Friday, May 04, 2012

A Glut of Organizations

Americans are distinctive for voluntary organizations (Tocqueville) that promote a favored cause. They are wonderful, do a lot of good. But can it be that more is always better?  Not necessarily.

I have been members of various voluntary groups usually devoted to social justice causes and religion. I can think of several examples in which I doubt that it could be shown that anyone actually benefited from our work.

One was a Theological Advisory Committee for the denomination. We met at wonderful places, had a great time with each other, prepared papers, interviewed guest experts and  made reports. If anyone were saved, sanctified, or inspired to do good works increasing love of God and neighbor, I was not aware of it.

I was once on the board of an interfaith organization. We spent thousands of hours making a video on local poverty to be shown in local churches. We had a big community gathering to celebrate our video and had some success in getting churches to show it. Was even  one poor person helped by all this? Not that I know of.

I and a friend accepted an assignment by our local church when we were exploring future ministries. We took on housing for low and moderate income families. We interviewed town and city officials, investigated the issue as best we could. The most astounding discovery was that in the city and county there were a huge number of organizations working on this issue. Our message to the church was to urge members to join one of these, not to form another organization! Too many already.

I could go listing many other groups  I have belonged to that I doubt ever actually helped anybody.

Emerging needs may call for a new voluntary organization. But this should be resorted to only after it has been determined no existing group is effective or relevant to present circumstances.

Nostalgia for the Bad Old Good Times: The Daily Assault

Life down on the farm in the 1930's and 40's was no picnic.  I have been there, done that. But it had some advantages we have lost. It was mostly quiet and peaceful. You welcomed the mail man who might bring a personal letter or the semi-annual Sears Roebuck Catalog. It was nice to see a neighbor or go to church for some social contact, etc.

Today we are constantly assaulted by:
  • Unwanted postal mail.  If you give to one charity, soon you are receiving requests from forty others of the same or similar sort. This process increases exponentially in this and the following ways.
  • Unwanted email. Respond to one cause, and soon forty others want you to join them, send letters, petition Congress, give to the little boy in Thosmonia dying for the nineteenth time of some horrible disease,  ad infinitum.
  • Unwanted phone calls. The causes that don't send you postal or email call you, usually at dinner time (likely to be home, right?).
  • Unwanted callers at your door. Frequently, these are of a religious sort, wanting to give you literature, talk about your relation to God, Jesus, Thor, or Aphrodite, or convert you to their faith. 
Add to that:
  • the constant fight to keep rid of useless mail, old newspapers, cardboard boxes delivered by UPS or FedEx, and other accumulating stuff that threatens to stuff your living space.
  • the struggle to keep up with the recycling of paper, plastic (everything labeled from 1 to 7), cardboard, and other approved items listed in the annual message from the city.
  • the effort to get the garbage and recycle stuff out on the right day, keeping informed of holidays, when it is a day later.
  • getting the cans and bottles back to the store to get back your nickel per item.
  • finding a place to recycle old electronic items, cords, plugs, dead computers, hard drives, TV's, VCR's, etc.
  • remembering what they said on TV about how to get rid of old prescription medicines without poisoning future generations.
  • remembering what the just-published study said about the foods and medicines that are sure to kill you unless you avoid them.
  • trying to keep up with the requests on Facebook, e. g., becoming friends with or and sending a penguin to someone I don't know.
  • maintaining sanity while enjoying computers: trojans, worms, viruses, privacy settings, broken internet connections, failed hard drives, updating drivers.
  • nuclear issues, proliferation, bombs, terrorists and rogue nations using them, global warming, and on and on and on ............
Ah, for the good old days down on the farm when your main concern was keeping the outdoor toilet and the stable shoveled out, cutting enough cord wood for the stove and fireplace, freezing while you got a fire built on cold winter days, getting to the doctor seven miles away when you got suddenly sick and had no car, hoping the Sears catalog in the outhouse will last til the next one comes, wondering if the chicken in the yard will be big enough to feed the preacher and his family, hoping the drought will not ruin the cotton and corn crops,  worrying that someone will rob your sweet potato hill or smoke house, praying that the next tornado will not blow your house away, that the cow will not go dry, and that your kids will not die of measles, mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough, or get polio. Etc., etc.

"Hey, Sweetie, wanna take the bottles back to the grocery store!"

My New Philosophy

I find myself watching and reading about  day to day political occurrences less and enjoying it more.  Avoiding the incessant commentary of alleged experts is especially delightful.

I will occasionally look in on Fox News just for a laugh.

Purgatory for Them Too

See prior blog first.

  • Charities sending me coins or gifts with their request. I figure the purpose is to make me feel guilty and more likely to send a gift.  As a rule I don't send gifts to any organization that does this. If  I do send a gift, it is in spite of, not because of, what they sent me.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Almost Wholly Acerbic Reflections

The following  will not to be allowed into heaven until they have spent at least 5000 years dealing with  their own mischief:

  • Anyone connected with the packaging industry, especially the hard plastic variety, whose work is designed for the benefit of the producers and sellers, not the consumer.
  • People who speed through parking lots as if they are on a super-highway.
  • Those responsible for the little sticker on every apple I buy at the supermarket.
  • Whoever designed the system that guarantees that when I back out in a parking lot, there will be a huge SUV on either side that effectively  blocks any sight of oncoming cars.
  • People who pass me  on an interstate highway at lightening speeds then immediately slow down precipitously  so that I am forced to brake to keep from bumping them into the next state (geographically or eschatologically).
  • Folks who leave their shopping carts right where they unload them, creating numerous hazards and inconveniences. 
  • Cheaters who park in places reserved for the handicapped with enough ready excuses that take more time to iterate than parking legally would.
  • Designers of car door lock systems that blow the horn right when I am walking past, scaring the heck out of me.
    You can easily add your own. But you get the picture.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Hermeneutics, Relativity, and the Illusion of the One Right Way

The Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski set forth the Law of the Infinite Cornucopia, which notes that no shortage exists of reasons to bolster whatever theory anyone wants to believe  (New York Review of Books (January 11, 1996), 10). I suggest a theological version that I will call the Law of Infinite Hermeneutical Adaptability. This law states that the Bible can be interpreted to make it compatible with nearly every conceivable doctrine. The greatest proof of the operation of this Law is that irreconcilable positions on nearly every theological and ethical question are extant, all of which claim to have the sanction of Scripture. The sublime form of the Law indicates that reasons can always be given to demonstrate that Jesus himself would have approved of the conclusions reached by a given individual or community. When the Law of Infinite Hermeneutical Adaptability is in operation, it is nearly always accompanied by the Phenomenon of Total Surprise. I prefer the description of this Phenomenon in its "Lo and Behold" form: When individuals and groups find the Word of God in the Bible, the results, lo and behold, turn out to be identical with what they themselves believe!.

Properly adapted, this principle works whether it is a Christian interpreting the Bible, a Muslim interpreting the Koran, or a SCOTUS Justice interpreting the American Constitution.

Check it out.