Tag Archives: Olympian Gods

The Deceivers

 Theology with its emphasis on ‘other worldly’ experiences appears to be at the opposite end of the spectrum of thought to economics which deals with the mundanity of every day existence. It’s a science of facts far removed from the speculative thinking of the theologians. Yet this is a false understanding of theology, as it can be as every day as economics, the only difference being the approach to life. A theology that had no relevance to daily existence would be pointless subject of study. Adopting something of the perspective of theology would be of benefit to economics.


What I intend to do is demonstrate how an analytical framework taken from St.Augustine’s Fifth Century classic, “The City of God” can be used to explain developments in the economy of today.

  

The City of God & the City of Man | Koinonia palamas.info

Although  Augustine’s book is primarily intended to explain why the eternal city of Rome fell to foreign invaders, what interests me particularly is Augustine’s account of the role of its Gods in Roman society. The Roman’s assumed one of the reasons for their success was their fidelity to their ancient Gods. Castor and Pollux the heavenly twins were thought to have intervened in a crucial battle to assure the Roman army of victory. In gratitude to the two Gods the Romans constructed temple in the forum for their worship. When Rome fell it was thought by some that the cause was the abandoning of the worship of the old Olympian Gods, the Gods who had always stood by Rome and ensured its survival and success. Augustine suggested a very different Christian version of Roman history


The Olympian Gods were for Augustine not Gods but demons who lead mankind astray. Stories about these God’s such as Zeus’s rape of Europa in the for of bull demonstrated their demonic nature. The nature of these Gods was capricious and cruel.  Apollo was for instance challenged to a music contest by the satyr; unfortunately for Marsyas he was judged the loser and for having had the impudence to challenge a God  Apollo hung him upside down and flayed him alive. Roman cities that had temples of Mars, chained the statue to the temple in the hope that the God would not wander  and provoke war with a neighbouring city. 


Augustine saw these God/demons as having bodies of air and circulating around the earth in the atmosphere waiting for the opportunity to intervene in the affairs of men and cause mischief. Misleading mankind was not difficult for them as all men were corrupted by original sin and easily corrupted. Despite pretending to be protectors of Rome, they had according to Augustine in fact allowed it to be sacked in the past by the Gauls; so the sacking of Christian Rome by the Visigoths was little different from the sacking of pagan Rome by the Gauls in earlier centuries. The visions and dreams that Roman’s had of the God’s which they thought gave them insight into future events, were nothing more than trickery intended to mislead the dreamer. On innumerable occasions Roman Emperors and Generals made sacrifices to the God’s to ensure victory. Yet on so many occasions instead leading their armies  to victory they led them to defeat.


The Gods for Augustine were the deceivers of men, leading them into error from their own sense of mischief. This concept of a group of deceivers leading mankind into error by making deceptive promises is a useful concept when it is shorn of its supernatural context.  I would like to recast Augustine’s concept of a world of men mislead by a race of demons into a more human form. Rather than seeing original sin as the corrupting element in mankind, I see ambition as the corrupting element, something best expressed in the term vainglory. Leaders wish to be remembered in history as men and women who changed the world for the better. While this is a laudable ambition it can led them into following certain practices or beliefs which they believe will improve the lot of mankind, but which in fact does the reverse. Unlike the demons of Augustine these deceivers often deceive themselves as they really do believe that they have discovered the holy grail of human betterment. The current race of deceivers are not demons but Neo-Liberal economists and philosophers. 


These philosophers and economists have been campaigning actively since the 1970’s for the adoption of Neo-Liberal economic policies and the creation of a free market society, one largely free of government intervention. The argument in the 1970’s by these economists was that by freeing markets to find their own equilibrium there would no longer be any foreign exchange crisis, as currencies would freely move up and down to their natural level. (This was a time of crisis when the IMF was constantly having to bail out countries such as the UK which were experiencing such crises.) Despite that the world has not seen an end of foreign currency cries. However Neo-Liberal economists would assert that these have been due to governments not wholeheartedly adopting the Neo-Liberal agenda. 


The UK is one of the countries that have most wholeheartedly adopted Neo-Liberal economics, through the practice of supply side economics. Supply side economics stated that the cause of economic under performance were the various restrictions imposed the markets that supplied the factors of production, in particular labour. Following these policy prescriptions the government almost completely destroyed the powerful trade union movement and removed most of the employment protection measures that previous governments had imposed on the  labour market.  The UK now has one of the most flexible labour markets in the developed world, a market in which employers have few restrictions on how they use labour. Yet the UK is not an economic success story, 1 in 3 workers in the UK are receiving less than the living wage, having to rely on government handouts to held them pay for their accommodation, food and clothing for their families. The trade deficit also has spiralled out of control, in the 1960’s it averaged 0.2% of GDP, whereas today it is 30 times larger at 6% of GDP. Despite all the increased flexibility in the labour market, the productivity of the average British worker is significantly less than in our European partners such as Germany or France. However Neo-Liberal economists continue to assert that the economy is healthier than ever, usually citing some statistics to prove their point. They are self deceiving as many of the statistics that really matter show an economy that is performing badly.


However the self deception is largely that of the politicians, as economists have always known that changing to a Neo-Liberal economy would create a substantial group of losers. The deception has been in that they have always dismissed the losers as a small and insignificant minority. Those British economists asking for reform in the 1960’s argued for an unemployment level of 3% and for those  economists this would be made up largely of those people temporarily unemployed and who were between jobs. However the more influential have been the public choice theorists and Neo-Liberal philosophers such as Ayn Rand, who have argued for a more social Darwinist approach to public policy making. Ayn Rand argued that the poor had little place in society as they contributed little to it and saw starvation as one means of reducing the number of useless mouths. (Atlas Unshrugged). She has been extremely influential in British political circles and her followers have been effective in creating a society wide contempt for the poor, which has led to a whole series of measures directed against them. These politicians have never gone so far as advocating the starvation of the poor, but they have implemented policies that have impoverished them. What these deceivers have been successful in doing is portraying the poor as the OTHER, a group to which the majority never belongs. They have successfully concealed from the public imagination that disabling illness is not confined to the poor, but it can affect anybody and only the richest can avoid being driven into poverty by disabling illness.


Perhaps the worst of the deceivers are the public choice theorists who pretend that privatising public services will only create winners as we all will benefit from cheaper public services. However these are labour intensive services and cheaper services can only be delivered through reducing the incomes of the people working in these services and through worsening their conditions of service. One very effective way of doing this is to abolish extra payments for working outside normal hours, or by using zero hour contracts, by rewriting the terms of employment or using temporary agency staff. All of which enables the employer to get more for less.  Today my dustbin was collected by the refuge service on a day which for most is a public holiday. In past I had to wait until the day after the public holiday. While most people will probably appreciate the fact that there is no break in the service; I am concerned that the families of the three men on the lorry are deprived of their company on a holiday. Am I in a minority in preferring to have my bin collection delayed by one day so these men could have a day with their children?


These Neo-Liberal deceivers have succeeded in portraying those who lose as a consequence of their reforms as the losing OTHER. Yet there is a danger that this other might become the majority should society move backwards in recreating the widespread hardship and misery of previous eras. These economists, philosophers and politicians have successfully deceived the majority by portraying their changes as necessary if society and the economy are to prosper and that the only losers will only be the insignificant OTHER, not them. Yet the purpose of a Neo-Liberal agenda is to create a large impoverished serice or underclass to service the deserving better off minority(?). In fact in 2011 a group of politicians published a book which blamed the poor for their plight, they were poor because they lacked the work ethic. I don’t think it’s wrong to compare the Neo-Liberal deceivers of today with Augustine’s demons, as both promise a better tomorrow, while in fact intending the opposite.

 

Do our leaders still not worship the old pagan Gods?

This short essay is an attempt to answer a conundrum  that puzzles me. All the members of our government would claim if pushed to an extreme to be Christians. There are even some members of the government who demonstrate an extreme piety by being regular church attenders and by being active  proselytisers for their faith. Christianity is foremost a religion of compassion and caring, yet this government treats the most vulnerable of people with inhuman contempt. Today it was in the papers that the government was stoping the personal care allowance for an eight year old girl with a distressing and disabling illness. It is the type of illness that makes the child totally dependent on her adult carers.  With complete inhumanity this government denied the money for care, because the British father worked mainly in Germany and therefore it was up to the German government to provide funding. Even when claimants whose lose benefit commit suicide, this most inhumane of governments remains unmoved. Obviously this government is unfamiliar with the gospel text, in which Christ when surrounded by children and tells his disciples that if anyone harmed these children it would be better for him that he threw himself into the sea with a millstone around his neck, rather than face the wrath of God. (Matthew 18:6)

What kind of God I wondered do the members of this government worship? Obviously it is not the Christian God with which I am familiar. The members of this government see their actions as virtuous so what God can possibly condone such inhumanity? Whatever God it is it cannot be the Christian one. 

One candidate is the secular religion, which goes by the name of Neo-Liberalism. Practitioners of this religion worship the market and believe that it this this very secular deity that will distribute wealth to each according to their deserts. They do realise that the free market will at times create human misery, but they believe that the good the market does outweighs the bad.

However the explanation lies with the religion of entitlement and privilege that has pre-dated Christianity but which has continued to coexist with Christianity. Christianity was a break from the religions of the past, which were little more than state religions. Religions whose role was to validate the social order, for whom the people were just an anonymous mass. The only individuals that mattered to these religions were the kings and the warrior heroes.  In contrast the heroes of Christianity were the common people fishermen, carpenters and tax collectors. Christianity was a religion of individualism, one that threatened the existing social order as it saw merit in all not just the rich and powerful.  A religion that would appeal to the oppressed groups such as slaves and women,  who were the majority of its early members, a religion of the downtrodden.

Achilles Slays Hector, by Peter Paul Rubens (1630–35).

One of the  best examples of a pre-Christian religion of entitlement and privilege is the religion of classical Greece, that of the Olympian Gods. Homer in his two poems ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ gives expression to the beliefs of the classical Greeks. In the Iliad the poor or the ordinary Greeks only get mentioned once. This is when a boastful soldier from the ranks foolishly challenges Odysseus (King of Ithaca) to a boxing match. Odysseus brutally beats the upstart challenger to a pulp, to the approval of the watching Gods and Homer. Throughout the epic story of Odysseus’s return from Troy, the members of his crew, the ordinary seamen are who crew his ship are almost never mentioned. When Odysseus finally returns to Ithaca he has lost all his crew through various misfortunes, yet he never expresses any regret about their loss. For Homer and the Olympian Gods of Greece, all that is of concern or interest are the actions of the heroes, all of whom come from a rich aristocratic warrior class. The masses or majority are merely there to provide a backdrop or audience for these aristocratic warriors. Throughout the Iliad the only conflicts described are those between the various Greek and Trojan aristocratic heroes. The war virtually stops while the ordinary soldiers observe the conflict between Achilles and Hector beneath the walls of Troy. Classical Greece is an aristocratic society whose religion only attributes any worth to the great and the good. Regret is only expressed over the death of the heroes, as with the funeral games held for Achilles. Only aristocrats can be heroes, ordinary people lack the virtues necessary to make them heroes or interesting to the Gods.

Only a religion that treated the common man with insignificance would be of value to our new governing classes. Rather than heroic warriors we are now governed by a class of less than heroic bankers and financiers. George Bush’s advisors who pushed for the war in Iraq were largely ‘chicken hawks’, men seconded from the large corporations who when young dodged the Vietnam draft. This new class of financiers, hedge fund managers and bankers, needs a greater vision to validate their superiour position in society. Something similar to Homer’s Iliad which glorified the heroic aristocrats. These self proclaimed ‘movers and shakers’ need a poet of Homer’s stature to justify their acquisition of vast wealth. Lacking a Homer, their virtues are lauded in such books as Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’, a book in which her billionaire heroes show the same contempt for the common man, as exhibited by Homer’s heroes. In this book thousands of the useless poor die from hunger, freeing the heroic billionaires from the burden of caring for this group of useless humanity.

What Ayn Rand and others such as Friedrich Hayek proclaim is a philosophy that frees the rich and powerful from the obligations and restrictions that are thought to make for the good society. Tax avoidance becomes a duty as the billionaire is better equipped to spend his money wisely, than is the wasteful state, who will foolishly squander its tax revenue.  Poverty for example is no longer a social evil but a spur to the poor for self improvement.



Posted: Oct 24 Twenty Fourteen

By: Silvia Hoffman

 

The new class of financiers and politicians want more than the rather unappealing philosophy of Neo-Liberalism, as there are only so many ways that selfishness can be redefined as a virtue. Fortunately for our new governing classes of politicians and financiers, the Christian tradition is sufficiently plastic to be written to favour the rich and powerful. As Constantine proved, when he oversaw a remaking of Christianity as a religion of empire and power in the 5th century CE. These classes have successfully used Christianity as a means of sacralising the social order. The role of monarch is God sanctioned at the Coronation service, any sense of social injustice is dissipated by emphasising that the poor will get their reward in heaven. The campaigning priests of South America who preached liberation theology were silenced by the Vatican. It was a Vatican that preferred the poor getting their reward in heaven than on earth.   

Theologians have used the concept of accommodation to explain how the organised churches drop those parts of their doctrine that are a threat to the established social order, so as to facilitate their acceptance within society. What I am suggesting is that the Christian churches long ago won acceptance by incorporating into their doctrines an acceptance of the old religion of power and privilege. The position of the rich and powerful in society was sanctioned by God.  In England this new God had many of the characteristics of the old pagan Gods such as Odin and Thor. This new Christian God sanctified wars of conquest much like the deities of old.  One of the first Saxon Saints was St. Oswald a warlord and king who was killed by a pagan adversary. Many of the new evangelical churches have so far accommodated to contemporary society in that they preach a doctrine of business success rather than one of compassion. Even the new Archbishop of Canterbury has instituted a reform programme to make the church more business minded. The culture of business targeting  supplementing the existing practice welfare practices



Parish church in Sankt Oswald ob Eibiswald ( Styria ). Statue of Saint Oswald riding a horse.

There has always been an uneasy alliance in the church between what can be called the Christianity of compassion and the Christianity of power. This compromise is represented by two twentieth century Archbishops, Archbishop Temple the social reformer and Archbishop Cosmo Laing a conservative, who wanted to restore the old power and privileges of the church. The first a reformer who said in a speech, that if it was possible the rich would charge us for the air we breathe, while the second wanted to increase the wealth of the church by reinstating the collection  church tithes (a practice that had long fallen into disuse.)  

What I am arguing is that the practice of accommodation has led to the churches accepting, all be it implicitly many of the characteristics of the old pagan religions into their Christian practice. Is not the God of George Bush and Tony Blair who sanctioned the war of Iraq more like Zeus than Christ? The Christ who had an abhorrence of violence, is replaced by one who advocated turning the cheek has been replaced by a Zeus like Christ who hurls thunderbolts to destroy his enemies.  In this accommodating church it easy for a cabinet minister to find an accommodating priest who will be accepting of the most inhumane of policy decisions. The old religion of power and privilege is very alive in today’s  Christian church.   

When being wrong is being right, the majority perspective on economics

IMG_0346.JPG

One of the greatest of follies is the excitement that is generated over the Bank of England’s announcement of interest rates. Once a month the monetary policy committee meets to decide the bank rate, that is the rate of interest the bank will charge on loans it might make. This committee of the great and good holds the nations future in their hands, holding rates steady as they have done yet again, brings great relief to the nation’s borrowers. In a nation that is as over indebted as the UK even small changes in the interest rate can be of great significance to borrowers, particularly those with large outstanding mortgages. Yet this is an illusion as so much economic policy making is a matter of smoke and mirrors. What matters is what people believe, if they think, as do the nation’s politicians and financiers, that such rate changes are of great importance, they are of great importance. However in moments of great crisis when events spiral out of control, they are almost useless. On Black Wednesday bank rate went up to 15%, 30 times today’s rate of 0.5%, yet it did little to halt speculation against the pound in the financial markets. The speculation was only ended when the pound was effectively devalued by Britain leaving the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and accepting a low market valuation for the pound. Raising interest rates did not stop financial speculators bringing the Bank of England to its knees.

While focusing on bank rate politicians and central bankers can pretend that they are in control of events. Stagnant incomes, over indebted banks (whose debts in 2013 were approximately 500% of GDP or £6.7 trillion), low productivity and spiralling trade deficit (now the highest in the developed world at 5% of GDP) are problems that can be ignored. At least until some future crisis reveals the fault lines in the UK economy. Incompetence in managing the economy despite popular misconceptions to the contrary never results in a lost election, unless it impinges on the popular imagination as in the form falling house prices.

IMG_0347.JPG

There is another misconception that a dysfunctional economy such as that of the UK is self correcting or pressures from within society will lead to a correction of the failures within the economic system. Nothing of the kind is true,dysfunctional economies such as the UK’s can function as they are for many years unless some internal or external shock forces traumatic change in society. If the political classes can somehow convey the impression that they are in control of the economy nothing will change. Nonsense if dressed up as sound economic policy will be accepted by the people as a whole in an economically illiterate society. Strangely enough for a subject whose practitioners claim to subject the economic to forensic analysis, artifice and appearance are often what matters.

I am not alone in my analysis as today one economics commentator described the policy of the central banks as applying cosmetics to the mummified economy.

Spoken or written truths are not welcome in such situations as this when the political,class and the supporting cast of economists are all desperately reassuring us that everything is well. The shrillness of the abuse with which they shout down proponents of alternative strategies is an indication of weakness of their grasp of the truth. They are aided in the suppression of the truth by their media allies who through controlling print and media outlets can prevent any alternative strategies being published or becoming known. What matters is that only the same story is told by politicians, economists, industrialists, the media etc.

What should not be underestimated is the staying power of the fictional story that by manipulating the bank rate the government is in control of the economy. Fortunately for all in the governing classes economics is going through the ‘dog days’, when all pretence of critical objective analysis of economic affairs has been abandoned, in favour of just telling the one story. If it is possible to describe one of the social sciences as a dead science, that description is true of economics. There will never be a university economist who will state that the emperor has no clothes.

Given my interest in theology, I can cite a similar example. Belief in the Gods of Olympus persisted for hundreds of years, even through the late days of the Roman Empire, when the educated classes had long since abandoned such a belief. Conservatism and the usefulness of such beliefs to the government, who could manipulate the fears of the population through supernatural portents gave belief in Jupiter and the other Olympian Gods an exceptionally long life. Belier in the efficacy of manipulating bank rate to control the economy started in the 19th century and despite a few short periods of disrepute it continuing to be the main measure of government economic policy.

There will be another financial crisis possibly worse than that of 2008/9 and again economists despite all the evidence too the contrary will again say that it was an event that nobody could have predicted. Policies that were adopted in 2008/9 despite their evident failure will be used again, as to do otherwise would be an admission of fallibility among the ruling class of politicians, bankers, industrialists, economists etc. What is needed is a new governing class with a new set of stories about the economy, hopefully stories that are grounded in reality. That will only result from a major trauma within society that destroys the myth of infallibility that cloaks the governing classes. The last time this happened was after World War 11 when a series of military disasters destroyed the credibility of the governing classes, when they were replaced with a middle class imbued with the ideals of social democracy.