ago been checked out by the FBI and other government agencies. In a series of committee hearings, he and his colleagues bullied, smeared, and humiliated a long line of witnesses—none of whom was ever convicted of a crime in a court, but many of whom lost their jobs because of skittish employers. Hollywood screenwriters drawn into the net were blacklisted.

Posner (2020, 195-196) The Demagogue’s Playbook.

The social media site Nextdoor has implemented a Good Neighbor Pledge. The evidence above in which Nextdoor user Brandon Kask posts without a shred of evidence of who said what when and where accuses collectively the Black Lives Matter movement, protesters, his neighbors, and elected officials of being part of a “communist” conspiratorial plot to bring about a “coup” simply by changing the sheriff’s position from an elected position to an appointed position. As with all hate speech, it is meant to incite others to follow on and amplify the malicious hate rhetoric that is meant to result in elimination of those who are targeted. It is not meant to foster intelligent discussion of informed citizens, but merely to demonize the “other” through hate speech rooted in fear mongering, racist and eliminationist rhetoric exhibited in Scott Neiman’s response in which he refers to those who hold a different view on the issues as being followers of “leftism,” “extreme leftism,” “commie’s,” and advocating “authoritarianism.” These are examples, detailed below, of eliminationism and eliminationist rhetoric a form of hyper-partisan political hate speech.

It is clear that Nextdoor has no intention of fulfilling its phony Good Neighbor Pledge. This is evidenced in the fact that Nextdoor relies on volunteer moderators that are so incompetent that they remove Scott Neiman’s hateful eliminationist rhetoric but leave Brandon Kask’s original eliminationist hate speech that makes baseless accusations without a shred of evidence aimed at anyone who holds a view different from his own that they are communists part of a communist plot to bring about a coup. How ludicrous considering the issue would be voted on and only implemented if passed by a majority, a very democratic thing to do and which alone refutes this hateful rhetoric.

The fallacious absurdity of Brandon Kask’s claims is evidenced in the history of King County Council itself. The post of sheriff was changed from an elective position to an appointed position in 1968 and then back to an elective position in 1996 all by a democratic process of free and fair elections just as this initiative too will be decided. (See King County — Thumbnail History)

Brandon Kask and Scott Neiman are through their words revealing they are intellectual parrots of AM Hate Radio and the rhetoric of eliminationism that has been pumped into American minds over the last thirty years of a fratricidal culture war that eschews intellectual political discussions grounded in mutual respect of one’s neighbors and restrained by reason and logic and evidence. That Nextdoor allows such hate speech to pass as civil reveals how dangerous it is as a social media platform, not unlike Twitter or Facebook, in that it allows toxic hateful messages to pass as neighborly conduct when it is anything but neighborly to call, without evidence or proof, one’s neighbors, one’s elected officials, and entire groups of people “communist.”

Brandon Kask and Scott Neiman (and since it is allowed to pass as “neighborly” discussion, Nextdoor too) are no different than the Nazis who used hateful and malicious false labels of those they viewed as the “enemy” and didn’t agree with politically to demonize them and thereby make them the target of group hate. This is exactly how the Nazi’s used anti-Semitism:

The Nazis equated all opposition movements—socialist, liberal, communist, humanitarian, cosmopolitan, individualist, democratic—to the Jewish cabal. (Tsesis 2002, 24)

The truth and facts have absolutely no place in Kask’s and Neiman’s rhetoric. Its purpose is to incite hatred and nothing more. And Nextdoor as a social media platform amplifies such hateful rhetoric and undermines our neighborhood’s social fabric by treating such as good neighborly forms of communication when it is anything but good for our social well being. Such rhetoric as Kask and Neiman post is a form of prejudice and scapegoating perpetrated through hateful stereotypes.

Stereotypes may be words specially formulated for disparaging a particular group or may simply be natural language expressions that channel hatred against an outgroup. These communications are geared toward representing the victims as objects of derision and designating a course of action against them—be it judicial unfairness or job discrimination. In Kantian terms, stereotypes are schemas for memory, retrieval, evaluation, and understanding. Concepts assigned to outgroups, such as lasciviousness, greed, immorality, and infidelity, become integral parts of vernacular descriptions and imaginings about them. Stereotyping eases the processing of information because it furnishes an already established scheme for compartmentalizing sense stimuli. After having been exposed to negative images of blacks, people are more likely to anticipate that blacks are dangerous. Completely innocuous events—for example, a black man approaching in the middle of the street at night—are often interpreted as perilous even when no factual reason for fear or added anxiety exists. The event may be recorded in the memory as having been a hazardous situation even though no evidence substantiates such a conclusion. (Tsesis 2002, 87-88)

Prejudices are means for convincing oneself why it is appropriate to act in ways that contradict basic ethical standards against inflicting harm. They are instrumental for excusing behavior that undermines the underlying structure of well-ordered society. Supremacism has profound consequences both when opportunities to discriminate are present and in conditioning sentiments that can be conducive for later unfairness. Ethnocentric people recognize that oppressive acts are not humane. So, derogatory images portraying outgroups as inferiors help them dismiss the notion that the others are by nature worthy of compassionate treatment, too. A violation of ethical norms is easier to explain away if the victims belong to an outgroup and are widely portrayed as demonic adversaries who are purportedly menacing to the population. (Tsesis 2002, 91)

In July of 2008, a graying, mustachioed man from the Knoxville suburb of Powell, Tennessee, sat down and wrote out by hand a four-page manifesto describing his hatred of all things liberal and his belief that “all liberals should be killed.” (Neiwert 2016, 1)

When he was done, Jim David Adkisson drove his little Ford Escape to the parking lot of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. A few days before, the church had attracted media attention for its efforts to open a local coffee shop for gays and lesbians. Leaving the manifesto on the seat of the car, he walked inside the church carrying a guitar case stuffed with a shotgun and 76 rounds of ammunition. (Neiwert 2016, 1)

The congregants were enjoying the opening scene from the church’s production of the musical Annie Jr. when Adkisson, in a hallway outside the sanctuary, abruptly opened the guitar case, pulled out the shotgun, fired off a harmless round that startled everyone, then walked into the sanctuary and began firing indiscriminately. Witnesses report he was saying “hateful things.” An unsuspecting 61-year-old grandmother and retired schoolteacher named Linda Kraeger was hit in the face with a shotgun blast. A 60-year-old foster father named Greg McKendry got up to shield others from the attack and was hit in the chest. (Neiwert 2016, 1-2)

(….) A detective who interviewed Adkisson and examined his four-page manifesto reported to his superiors that Adkisson targeted the church “because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets.” (Neiwert 2016, 2)

When the detective interviewed Adkisson, he said he’d decided that since “he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office.” (Neiwert 2016, 2)

Knoxville’s police chief told reporters the next day that Adkisson was motivated by his “hatred of the liberal movement” and “liberals in general, as well as gays.” He was also frustrated by his inability to get a job, a problem he also blamed on liberals. His neighbors in Powell described Adkisson as “a Confederate” and a “believer in the Old South.” (Neiwert 2016, 2-3)

When detectives went to Adkisson’s home in Powell, they found—scattered among the ammunition, guns, and brass knuckles—books written by leading conservative pundits: Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder by Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity, and The O’Reilly Factor by Bill O’Reilly, among others. Adkisson’s manifesto, released some months later to the public, was largely a distillation of these works, ranting about how “Liberals have attack’d every major institution that made America great. … Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they’re Marxist, socialist, communists.” (Neiwert 2016, 3)

(….) The events that sunny Sunday left the church’s pastor, Rev. Chris Buice, with a shattered congregation. “People were killed in the sanctuary of my church, which should be the holy place, the safe place. People were injured,” he told PBS’s Rick Karr a couple of weeks later. “A man came in here, totally dehumanized us—members of our church were not human to him. Where did he get that? Where did he get that sense that we were not human?” (Neiwert 2016, 4)

Such incidents—the nasty personal encounters, the ugliness at campaign rallies, the violent acts of “lone wolf” gunmen—are anything but rare. If you’re a liberal in America—or for that matter, anyone who happens to have run afoul of the conservative movement and its followers—you probably have similar tales to tell about unexpected and brutal viciousness from otherwise ordinary, everyday people, nearly all of them political conservatives, nearly all directed at their various enemies: liberals, Latinos, Muslims, and just about anyone who disagrees with them.

What motivates this kind of talk and behavior is called eliminationism: a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination.

Rhetorically, eliminationism takes on certain distinctive shapes. It always depicts its opposition as beyond the pale, the embodiment of evil itself, unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus worthy of elimination. It often further depicts its designated Enemy as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and disease-like cancers on the body politic. A close corollary—but not as nakedly eliminationist—is the claim that opponents are traitors or criminals and that they pose a threat to our national security.

Eliminationism is often voiced as crude “jokes,” a sense of humor inevitably predicated on venomous hatred. And such rhetoric—we know as surely as we know that night follows day—eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.

Two key factors distinguish eliminationist rhetoric from other political hyperbole:

1. It is focused on an enemy within, people who constitute entire blocs of the citizen populace.
2. It advocates the excision and extermination of those entire blocs by violent or civil means.

(….) Eliminationism—including the rhetoric that precedes it and fuels it—expresses a kind of self-hatred. In an American culture that advertises itself as predicated on equal opportunity, eliminationism runs precisely counter to those ideals. Eliminationists, at heart, hate the very idea of an inclusive America.

— David Neiwert (2009, 11-12) The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right. Routledge.

In Guns We Trust

This extremist right-wing evangelical fundamentalist religion is on full display in many glossy gun magazines. Next to a picture of a wooden cross and Charlie Daniels standing between Marty and Cindy Daniel proudly displaying their Daniel’s Defense AR-15, is written, “Faith, family and firearms—the important things in life (Marty & Cindy Daniel. The Fiddler’s Firearm. USA: Guns & Ammo; 2017 Mar.).” As writer Warren Cassidy of the NRA told Osha Gray Davidson,

You would get a better understanding if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world. — Bellesiles 2000, 7, In Davidson, Under Fire, 44; Guns & Ammo, November 1998, 64-78

The further away we get from God, the worse off we get. Raise up a child the way it should go, and when he is older he won’t depart from it. There is no discipline today…. A child is very blessed to have a disciplinarian family. I was raised in a disciplinarian home. My mama could use a switch like an Olympic fencer. Charlie Daniels Interview, The Fiddler’s Firearm, Guns & Ammo, March 30, 2017.

Beating one’s children is considered discipline within this twisted culture of biblicist evangelical Christian fundamentalism. It is important that we understand the true nature and extent of the religious right’s culture war. This is not just an extremist movement preaching a gun-rights theology, but it’s intricately bound up with both religious fundamentalism, market fundamentalism, and political extremism. Racism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, White Supremacist and Christian Nationalism go hand in hand with this twisted gospel of paranoid fear based evangelical fundamentalism. Within this fundamentalist culture black lives simply don’t matter:

The problems people have with police could be avoided if they would just do what the officer told them to do. If the officer says put your hands on the hood, then put your hands on the hood. If the officer tells ya to get out of the car, then get out of the car. [If an] officer tells you he wants to see your driver’s license and registration card, very gingerly take them out. That is all you have to do. And, basically, all they are going to do is their job…. People escalate these things into problems, and it ends up being a shooting match. You cannot blame a policeman for protecting his life.

— Charlie Daniels Interview, The Fiddler’s Firearm, Guns & Ammo, March 30, 2017.

It is hard to see how a black man lying on the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck is a “shooting match.” It is hard to see how a black man when asked to show his license and registration by a police officer and is then shot to death while trying to comply with the officer’s request is a “shooting match.” It is even harder to imagine how Daniels can view a police officer shooting in the back a fleeing black man as a “shooting match” without recognizing the blatant racism. Charlie Daniels reveals the callousness of white racism in that he is deaf, dumb, and blind to the fundamental problem of racism in America. Instead, he blames the victims excusing any and all behavior and accountability of the police brutality regardless of how negligent or out right racist and malicious the violence perpetrated against blacks. Charlie Daniels words are witness to the depth of racism in America today and the entire world sees what Charlie Daniels is a willfully ignorant racist when he turns a deaf, dumb, and blind eye to police brutality against black men, women, and children while blaming the many victims.

Cosmic Child Abuse

I don’t judge you. I leave that to a wrathful, angry God to do.

— Ned Flanders to his wayward neighbor, Homer Simpson

“The Cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse — a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offense he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.”

When I penned this statement, as part of the text of The Lost Message of Jesus, I had no idea of the debate that it would ignite or the controversy it would stir…. Though the sheer bluntness of my imagery shocked some, I contend that, in truth, it represents nothing more than a stark unmasking of what I understand to be the violent, pre-Christian thinking behind the popular theory of penal substitutionary atonement … [that] I readily concede, is currently regarded as orthodoxy within modern evangelicalism…. I believe it to be biblically, culturally and pastorally deficient and even dangerous. (Chalke 2008: 34-35)

(….) I grieve over the depth of the damage that has been, and is being, done through the distortion, misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the purpose of the cross under the label of “penal” substitution…. N.T. [Wright] states, for instance, “it … is deeply, profoundly, and disturbingly unbiblical.” In my opinion, he is right once more…. I believe it is better to abandon the use of the term [“penal” substitution] altogether and restate the truth in fresh ways. (Chalke 2008: 35)

(….) Inadequate doctrines of atonement lead to distorted understandings of God and humanity and result in an immature engagement in community and wider society.

But if erroneous theology leads to dysfunctional missiology, is there any connection between the public’s almost universal perception of certain elements of the church as judgmental, guilt-inducing, censorious, finger-wagging, bigoted, and self-righteous and aspects of its theology of the cross? And if, as historian and scholar David Bebbington claims, one of the four pillars of evangelicalism (which together are known as the Bebbington Quadrilateral) is “crucicentrism”, or cross-centredness, why is it that our culture now views the death of Christ as no more than some kind of ancient myth or irrelevant religious event? Perhaps one factor is that our thinking about the cross has become distorted and thus our presentation of it is inadequate to engage the hearts and minds of our contemporaries both within and beyond the church. (Chalke 2008: 36)

(….) Though often represented as a much older formulation, penal substitutionary theory, as it is understood and taught in many evangelical churches today, rests largely on the work of the nineteenth-century American theologian Charles Hodge, who, building on the work of John Calvin’s legal mind, argued that a righteous God is angry with sinners and demands justice. God’s wrath can be appeased only through bringing about the violent death of his Son. Joel Green and Mark Baker demonstrate in their book, Rediscovering the Scandal of the Cross, that, whereas supporters of penal substitutionary theory tend to quote the writings of various church fathers and early Christian writers to bolster their claims, their conclusion is more easily understood as an anachronistic “reading back” of modern views onto ancient texts, particularly into the work of Anselm of Canterbury. (Chalke 2008: 37)

(….) However, the supposed orthodoxy of penal substitution is greatly misleading. Although as a theory it is not as old as many people assume, it is actually built on pre-Christian thought. This is a point pressed by Professor George Eldon Ladd in A Theology of the New Testament: “In pagan Greek thought the gods often became angry with men, but their anger could be placated and the good will of the gods obtained by some kind of propitiatory sacrifice. Even in the Old Testament, the idea of atonement as the propitiating of an angry deity and transmuting his anger into benevolence is not to be found.” The emphasis on Yahweh’s apparent appetite for continuous appeasement through blood sacrifice, present in some Pentateuchal texts is to be understood in the light of later prophetic writings as a reflection of the worship practices of the pagan cults of the nations that surrounded the people of Israel. However, the story of Israel’s salvation is the story of her journey away from these primal practices towards a new and more enlightened understanding by way of Yahweh’s self-revelation. (Chalke 2008: 38)

(….) Indeed, one of the challenging questions for those who hold a penal substitutionary view of the atonement is the fact that Jewish prophets of the eighth century BCE were clearly already moving beyond this concept. Thus, to defend the theory of penal substitution by arguing the meaning of this or that isolated biblical text ignores a deeper truth. The resonance of the scriptural witness, the overall flow of the narrative, and the unravelling story of salvation all speak with a different voice. So it is that, today, even the most orthodox Jewish teaching and practice has long since abandoned blood sacrifice. There is simply no Jewish scholar anywhere in the world who understands the sum content of the Old Testament text as an ongoing demand for propitiatory blood sacrifice. (Chalke 2008: 39)

The greatest theological problem with penal substitution is that it presents us with a God who is first and foremost concerned with retribution for sin that flows from his wrath against sinners. The only way for his anger to be placated is in receiving recompense from those who have wronged him, and although his great love motivates him to send his Son, his wrath remains the driving force behind the need for the cross. (Chalke 2008: 39)

If we follow Hodge’s understanding of the atonement, it is Jesus’ death alone that becomes our “good news”. This approach reduces the whole gospel to a single sentence: “God is no longer angry with us because Jesus died in our place.” Indeed, that is exactly why evangelistic presentations based on penal substitution often do not even bother to mention the resurrection: for them, it serves no direct purpose in the story of salvation. (Chalke 2008: 39)

Ironically, what Hodge most neglected was to let Jesus speak for himself. It is difficult to see how penal substitution fits with the words or attitudes of Jesus. For instance, if the whole gospel centres on Jesus’ death, what was the good news he told his followers to preach (Luke 9:6) before the crucifixion? And if God needed to a sacrifice to placate his anger, how could Jesus forgive sins before his sacrifice had been made? In fact, why did Jesus preach at all? The rest of his ministry was ultimately unnecessary if it is only his death that makes things new. Surely we cannot embrace a theology in which Jesus’ entire thirty-three-year incarnation could be reduced to a long weekend’s activity. (Chalke 2008: 39)

It is interesting to note that in Jesus’ own explanations of his Father’s relationship with mankind, the story of the prodigal son, the father is not presented as angry or vengeful or as seeking justice and retribution; instead, he simply runs to greet his wayward child, showers him with gifts and welcomes him home (Luke 15:11-32). The father in the parable is wronged, but he chooses to forgive in order to restore a broken relationship there is no theme of retribution. Instead, the story is one of outstanding grace, of scandalous love and mercy. How different it would read if penal substitution were the model of atonement offered. (Chalke 2008: 39-40)

In addition, we can note Jesus’ teaching on anger (Matt. 5:22) and retaliation (Matt. 5:38-42). Is it not strange for Jesus (God incarnate) on the one hand to teach “do not return evil for evil” while still looking for retribution himself? Similarly, would it not be inconsistent for God to warn us not to be angry with each other and yet burn with wrath himself, or tell us to love our enemies when he obviously could not quite bring himself to do the same without demanding massive appeasement? If these things are true, what does it mean to “be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)? If it is true that Jesus is “the Word of God”, then how can his message be inconsistent with his nature? If the cross has anything to do with penal substitution, then Jesus’ teaching becomes a divine case of “do as I say, not as I do.” I, for one, believe that God practices what he preaches. If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil. (Chalke 2008: 40)

So, what of God’s anger? The most profound theological truth expressed in the whole of canon of Scripture is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The Bible never defines God as anger, power or judgment; in fact, it never defines him as anything other than love. Love is not a quality that God possess but rather is his divine essence itself his essential being. And more than that, the Bible never makes assertions about God’s anger, power or judgment independently of his love. God’s anger is an aspect of his love, and to understand it any differently is to misunderstand it. (Chalke 2008: 40)

Every father will be wronged by his children; it is a simple fact. All of us who know the joy of raising children also know the pain of their rebelliousness and yet no parent who loves their child ever seeks retribution for wrongs done to them. Parental anger, when it is motivated by genuine love, cannot be violent or destructive. Though in Scripture we read about God’s various attributes, in truth, they are never more than repetitions and amplifications of the one statement that God loves. The reality of God’s wrath is never in dispute. But only in light of our understanding of God as the perfect father can we begin to see that the objects of his burning anger are not his beloved children but the evils, attitudes and behaviours that ensnare and seek to destroy them. (Chalke 2008: 40)

(….) Penal substitutionary theory betrays Jesus’ attempt to root out the tendency of religion to lead to violence by inventing a theology of his death that is in direct opposition to his teaching. If the church could rediscover a deeper understanding of the cross, we could once again speak with prophetic power to a global society caught in the grip of the lie that violence can be redemptive. The church’s inability to shake off the great distortion of God contained in the theory of penal substitution, with its inbuilt belief in retribution and the redemptive power of violence, has cost us dearly. As the world struggles to find a way out of the chaos resulting from the doctrine of “might is right” and “he who has the biggest guns wins,” there is now an opportunity for the church to live out its commitment to the ethic of non-violence or “assertive meekness” demonstrated by Christ throughout his life and ultimately authenticated by his cross and resurrection. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike have to face up to the truth that their holy texts can be interpreted violently. Will our Christ-centered faith be part of the world’s answer or part of its problem? (Chalke 2008: 41)

But a commitment to penal substitution also raises other ethical concerns. Indeed, it is open to the charge that it does little more than reflect the nineteenth- and twentieth-century culturally dominant values of individualism, autonomy and consumerism. Thus, the primary purpose for the cross becomes its instant “cash value” for the individual. by “praying the prayer”, I am immediately moved from the wrong side of God’s legal ledger to the right side. The great transaction is done. And what is more, not only am I no longer guilty but I can also cling to the belief that “once saved, always saved”. My eternal destiny is guaranteed. Penal substitution offers instant forgiveness without challenging basic day-to-day moral behavior. It separates salvation from discipleship by disconnecting the way that Jesus lived his life from his saving work. (Chalke 2008: 41-42)

(….) “I don’t judge you. I leave that to a wrathful, angry God to do,” thunders Bible-thumping, churchgoing Ned Flanders to his wayward neighbor, Homer Simpson. Of course, many Christians learn to live with the dichotomy caused by an uncritical acceptance of penal substitutionary theory. On the one hand, they believe in God’s grace and goodness, but on the other, they believe that one of the central acts of their faith is bound upon in his vengeance and wrath. The only way they cope with this tension is to dismiss it as “a divine paradox”. However, for their friends and the rest of the world, it is simply a massive contradiction, the “elephant in the room”. (Chalke 2008: 42)

Since my book was published, and in the serious theological debate that has followed it, some have sought to readdress their definition of penal substitution. I have witnessed various attempts to redraw, redefine, recast, remodel and rehabilitate the theory as “not really as violent and retributive a concept as The Lost Message of Jesus suggested”…. [I]n my view, what we need is not a reworking [“penal substitution theory lite”] but a renunciation. Why? Because even the most sophisticated and gracious attempts to nuance penal substitution have, in the end, failed to communicate anything other than a distorted view of God at a popular level. (Chalke 2008: 42)

(….) On the cross, Jesus does not placate God’s anger in taking the punishment for sin but rather absorbs its consequences and, as three days later he is raised, defeats death. It is the resurrection God which finally puts the Victor in Christus Victor! So it is that in and through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection God confronts and dethrones the powers of evil. (Chalke 2008: 44)

(….) The cross is not a form of cosmic child abuse a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offense he did not commit. Rather than a symbol of vengeance or retribution, the cross of Christ is the greatest symbol of love and a demonstration of just how far God the Father and Jesus his Son are prepared to go to prove that love and to bring redemption to their creation. (Chalke 2008: 44)

~ ~ ~


Although Jesus did not die this death on the cross to atone for the racial guilt of mortal man nor to provide some sort of effective approach to an otherwise offended and unforgiving God; even though the Son of Man did not offer himself as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of God and to open the way for sinful man to obtain salvation; notwithstanding that these ideas of atonement and propitiation are erroneous, nonetheless, there are significances attached to this death of Jesus on the cross which should not be overlooked. (Urantia Book 188:4.1)

(….) When once you grasp the idea of God as a true and loving Father, the only concept which Jesus ever taught, you must forthwith, in all consistency, utterly abandon all those primitive notions about God as an offended monarch, a stern and all-powerful ruler whose chief delight is to detect his subjects in wrongdoing and to see that they are adequately punished, unless some being almost equal to himself should volunteer to suffer for them, to die as a substitute and in their stead. The whole idea of ransom and atonement is incompatible with the concept of God as it was taught and exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth. The infinite love of God is not secondary to anything in the divine nature. (Urantia Book 188:4.8)

(….) This entire idea of the ransom of the atonement places salvation upon a plane of unreality; such a concept is purely philosophic. Human salvation is real; it is based on two realities which may be grasped by the creature’s faith and thereby become incorporated into individual human experience: the fact of the fatherhood of God and its correlated truth, the brotherhood of man. It is true, after all, that you are to be “forgiven your debts, even as you forgive your debtors.” (Urantia Book 188:4.13)

(….) The cross of Jesus portrays the full measure of the supreme devotion of the true shepherd for even the unworthy members of his flock. It forever places all relations between God and man upon the family basis. God is the Father; man is his son. Love, the love of a father for his son, becomes the central truth in the universe relations of Creator and creature—not the justice of a king which seeks satisfaction in the sufferings and punishment of the evil-doing subject. (Urantia Book 188:5.1)


(….) The cross makes a supreme appeal to the best in man because it discloses one who was willing to lay down his life in the service of his fellow men. Greater love no man can have than this: that he would be willing to lay down his life for his friends—and Jesus had such a love that he was willing to lay down his life for his enemies, a love greater than any which had hitherto been known on earth. (188:5.7)

(….) Make sure, then, that when you view the cross as a revelation of God, you do not look with the eyes of the primitive man nor with the viewpoint of the later barbarian, both of whom regarded God as a relentless Sovereign of stern justice and rigid law-enforcement. Rather, make sure that you see in the cross the final manifestation of the love and devotion of Jesus to his life mission of bestowal upon the mortal races of his vast universe. See in the death of the Son of Man the climax of the unfolding of the Father’s divine love for his sons of the mortal spheres. The cross thus portrays the devotion of willing affection and the bestowal of voluntary salvation upon those who are willing to receive such gifts and devotion. There was nothing in the cross which the Father required—only that which Jesus so willingly gave, and which he refused to avoid. (188:5.11)

We know that the death on the cross was not to effect man’s reconciliation to God but to stimulate man’s realization of the Father’s eternal love and his Son’s unending mercy, and to broadcast these universal truths to a whole universe. (188:5.12)

Challenge and Riposte

You shall not portray your teacher as a man of sorrows. Future generations shall know also the radiance of our joy, the buoyance of our good will, and the inspiration of our good humor. We proclaim a message of good news which is infectious in its transforming power. Our religion is throbbing with new life and new meanings. Those who accept this teaching are filled with joy and in their hearts are constrained to rejoice evermore. Increasing happiness is always the experience of all who are certain about God. (153:3.10)

(….) The Master displayed great wisdom and manifested perfect fairness in all of his dealings with his apostles and with all of his disciples. Jesus was truly a master of men; he exercised great influence over his fellow men because of the combined charm and force of his personality. There was a subtle commanding influence in his rugged, nomadic, and homeless life. There was intellectual attractiveness and spiritual drawing power in his authoritative manner of teaching, in his lucid logic, his strength of reasoning, his sagacious insight, his alertness of mind, his matchless poise, and his sublime tolerance. He was simple, manly, honest, and fearless. With all of this physical and intellectual influence manifest in the Master’s presence, there were also all those spiritual charms of being which have become associated with his personality—patience, tenderness, meekness, gentleness, and humility. (Urantia Book 141:3.4)

Jesus of Nazareth was indeed a strong and forceful personality; he was an intellectual power and a spiritual stronghold. His personality not only appealed to the spiritually minded women among his followers, but also to the educated and intellectual Nicodemus and to the hardy Roman soldier, the captain stationed on guard at the cross, who, when he had finished watching the Master die, said, “Truly, this was a Son of God.” And red-blooded, rugged Galilean fishermen called him Master. (Urantia Book 141:3.5)

The pictures of Jesus have been most unfortunate. These paintings of the Christ have exerted a deleterious influence on youth; the temple merchants would hardly have fled before Jesus if he had been such a man as your artists usually have depicted. His was a dignified manhood; he was good, but natural. Jesus did not pose as a mild, sweet, gentle, and kindly mystic. His teaching was thrillingly dynamic. He not only meant well, but he went about actually doing good. (Urantia Book 141:3.6)

1.2. Acquiring Honor: Challenge and Riposte

Challenge-riposte describes a constant social tug of war, a game of social push and shove. Challenge-riposte is a type of social communication, since any social interaction is a form of communication. Someone (source) sends a message by means of a culturally recognized channel to a receiving individual, and this produces an effect. The source here is the challenger, while the message is a symbolized thing (e.g., word, a gift, an invitation) or event (e.g., a slap) or both. The channel of communication is always public, and the publicity of the message guarantees that the receiving individual will react, since even non-action is publicly interpreted, either as a riposte or a loss of honor. Consequently, challenge-riposte within context of honor is a social interaction with at least three phases:

(a) challenge in terms of some action (word, deed, or both) on the part of the challenger;

(b) perception of the message by both the individual to whom it is directed and the public at large; and

(c) reaction of the receiving individual and the evaluation of the reaction on the part of the public. (Neyrey 2005, 29)

The result is a highly stylized interaction which contains the following elements:

Typical Elements in a Challenge-Riposte Exchange

1. Claim (often implied by action or gesture)
2. Challenge
3. Riposte
4. Public verdict

The challenge-riposte interaction begins with some claim to enter the social space of another (for what follows, see Bourdieu 1966). This claim is always a challenge, and may be positive or negative. (Neyrey 2005, 29-30)

Cosmic Laughter

In 1494, just before the onslaught of the Reformation, Sebastian Brandt, a conservative Roman Catholic scholar living in Basel, looked at the reeking vice and folly of the church of his day and wrote Das Narrenschiff, a Ship of Fools. As the prologue tells us, “One vessel would be far too small / To carry all the fools I know.” Brandt’s veritable floating tub of dolts and sinners heads for an unknown destination, a land of Fools, and functions as a harbinger of an imminent schism. Eulogized as divina satira, divine satire, Ship of Fools catapulted Brandt into the ranks of Dante, at least among the Germans. (Lindvall 2015, 1)

— Terry Lindvall (2015, 1) God Mocks. NYU Press.

If the rich could hire other people to die for them, the poor could make a wonderful living.

Yiddish Proverb. Cited in Lindvall (2015, 3) God Mocks.

The Jesus movement very early on exchanged the vision for the visionary. Those first enthusiastic followers were enthralled by the world Jesus encapsulated in the parables and aphorisms, but, since they were unable to hold on to the vision embodied in those verbal vehicles, they turned from the story to the storyteller. They didn’t know how else to celebrate the revelation. They turned the iconoclast into an icon. (Funk 1996: 10-11)

(….) The quest for the historical Jesus is an effort to emancipate the Galilean sage from the tangle of Christian overlay that obscures, to some extent, who Jesus was and what he said, to distinguish the religion of Jesus from the religion about Jesus. That quest has been under way since the eighteenth century, when the first critical scholars asserted their independence from ecclesiastical control. It has continued unabated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (Funk 1996: 31)

(….) Jesus was a comic savant. He mixed humor with subversive and troubling knowledge born of direct insight. That was also the technique of Mark Twain and Will Rogers, who might also be described as comic savants. A comic savant is an intellectualbetter, poetwho is redefining what it means to be wise. That is the real role of the court jester: tell the king the truth but tell it as a joke. Jesters consequently enjoyed a limited immunity for their jokes. New truth is easier to embrace if it comes wrapped in humor. (Funk 1996: 158)

~ ~ ~

When someone slaps you on the right cheek,
turn the other as well.

If someone sues you for your coat,
Give him the shirt off your back to go with it.

When anyone conscripts you for one mile,
go along for two.

These admonitions give the appearance of being a series of particular cases that call for corresponding legal precedents. But, in fact, they parody case law and legal reasoning.

A blow to the right cheek would require a left-handed slap, which would be intended not to injure but to humiliate. The left hand was not used publicly in Jesus’ society, since it was used for unclean tasks. At Qumran to gesture with the left hand was punishable by ten days of penance. So a backhand slap to the right cheek was an insult delivered from a superior to an inferior, as Walter Wink has so brilliantly shown: master to slave, husband to wife, parent to child, Roman to Jew. Its message: Get back in your place. Don’t put on airs.

To turn the other cheek under the circumstances was an act of defiance. The left cheek invited a right-hand blow that might injure. The master, husband, or parent, or Roman would hesitate. The humiliation of the initial blow was answered with a nonviolent, very subtle, but quite effective challenge. The act of defiance entailed risk; it was symbolic, to be sure, but for that reason appealed to those who were regarded as subservient inferiors in Jesus’ world.

A coat was often given as surety for a loan or debt. The poor could lose their coats under such circumstances, but only during the daylight hours; at night, according to Deuteronimic law, the coat had to be returned since the truly destitute might have nothing else for warmth. Jesus’ injunction was to give up both coat and shirt. In a two-garment society, that meant going naked. Nakedness was frowned upon, to say the least. Again, according to the Manual of Discipline, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, accidentally exposing one’s nakedness when taking one’s hand out of one’s robe called for thirty days of penance. Exposing oneself to a companion needlessly drew a penalty of six months. Jesus combined humor with a call for a serious infraction of the social code.

Roman soldiers were allowed to commandeer Judeans for a mile’s march to assist with gear. More than that was forbidden. To comply with a conscriptive order meant subservience; to refuse meant rebellion. Imagine the consternation of the Roman soldier when confronted with a Judean offer to carry the pack a second mile.

These examples all refer to real problems, real circumstances. The responses, however, are not prescriptive; they are suggestive of a behavior that undermines the intent of the initial act.

Casting Off Body-Mind

The Understanding of One’s Personality

Unlike a thing, that is usually regarded as existence that is a means, a person is regarded as existence with the self as its own end. This is especially clear in Kantian ethics, which has given a philosophical foundation to the modern notions of personality, freedom, and responsibility. Kant distinguishes things and human personality, and insists that while things can only have value as existence that is a means, human personality has dignity and grace as existence with self-purpose. Although a human being can be used as a means, at the same time he or she must always be treated as an end. In the Kantian framework, this superiority of people over things, and end over means, should not be overcome. Thus Kant talks about the “Kingdom of ends” as the community of personality. Viewed in the light of Dōgen, this Kantian notion of personality not only is limited by anthropocentrism but also is not completely free from reification of the human self. In Dōgen, people are not essentially distinguished from other beings, but are grasped as a part of the realm of beings. People and other beings are equally subject to impermanence, or transiency. Although only people who have self-consciousness can realize the impermanency common to all beings as impermanency, they can overcome the problem of life and death only when they can overcome the transiency common to all beings. In Dōgen both suffering and emancipation from it are grasped on this transanthropocentric dimension. Hence Dōgen’s emphasis on the simultaneous attainment of Buddha-nature for self and others, and for humans and nature. In this simultaneous attainment, each person becomes an occasion or means for the others’ attainment just as each person realizes his or her own attainment. Here self-awakening and others’ awakening take place at the same time. While maintaining one’s individuality in terms of self-awakening, one serves as the means for the awakening of others. This dynamic mutuality takes place not only between the self and others, but also between humans and nature. This is the reason Dōgen emphasizes, in the “Bendōwa” fascicle, that

trees and grasses, wall and fence, expound and exalt the Dharma for the sake of ordinary people, sages, and all living beings. Ordinary people, sages, and all living beings in turn preach and exalt the Dharma for the sake of trees, grasses, wall, and fence. The dimension of self-enlightenment-qua-enlightening-others basically is fully replete with the characteristics of realization, and causes the principle of realization to function unceasingly.20

This mutual help for enlightenment between humans and nature, however, cannot take place insofar as humans take only themselves as the end. As Dōgen maintains:

To practice and confirm all things by conveying one’s self to them, is illusion; for all things to advance forward and practice and confirm the self, is enlightenment.21 (Abe 1992, 32)

The self must be emptied, for all things to advance and confirm the self. Accordingly, “to forget one’s self” is crucial. To forget one’s self is nothing other than body-mind casting off. And when body-mind are cast off, the world and history are also cast off. If body-mind are cast off without the world and history being cast off, it is not an authentic “body-mind casting off.” Further, “body-mind casting off” is not something negative. It is immediately the cast-off body-mind, that is, the awakened body-mind that is freed from self-attachment and ready to save others. In the same way, the casting off of the world and history, which takes place at the same time as the casting off of body-mind, is not something negative. It is directly the cast-off world and history, that is, the awakened world and awakened history, that “advance forward and practice and confirm the self.” (Abe 1992, 33)

Such are the implications of the notion of the oneness of means and end when the notion is applied to the understanding of one’s personality and its relationship to other persons and other things. Here we can see Dōgen’s challenge to the contemporary issues of ecology and history. The crucial point of this dynamic mutuality between the self and others, and humans and the world, is to forget one’s self, and one’s body-mind are cast off, is self-awakening-qua-awakening-others fully realized. This is not the “Kingdom of ends,” but the “Kingdom of dependent origination.” (Abe 1992, 33)

20 Shōbōgenzō “Bendōwa” The Eastern Buddhist, 136.
21 Shōbōgenzō “Bendōwa” The Eastern Buddhist, 133.

~ ~ ~

Scandal of Evangelical Mind

Although the thought has occurred to me regularly over the past two decades that, at least in the United States, it is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both evangelical and intellectual. (Noll 1995, ix)

(….) The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. An extraordinary range of virtues is found among the sprawling throngs of evangelical Protestants in North America, including great sacrifice in spreading the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, open-hearted generosity to the needy, heroic personal exertion on behalf of troubled individuals, and an unheralded sustenance of countless church and parachurch communities. Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking and they have not been so for several generations. (Noll 1995, 3)

Despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life. They have nourished millions of believers in the simple verities of the gospel but have largely abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of “high” culture. Even in its more progressive and culturally upscale subgroups, evangelicalism has little intellectual muscle. Feeding the hungry, living simply, and banning the bomb are tasks at which different sorts of evangelicals willingly expend great energy, but these tasks do not by themselves assist intellectual vitality. (Noll 1994: 3)

(….) Evangelical inattention to intellectual life is a curiosity for several reasons…. The historical situation is similarly curious. Modern evangelicals are the spiritual descendants of leaders and movements distinguished by probing, creative, fruitful attention to mind. Most of the original Protestant traditions … either developed a vigorous intellectual life or worked out theological principles that could (and often did) sustain penetrating, and penetratingly Christian, intellectual endeavor…. None of them believed that intellectual activity was the only way to glorify God, or even the highest way, but they all believed in the life of the mind, and they believed in it because they were evangelicals. Unlike their spiritual ancestors, modern evangelicals have not pursued comprehensive thinking under God or sought a mind shaped to its furthest reaches by Christian perspectives. (Noll 1994: 4)

(….) As the Canadian scholar N. K. Clifford once aptly summarized the matter: “The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection. The limitations of such a mind-set were less apparent in the relative simplicity of a rural frontier society.” (Noll 1994: 12-13)

For an entire Christian community to neglect, generation after generation, serious attention to the mind, nature, society, the arts all spheres created by God and sustained for his own glory may be, in fact, sinful. Os Guinness has recently called attention to this dimension in a memorable passage worth quoting at length:

Evangelicals have been deeply sinful in being anti-intellectual ever since the 1820s and 1830s. For the longest time we didn’t pay the cultural price for that because we had the numbers, the social zeal, and the spiritual passion for the gospel. But today we are beginning to pay the cultural price. And you can see that most evangelicals simply don’t think. For example, there has been no serious evangelical public philosophy in this country…. It has always been a sin not to love God the Lord our God with our minds as well as our hearts and souls…. We have excused this with a degree of pietism and pretend that this is something other than what it is that is, sin…. Evangelicals need to repent of their refusal to think Christianly and to develop the mind of Christ. (….) The scandal of the evangelical mind is a scandal from whichever direction it is viewed. It is a scandal arising from the historical experience of an entire subculture. It is a scandal to which the shape of evangelical institutions have contributed. Most of all, it is a scandal because it scorns the good gifts of a loving God. (Noll 1994: 23)

(….) The career of Jonathan Edwards the greatest evangelical mind in American history and one of the truly seminal thinkers in Christian history of the last few centuries supports this argument, for despite his own remarkable efforts as an evangelical thinker, Edwards had no intellectual successors…. Fundamentalism, … Pentecostalism, …. [was] a disaster for the life of the mind. (Noll 1994: 24)

~ ~ ~

Even in best-case scenario, evangelicalism, of all the religious traditions in America, observed Wolfe, “ranks dead last in intellectual stature.” Or as Noll had put it earlier, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” The fundamentalist end of the evangelical spectrum contains a culture that does indeed seem unable to distinguish between meaningful scholarship and … “gibberish.” Ken Ham places a dinosaur looking over Eve’s shoulder in the Garden of Eden exhibit at his museum. Tourists pay to look at it and leave the Creation Museum believing that what they just saw is both scientific and biblical. Tim LaHaye inserts the emergence of a common European currency into the book of Revelation; David Barton converts Ben Franklin into a Bible-believing Christian; James Dobson claims that the institution of marriage has not changed for five thousand years. Absent a more vigorous intellectual mind, such ideas take root and flourish. And their spokespersons can function as authority figures. (Randall and Giberson 2011: 243)

A 2010 study revealed provocative—and disturbing—connections between religiosity and racism. The study sought to uncover subtle connections that operate subconsciously. Few Christians—or people in general—will admit to being racist, of course, and many take offense at the suggestion of any link between their faith and racism. But researchers have found that when white evangelical college students were “religiously primed” by focusing on issues of faith, “their covert racism did increase” and they “were more likely to agree that they dislike blacks.” The researchers inferred that “religious thoughts seem to trigger racist thoughts.” Their explanation was based entirely on group identity: “religion tends to increase benevolence toward co-religionists, but can increase hostility toward outsiders.”

A 1999 study of college students in Canada, generally considered a bastion of tolerance, found that “prejudice against religious out-group members is pervasive.” The findings also suggested that “fundamentalism is particularly predictive of out-group derogation.” As of this writing, widespread demonization of Muslims is being used to promote solidarity among conservative white Americans. Such tactics are overtly political, but they are enhanced because religious identity is so powerful. (Randall and Giberson 2011, 253-254)

Useful Idiots qua Economists

I think we all agree that solving ethical issues or deciding on values cannot be left to economists. I don’t think many economists would fancy the role. But I’m not sure how it can not be left to politicians. Democracy, as Schumpeter remarked, is rule by politicians. I am struck by how often posts on this blog imply that economists rule the world. They are nowhere near doing so, of course — and that’s a very good thing! But I still can’t see an alternative to politics, unsatisfactory though it often is.

— An Econometician’s Argument, RWER, 5/8/2020

Implicit in the red herring argument that ‘economists don’t rule the world’ is the claim they have no relationship, influence, or role in politics and that there is a nice neat divide between the role of economists in society and the theories they create separate and apart from politics and politicians. History doesn’t bear this claim out on many levels. It assumes economics and economists are innocent of playing any role, for better or worse, through economic theories and their influence upon upon society and politicians. The world is not black and white; economists have had and do now play a role in socio-political outcomes.

~ ~ ~

The length to which those in the profession go to push their simplistic narrative [on free trade] are nothing short of exasperating. When reading some of the pronouncements and arguments put forward by proponents, you would be hard pushed not to think that you were looking at the words of cult members or conspirators. Consider the words uttered by Paul Krugman—often supposed to be a liberal or left-of-centre economist. Krugman is determined to tell his audience that those who argue that Ricardo’s argument is not relevant to the real world simply do not understand it. He then equates rejection of Ricardo’s theory with rejection of evolutionary theory and equates both with some sort of aversion to mathematics. He writes:

At the deepest level, opposition to comparative advantage—like opposition to the theory of evolution—reflects the aversion of many intellectuals to an essentially mathematical way of understanding the world. Both comparative advantage and natural selection are ideas grounded, at base, in mathematical models—simple models that can be stated without actually writing down any equations, but mathematical models all the same. The hostility that both evolutionary theorists and economists encounter from humanists arises from the fact that both fields lie on the front line of the war between C.P. Snow’s two cultures: territory that humanists feel is rightfully theirs, but which has been invaded by aliens armed with equations and computers. (Krugman 1996)

The patronising tone [2] is manifest here in that Krugman is implicitly invoking what we earlier called the ‘limiting principle’. The naive dupes who reject the economist’s advice on free trade are the cultural theorists and the postmodernists. They are intellectuals that spend more time reading books than they do undertaking the hard work of writing down equations and looking at statistics. Krugman’s speech is dog whistle politics all the way—and we should stress that it is politics because free trade is a highly politicised issue that only economists think can be sanitised in such a crude fashion. (Pilkington 2016, 330-331)

These economists become what Vladimir Lenin in the context of a rather different ideology called ‘useful idiots’. That is, propagandists that are being used by others for motivations that they do not understand. In the 1990s, they were useful idiots for large corporations that wanted to scrap factories in the West and move them overseas. At the time of writing, they are useful idiots for corporations who want to protect intellectual property rights in the face of new technologies under the guise of the free trade ideology. Rather, hilariously dogmatic free traders today have also become the useful idiots of monopolistic forces who use public sector subsidies and technologies to produce products that they then sell to the public at exorbitantly high prices. When this price-gouging activity is threatened by overseas companies making generic knock-offs at a fraction of the cost, the corporations call in the free trade army to defend their so-called ‘property rights’. (Pilkington 2016, 331)

The forces at work behind dogmatic free trade arguments at any given moment in time will never be self-identical. In order to understand the agenda behind any trade policy at a given moment in time, you must examine it in critical detail. What the free trade dogma does is it tricks economists fooled by their own simplistic narratives into becoming propagandists for whatever the powers-that-be want to impose on various countries at any given moment in time. This is not an exaggeration either. In his talk, Krugman closes by laying out a series of propaganda tactics to preach the generally unpopular argument for dogmatic free trade to the general public and, most especially, the soppy ‘cultural’ intellectuals. He says:

I cannot offer any grand strategy for dealing with the aversion of intellectuals to Ricardo’s difficult idea. No matter what economists do, we can be sure that ten years from now the talk shows and the op-ed pages will still be full of men and women who regard themselves as experts on the global economy, but do not know or want to know about comparative advantage. Still, the diagnosis I have offered here provides some tactical hints. (Ibid.)

In this book, I have tried to steer away from direct considerations of policy. But I have laid out a brief discussion about free trade not because I am advocating protectionism but because it is a prime case where we see what function abstract economic theory can play in politics and society. That much economic theory is based on ridiculously narrow assumptions and unrealistic a priori premises should, at this stage, be obvious. But it is worth being clear how the types of people that espouse this sort of thing can be used by political forces that they do not understand and cannot comprehend. (Pilkington 2016, 331-332)

I have always been averse to the idea that economics as it is currently taught is some sort of organic outgrowth of the ideology of the ruling class. I do not find the Marxist story convincing that economics as it is currently taught is a mere reflection of the interests of the ruling class. Rather, I think that the explanation is much simpler: economists have cast such darkness over their own discipline that they can make themselves believe in basically anything that suits them at any given moment in time. All one has to do is feed them a very simple argument that seems internally consistent, and they will mistake this consistency for some Absolute Truth about the real world. Such people are very useful to the powers-that-be. They are the same people who were promoted to positions of power in the Medieval Church. It was not that what they were saying was so much a reflection of the interests of the elite so much as it was that what they were saying was a brilliant distraction from what was really going on. Contemporary mainstream [and some heterodox] economics is less the ideology of the ruling class than it is the opiate for establishment intellectuals who find that their little models and their ridiculously simplistic arguments get them invited to all the rifht places. (Pilkington 2016, 332)

2 It should be noted that Krugman is playing to his audience’s elitism in his rhetoric by calling Ricardo’s idea ‘difficult’ as he does throughout his lecture (entitled ‘Ricardo’s Difficult Idea’). In fact, it is not a remotely difficult idea. Most teenagers understand it perfectly well when laid out in high school economics class. The more reflective ones, however, do not swallow it hook, line and sinker.

To Scrap or Not Scrap?

Concepts like understanding and meaning are usually associated with a particular view of the Social Sciences. Social life produces and reproduces symbolic meaning. Social scientists need to acquire an understanding of the inherent symbolic meaning in social life. They do this, it is said, by adopting the viewpoint of a passive participant observer. In this view, the role of the social scientist is seen as distinctly different from that of the natural scientist. The object of study of the social scientist is society, the network of social interactions. Society does not exist outside the bracket of social interactions. The social sciences deal with the pre-interpreted world of the social participants. The social scientist interprets a social world, which already carries symbolic meaning. The symbolic meaning of the social world is produced and reproduced by the social actors. The study of the social world by social scientists is a matter of human subjects studying other human subjects. It is a matter of symbolic dimensions meeting other symbolic dimensions, a subject-subject relation.

Friedel Weinert (2004, 75) The Scientist as Philosopher. Springer-Verlag.


(….) Keynes, of course, was scathing in his criticism of econometric modelling; a field which first emerged in the late 1930s as his theories were gaining traction. He likened it to ‘those puzzles for children where you write down your age, multiply, add this and that, subtract something else, and eventually end up with the number of the Beast in Revelation’ (Keynes 1939, p. 562). (….) Estimating models, whether to test the models themselves or make predictions about the future, is an awful and embarrassing game, and it is high time that economists gave it up. It is also a desperate waste of time. There is so much real policy work to be done; so many real issues to be examined and studied; but with the current impetus to do macroeconomic modelling, many economists are literally contractually obliged to engage in make-work. The most unfortunate and cynical thing is that many of those who are seasoned from working in this particular field know just how bogus it is. (Pilkington 2016, 300-302)

Does this mean that all econometrics should be scrapped? Not really. Keynes’ pointed criticisms of the field have been roughly felt by the discipline but those that read the paper often miss a comment at the end. Keynes writes:

This does not mean that economic material may not supply more elementary cases where the method will be fruitful. Take, for instance, Prof. Tinbergen’s third example—namely, the influence on net investment in railway rolling-stock of the rate of increase in traffic, the rate of profit earned by the railways, the price of pig iron and the rate of interest. Here there seems a reasonable prima facie case for expecting that some of the necessary conditions are satisfied. (Ibid., pp. 567-568)

Keynes had spent an awful lot of his life putting together statistics. He had done a lot of what would today be considered the ‘dirty work’ of economics. He had also written a great deal on the philosophy and methodology of statistics (Keynes 1921). He knew that there were some relationships within economic statistics that met the criteria required to use them in an econometric study. But these were extremely limited. In order to fit the bill, there had to be an immediate relationship known basically before the fact. Keynes laid this out explicitly in response to a letter from a statistician called Szeliski who worked on the problem of demand for automobiles. (Pilkington 2016, 302)

You have chosen just the sort of problem where multiple correlation methods may be useful. You are dealing with details of a specific problem where the main causes are pretty well known a priori, and where the statistics are definite and precise. The method is always full of danger, but, in my opinion, it is the kind of problem to which you have applied it rather than in those to which Tinbergen has applied it that the method is properly in place. (Cited in Garrone and Marchionatti 2004) (Pilkington 2016, 302)

‘What then’, the reader will ask, ‘is the point of running regressions? If we already know that a very immediate relationship exists, then why use econometrics?’ The answer is: because econometrics should be used less to establish causality and more so to present statistics supporting a causal argument in a clear and concise manner. Thus, econometrics is less a manner of doing empirical work and more so a means of clearly presenting statistical relationships that are basically know in advance. (Pilkington 2016, 302-303)

Take a very simple example. We know for a fact that, at the time of writing, Scotland is heavily reliant on oil exports. We know this because, among other reasons, the oil revenues are included in the Scottish national accounts and make up part of the overall trade statistics (Pilkington 2014c). We can then use regression techniques to estimate how reliant Scottish oil and gas exports are in the price of oil. (…) (Pilkington 2016, 303)

Note that the regression here is not being used to verify or falsify a truth-claim that I am making. Rather, it is used as a means to present statistical data. ‘We know’, I say, ‘that Scotland is heavily reliant on oil revenues for its trade surpluses. Now here is a number showing in a neat way just how dependent it is on the price changes in oil.’ Nor are we making a prediction using the regression techniques. Rather than making concrete numerical predictions, we might say: ‘Now that we are aware of how dependent the country’s trade is on changes in the price of oil we can discuss the dangers that there might be if the price of oil were to decline in the future.’ Again not that we are not making forecasts as to what such a future price decline may be. Nor are we making forecasts about what a given price decline will have on the trade balance (while not completely outlandish, we are already moving into murky territory here). Rather, we are just presenting the statistics and warning the Scottish that they had better keep a close eye on how they are structuring their economy because a shock to the price of oil might lead to a serious deterioration of their trade balance. This is the direction in which the usage of econometric techniques should be moving. Right now, driven by a silly need to give off an air of false precision, the profession is engaged in nothing but what Keynes referred to as ‘black magic’ and ‘statistical alchemy’. And it is far better to be roughly right than precisely talking nonsense. (Pilkington 2016, 303-304)

Suppression of the Nembutsu

Despite Hōnen’s circumspection, his teachings soon evoked a harsh reaction from Japan’s Buddhist establishment. In 1204 Tendai monks at the Enryakuji appealed to Shinshō (1167-1230), the head priest there and an acquaintance of Hōnen’s, to prohibit the practice of the exclusive nembutsu and to expel its adherents from their religious precincts. Hōnen’s response to this attack was his Shichikajô kishomon (“Seven Article Pledge”), rules of conduct that his followers were sworn to obey. One year later the Kōfukuji, one of the most influential temples in Nara, petitioned the retired emperor Gotoba (1180-1239) to take measures against Hōnen, and it leveled nine specific charges against him:

  1. Establishing a new school without imperial recognition and without proper lineage.
  2. Devising a new graphic representation of Amida Buddha called the Sesshu Fusha Mandara (“Mandala of Those Embraced and Never Forsaken”), in which followers of the exclusive nembutsu are bathed in Amida’s light but priests adhering to traditional practices are not.
  3. Slighting the Buddha Sakyamuni by worshipping no Buddha other than Amida.
  4. Precluding Buddhism’s myriad ways of cultivating the good, outside of the nembutsu.
  5. Refusng to revere the illustrious kami, the native deities of the Shinto tradition.
  6. Misrepresenting Pure Land by denying that diverse religious practices lead to birth there.
  7. Misunderstanding the nembutsu by claiming that uttering it is superior to using it in meditation.
  8. Inflicting harm upon the Buddhist order by maintaining that violation of the clerical precepts is not an obstacle to birth in the Pure Land.
  9. Throwing the country into disorder by undermining the teachings of the eight schools which uphold it. (Dobbins 2002, 14-15)

These nine accusations indicate irreconcilable differences between Hōnen and the traditional schools over the meaning of the nembutsu, the clerical precepts, the Pure Land movement, and Amida Buddha. They also suggest that Hōnen’s followers were involved in disruptive activities that were a threat to the established religious order not only doctrinally but also socially and politically. (Dobbins 2002, 15)

The outcries against Hōnen and his band of disciples reached a crescendo in 1207, and resulted in the suppression of the exclusive nembutsu, the exile of Hōnen, and the execution of a number of his followers. This was the first in a long series of suppressions which stretched over the next century, extending into the formative years of the Shinshū as well. The following account of the 1207 incident appears in the Gukanshō (“Notes of My Foolish Views”), a history of Japan written in 1219 by Jien (1155-1225), the older brother of Kujō Kanezane and head priest of Mt. Hiei in the early thirteenth century: (Dobbins 2002, 15)

Also during the Ken’ei years (1206-1207) there was a religious man named Hōnen. Close to this time, while living in Kyoto, he established the nembutsu school and called his teachings the exclusive nembutsu. “You should do nothing more than utter [the name of] Amida Buddha. Do not undertake the esoteric or exoteric practices of the eight schools,” he would say. Ignorant or unenlightened lay priests and nuns (ama nyūdō) of questionable circumstance delighted in this teaching, and it began to flourish beyond expectation and to gather strength. Among them there was a monk named Anrakubō who had been a retainer under [Takashina] Yasutsune (d. 1201), a lay priest. Upon ordination Anrakubō became an adherent of the exclusive nembutsu, and in association with Jūren (d. 1207) he advocated singing the praises [of Pure Land] six times a day (rokuji raisan), which is said to have been the practice of the master Shan-tao. There were numerous people, among them nuns, who turned to this teaching and placed their trust in it. They were given to believe that, once they became followers, then even if they indulged in sexual relations or ate meat or fish, Amida Buddha would not regard it as a wrongdoing in the least, and that, once they entered the single-hearted and exclusive way and had faith in nothing but the nembutsu, then at the end of their life Amida would come without fail to usher them into the Pure Land. As people in both the capital and the countryside turned to this, a lady-in-waiting at the detached palace of the retired emperor, along with the mother of the imperial priest at the Ninnaji temple, also placed their faith in it. Secretly they summoned Anrakubō and the others to have them share their teachings with them, and so he proceeded there, together with his companions, and even spent the night there. Such a thing is unspeakable, so in the end Anrakubō and Jūren were beheaded. Also, Hōnen was exiled, driven from residency in Kyoto. (Dobbins 2002, 15-16)

This affair was dealt with in such a way that it seemed for a short time that things were under control. Hōnen, however, had not been an ally in the plot, so he was pardoned, and he eventually died at Ōtani in the Higashiyama section of Kyoto. On that occasion people were gathered around, and there was constant talk of his birth in Pure Land, but there is no reason to think that it actually came to pass. His deathbed ceremony was nothing like that of the religious figure Zōga (917-1003). Because all this occurred, to this day we are pressed from behind. The exclusive nembutsu, with its fish, meat, and sexual indulgences, remains largely unchecked, and the monks of Mt. Hiei have risen up saying that they are going to drive out the nembutsu priest Kūamidabutsu (1156-1228), who apparently has been put to flight. (…) In the end Hōnen’s disciples have been the ones committing all these deeds. In perceiving this, I realize that, of the two types of obstacles to enlightenment—those from within oneself (junma) and those from outside (gyakuma)—these unfortunate teachings of his are of the former type, an obstacle from within. (….) But at this time the mantra of Shingon and the meditations of Tendai are at their height, and there is still no one who can achieve enlightenment by following teachings which are an obstacle from within. It is a deplorable situation. (Dobbins 2002, 16)

Jien’s account of Hōnen’s activities bespeaks clearly the alarm with which traditional Buddhist adherents looked upon the Pure Land movement. Jien was supremely qualified to speak for both the religious and the political community, since he was not only a head priest at Mt. Hiei but also a scion of the powerful Fujiwara family. As a priest, he considered the exclusive nembustu corrosive of the clerical precepts and a detraction from the teachings of the eight schools. As a leader in society, he feared that it would seduce the ignorant and lowly and would erode social values and civil order. In short, he viewed the Pure Land movement as one characteristic of mappo, the age of decline, when society would lapse in chaos and the Buddhist teachings would pass into extinction. (Dobbins 2002, 16)

(….) The banishment of Hōnen temporarily pacified Kyoto of the commotion that the Pure Land movement had generated, but it did not extinguish the movement altogether. Rather, by dispatching Hōnen’s followers to different provinces, the authorities unwittingly disseminated his teachings throughout the country, and in 1211, when Hōnen was allowed to return to Kyoto, the movement reappeared in the capital with renewed vitality. The resilience of the Pure Land movement confounded the Buddhist establishment and prompted further suppressions in subsequent decades. (Dobbins 2002, 18)