Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Problem of Prosperity Doctrine...

I have recently read and replied to some Facebook posts in my network regarding so called "prosperity doctrine" within Christianity. It basically is about the idea that God somehow wants all "believers" to be prosperous and rich. It is a fundamentalist religious approach similar to "The Power of Positive Thinking" as written in the early 1950s by Norman Vincent Peale. Somehow in the latest doctrine, just "believing" is enough...very little "thinking" or "doing" seems to be needed.

At an earlier age than most, I read "Power of Positive Thinking", and I do think it has continued to impact the core of my being in sometimes invisible ways. Yet, I have to take exception to the "pray and grow rich" mentality that unfortunately seems to source itself from our materialistic, hedonistic, consumerist mentality in the USA.

America has truly been blessed the past 200 years or so...though I think that "blessing" has been largely based on hard work and right thinking when it comes to individual rights and free enterprise. Unfortunately, in just the last 60 years or so, we have moved from that model to one where either government or God has to take care of us...because we are somehow powerless to take care of ourselves financially. I don`t know for sure if this mentality originated in government or religion, but I would suggest that the two institutions now play quite nice together in growing dependent, weak and despondent followers to support their programs. Of course, I am over generalizing...but I still think a majority of supporters of these institutions participate based on need more than pure belief, reason or passion.

While there are many directions one could go philosophically on this subject, let me focus on what I have observed the most in my life...and that I think impacts a large number of my friend and family, some of whom follow my blogs. What I am writing is not with the intent of hurting or tearing down...but to challenge and hopefully lead to the real truth behind some wrongful reasonings.

Though it has oft times been tremendously confusing, I have been a lifelong reader of religious doctrines and apologetics. Most of my exposure has been to Christian traditions since my Grandfather-father figure was a fundamentalist, evangelical minister. I have been trying to catch up in the last couple decades with comparative understanding of other religions such as Judaism and Islam...primarily because so much of our future acculturation will depend on all these religions understanding each other and "getting along". Obviously it is not an easy task.

I have been discussing with many of my "home folks" of Christian persuasion the true meaning of being a "Christian". I am reluctant to call myself one anymore primarily because it means so many different things to different people. Just in America alone, last I knew there were 108 different denominations called "Baptist", and even in the mainline churches such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, Congregational, etc...there have been so many divisions and schisms in the past century that I think it would be hard to pinpoint a pure commonality for those religious labels as well.

Most Christians I know would probably fundamentally define a "Christian" as "one who follows Christ". That is the most basic definition I can think of for the word anyways. But then, the problem comes with defining who Christ or will be.

Since we still have not seen the "second coming" that fundamentalist Christians believe in...the main thing Christians have as a guide to following Christ are his teachings and examples as revealed in the Bible. Now, since most of those writings were written almost 2000 years ago to a very different culture, day and age...many have taken it upon themselves to modernize or reinterpret many things that were standard to Jesus` teachings and related to the Jewish and other Mediterranean cultures. We now have some very different ways of viewing and doing things than the original "Christian" church did. This does not necessarily create problems for me personally as I think this should be expected in a belief system...evolution, progress, enlightenment...whatever you want to call it. Yet, I get continually challenged or piqued by modern day "fundamentalists" who pick and choose what parts of the old they want to keep, and what part of the original teachings they want to ignore.

I think most Christian churches have become too caught up in traditions, pomp and circumstances that my perception of "Jesus" would have no interest or time for. I think he primarily lived for the poor masses, came from an impoverished, occupied land of Israel...and exclaimed himself to be the Jewish Messiah that all religious Jews were looking for to deliver them. Yet...he had a very different idea from them of what "deliverance" was all about. Even in Jesus time, religion and government were constantly dancing together to try and control the masses...and in modern day politics we see this still playing out quite effectively.

All of this preamble to setup the main point of discussion. Religion...and politics...has become all about the money. Most religious programs in churches or on TV spend significant time on "fundraising" or taking offerings. Most of this money goes to support the "program" of superstructures, church salaries, travel costs for groups going to other countries to "evangelize" other nations or cultures...and hopefully some is left over for the local poor and hungry though from what I have seen that is probably less than 10-15% of the annual budget of most local churches.

Like big government with the upside down pyramid of entitlements and dependencies...I think most Christian churches have drank the same Koolaid of big programs, edifice complexes, media spending and other "marketing" campaigns as political governments have developed into. Church for many now is about "clean entertainment" and self gratification...uplifting self to being "close to MY God" if God can be reduced to our pitiful levels of existence. What happened to the great MAJESTY of a God to be FEARED? In this case I think the Jews have a more realistic view of who or what God is really all about.

But back to the "Christian" does being prosperous fit into a majority of Jesus` teachings that you SAY you believe in? Here are a few examples...not MY words...

"If anyone will be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me"

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” ...Matthew 8:20

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it....Matthew 10:38,39

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”...Matthew 19:23,24

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...Matthew 6:19-21

Ecclesiastes 5:10
Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs

OK...much more could be quoted or said...but I think the point is...there is very little Biblical content tied to a "prosperity doctrine". I also think every modern day Christian should read Dietrich Bonhoeffer`s "The Cost of Discipleship" before taking a stance on this issue. He lost his life at 39 years of age standing up to Hitler`s Nazi regime for his faith...which was not a very prosperous thing to do.

I now tend to quote more worldly sayings to support my personal viewpoint on the subject...such as:

You cant take it with you...

He who dies with the most friends, not the most toys...wins...

Some of the most miserable people I have known have been the richest I have known...

It is the LOVE of money, not money itself, that is the root of all evil.

Money cannot buy class or character...

Own your money, dont let money own you.

The rule is not to talk about money with people who have much more or much less than you

When money speaks, the truth remains silent

And just about my favorite..."Prosperity is a way of living and thinking, and not just money or things. Poverty is a way of living and thinking, and not just a lack of money or things.
- Eric Butterworth

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs and "Greatness"

Most every educated person in the world by now knows that Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple Computers, Pixar, and various other companies passed away this week at the all too early age of 56. Most of us are in awe of what Steve Jobs accomplished in his relatively short time on earth. Most of us have no clue what his life was really like or what it took to get where he did in this life.

In an exchange with some friends today regarding Mr. Jobs over an article that was basically saying we all have the potential of success such as Steve Jobs had, I wrote the following:

”I think too much emphasis is put on simple “belief” and “positive thinking” type of messaging. The words that I think caused Steve Jobs successes are VISION and ACTION ( or “WORK”). Many people have great visions of grandeur but no work ethic. Many others are hard, dutiful workers, but are working someone else’s vision or plan. Many people want to think that just by believing hard enough or having a plan or vision is enough. Most people don’t reach their goals or vision…because they don’t work hard enough. In some cases their vision is unrealistic to their capabilities. In most cases they have no vision at all.

Much emphasis is and will be made of Mr. Jobs “vision”, but most will not focus on the hard work and SACRIFICES he made to accomplish his vision. Nothing is easy and nothing is for free in this life. Yes, life is harder for some more than others either because of lack of inheritances, baggage (emotional or otherwise), and just plain “all men are NOT created equal”. But, with hard work and vision we all can reach our own levels of potential…and that is what I strive for personally.”

Another thought I had yesterday when reading Steve Jobs obituary in the NY Times was…”what about these other people who died this week”? Here are SOME of the people who were on the “same page” as Steve…

Derrick Bell, Law Professor and Rights Advocate, Dies at 80

Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, an Elder Statesman for Civil Rights, Dies at 89

Sarkis G. Soghanalian, an Arms Dealer Who Aided U.S. Intelligence, Dies at 82

Bert Jansch, an Influential Folk Guitarist, Is Dead at 67

A.C. Nielsen Jr., Who Built Ratings Firm, Dies at 92

David Mitchell, Broadway Set Designer, Dies at 79

Marv Tarplin, Motown Guitarist and Songwriter, Dies at 70

Ralph M. Steinman, a Nobel Recipient for Research on Immunology, Dies at 68

Everett Ellin Dies at 82; Helped Computerize Art Catalogs

Peter Gent, Football Novelist, Dies at 69

Michael J. Drake, Planetary Scientist, Dies at 65

Mike Heimerdinger, 58, Who Helped to Coach Super Bowl Winners, Is Dead

Joseph Carmichael Jr., a Carrier Hero, Dies at 96

Lee Davenport Dies at 95; Developed Battlefront Radar

My thinking was…which of these people of note that died this week was the “greatest” human being? How would you measure such a thing? By how much money they made (to me that seems to be the number one qualification in modern society)? How many lives they “saved” by what they devoted themselves to? By how many obstacles they had to overcome to reach their final epitaph?

“Greatness” in my opinion is not about money or fame. Greatness is about being a quality human being to all other human beings. Greatness is about having grace and character…about having a balance between expectations of people…and forgiving them. Greatness is about what you do for others that no one knows about. Greatness is about the “motivation” behind your actions. Greatness is about honesty, integrity, values and discipline. Hopefully we all have had someone “great” in our lives…who spurred us towards the positive side of ourselves. Someone who “practiced as they preached” and yet embraced their humanity with all its flaws and imperfections.

Life to me has simply become a challenge of OVERCOMING. We spend our lives overcoming people and obstacles that get in the way of our vision(s). Sometimes it is simply overcoming bad thinking or that "tape recorder" in our heads from our childhood telling us we aren`t good enough or won`t amount to anything. From what I know of Steve Jobs, he overcame MANY obstacles to get to the level he did…yet I have a feeling he would have given every last cent he had to overcome the last obstacle to his future.

The other people on the obit list this week are known but less famous than Steve. This may seem morbid to some, but I read the obituaries once or twice per week. I read them from the standpoint of seeking inspiration. I find the obits to be the best summaries, at least in the eyes of society, of what a person accomplished and what their journey was about. I take encouragement from the inspirational things I read about them, but usually I am also reminded that in every life comes tragedy and trials. People get rich and go broke every day. Some people marry, some get divorced…every day. Some are born and some die…every day. The motivation I take from these obits is that the clock ticks the same for everyone, and no one knows how much time they have to accomplish their vision. So, let’s get on with it…LIVING...and writing our own future obituaries.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Government regulations killing the USA economy

There are probably hundreds of illustrations we could make about ways in which USA federal regulations are killing productivity and production in North America. Yet I think this article read today double underscores some of the lunacy going on within the last 40+ years of our government.

This article features Harold Hamm, his company being one of the most productive oil and gas producers in the USA currently, and it hits so many issues right on the head. His overall view is that America could be energy self-sufficient within 10 years if the same money that is spent on unknown technologies and less regulations were put into drilling the vast oil and gas reserves in Americas mainland. He also claims that the jobs and revenue that would be produced from freeing up the industry to meet its potential would pay off the trillions of national debt in short order. BUT, it seems that the powers that be in Washington are totally focused on new “green energy” sources and undeniably sustaining our “wonderful” relationship with the Saudis and others who gain so many billions from our oil consumption habits.

Now, before you get confused if you have read my other blogs about being pro renewable energy sources…I have not changed my mind about that. The reality is that we are 15-20 years minimum from many people`s estimation who are more informed than me from developing the technology needed to replace fossil fuels. In the meantime we continue to fork over billions of dollars to Arab countries and and the likes of Venezuela, who has all but declared war against American interests, to sustain our unquenchable thirst for oil and gas to keep our engines running…and I´m not just talking about cars and airplanes. Mr. Hamm`s opinion that I tend to believe is that we COULD be oil self-sufficient in just a few years if the federal regulators allowed them to explore and extract the vast resources we already have.

I`m sure many of us including myself are concerned about balance in all these things. I am pro environment though I probably don’t go to the extent of “hugging trees” to make a political statement. I think our government SHOULD have a role in protecting nature and the environment, yet it is unrealistic that we should think that every bird or tree in the country could be protected from development, including developing our own energy. Here are just a few brief clips of Mr. Hamm’s observations of federal mismanagement of the issue:

Mr. Hamm was invited to the White House for a "giving summit" with wealthy Americans who have pledged to donate at least half their wealth to charity. (He's given tens of millions of dollars already to schools like Oklahoma State and for diabetes research.) "Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, they were all there," he recalls.
When it was Mr. Hamm's turn to talk briefly with President Obama, "I told him of the revolution in the oil and gas industry and how we have the capacity to produce enough oil to enable America to replace OPEC. I wanted to make sure he knew about this." The president's reaction? "He turned to me and said, 'Oil and gas will be important for the next few years. But we need to go on to green and alternative energy. [Energy] Secretary [Steven] Chu has assured me that within five years, we can have a battery developed that will make a car with the equivalent of 130 miles per gallon.'" Mr. Hamm holds his head in his hands and says, "Even if you believed that, why would you want to stop oil and gas development? It was pretty disappointing."

Washington keeps "sticking a regulatory boot at our necks and then turns around and asks: 'Why aren't you creating more jobs,'" he says. He roils at the Interior Department delays of months and sometimes years to get permits for drilling. "These delays kill projects," he says.

A few months ago the Obama Justice Department brought charges against Continental and six other oil companies in North Dakota for causing the death of 28 migratory birds, in violation of the Migratory Bird Act. Continental's crime was killing one bird "the size of a sparrow" in its oil pits. The charges carry criminal penalties of up to six months in jail. "It's not even a rare bird. There're jillions of them," he explains. He says that "people in North Dakota are really outraged by these legal actions," which he views as "completely discriminatory" because the feds have rarely if ever prosecuted the Obama administration's beloved wind industry, which kills hundreds of thousands of birds each year.

It's hard to disagree with Mr. Hamm's assessment that Barack Obama has the energy story in America wrong. The government floods green energy—a niche market that supplies 2.5% of our energy needs—with billions of dollars of subsidies a year. "Wind isn't commercially feasible with natural gas prices below $6 per thousand cubic feet, notes Mr. Hamm. Right now its price is below $4. This may explain the administration's hostility to the fossil-fuel renaissance.

Mr. Hamm calculates that if Washington would allow more drilling permits for oil and natural gas on federal lands and federal waters, "I truly believe the federal government could over time raise $18 trillion in royalties." That's more than the U.S. national debt, I say. He smiles.

Another example of our government`s mismanagement of their regulatory spending and role in energy was the widely publicized failure of a California company, Solyndra, which after receiving $535 million in federal loan guarantees built a $733 million dollar plant which has now been closed and shuttered after just opening in January. Its construction featured “robots that whistled Disney tunes, spa-like showers with liquid-crystal displays of the water temperature, and glass-walled conference rooms. "The new building is like the Taj Mahal," John Pierce, a San Jose resident who worked as a facilities manager at Solyndra, said. All of this was constructed during a time when… “about 11.4 percent, or 950,801 square feet, of industrial space was vacant” in the Fremont, CA area. Another nice use of the taxpayers money wouldn`t you say?

The bottom line for me in all this is that America has many available solutions to jobs, clean energy, domestically produced gas and oil and even significantly higher tax revenues…IF we can keep the federal government from over regulating, micro managing and gouging the domestic energy producers in deference to foreign interests. The government should NOT be backing loans with your and my money to benefit one private business entity over another. This power was never granted in the US Constitution. It also seems very clear to me that the government is significantly in the way of economic recovery. Let’s remember that most jobs created by government are paid for by the taxpayer. Jobs created by enterprise and private business generates huge revenues for the government…and SUPPORTS the taxpayer.