Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occupy America's Wallet - II


An earlier post on Occupy Wall Street (See "Occupy America's Wallet," 10/13/11) attempted to describe what the movement is by identifying its causes.  This post seeks to discern where OSW comes from by identifying its roots.

By doing so, it aims to distinguish OSW from other movements seeking social justice, fairness and other moral themes that resonate broadly among the public, especially religious believers.  

The key distinction is to be found in the notion of hope that animates protestors, sympathizers, religious believers or others.

In what does OWS hope?  Of what does its better world consist?  How does that compare to the hope animating others?


Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope: 2007) is helpful in this regard.  Though addressed to Catholics, the letter is of interest to any religious believer, or non-believer who merely wishes to know in what Christian hope--the second of three theological virtues--generally consists.

Benedict teaches that Christian hope is grounded in faith (the first theological virtue).  It is something received in the process of coming to know God, the one true God.  

Believers come to know him through an encounter with the Lord of all lords, the living God.  Jesus Christ shows us the way to salvation, to eternal life.  In this, we have faith, the substance of Christian hope.

Those who have hope live differently, as if the anticipation of what is hoped for reaches into the present life with a foretaste of what is to come if we but persevere in our goal.  Through faith, the whole, true life that is hoped for is already present 'in embryo' in this life.


Hope makes even pain bearable, as it did for Saint Josephine Bakhita, a slave who came to know through faith in Jesus that she was loved by the supreme master.  "I am definitely loved and whatever happens to me--I am awaited by this Love.  And so my life is good."  Her hope had redeemed her.

Through hope, the believer knows that ultimately, a personal God who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love (the third theological virtue) will have the final say over life, not elemental spirits of the universe, material laws, evolution or what-have-you.  Man is not the plaything of impersonal forces.

"The realization that there is One who even in death accompanies me, and with his 'rod and his staff comforts me,' so that 'I fear no evil'--this was the new 'hope' that arose over the life of believers."


Hope is a social reality, something apostolic, rather than an individual phenomenon.  Pope Benedict's historical exegesis of how the modern, individualistic notion of hope in personal salvation developed is particularly illuminating for our purpose, which is to discern whether that which is on offer at Zuccotti Park bears any resemblance to a hope that others, especially religious believers, can embrace.

He identifies the foundation of the modern age in the correlation of experiment and method, science and praxis.  These led to the discovery of America and to heady technical achievements that promised to finally usher in 'the triumph of art over nature.'

The theological application of this development, personified in Francis Bacon, was that science and praxis would reestablish the dominion over creation lost through original sin.


Redemption was no longer to be expected through faith in Jesus Christ.  Rather, the restoration of paradise was henceforth to be expected from science and technology.  

Faith became displaced into the purely private, other-worldly realm.  Hope was now transformed into faith in progress.

'Reason' and 'freedom' became two categories central to the idea of progress.  "The kingdom of reason...is expected as the new condition of the human race once it has attained total freedom."

This interpretation pitted reason and freedom politically against the perceived shackles of faith, the Church and political structures of the period.


The eighteenth century's French Revolution was an attempt to establish the rule of reason and freedom as a political reality.  Kant at first believed that "The gradual transition of ecclesiastical faith to the exclusive sovereignty of pure religious faith [i.e., simple rational faith] is the coming of the Kingdom of God."

In a short while, however, he came to fear that "If Christianity should one day cease to be worthy of love...then the prevailing mode in human thought would be rejection and opposition to it; and the Antichrist..would begin his--albeit short--regime (presumably based on fear and self-interest)..."

The technology-driven emergence, and squalor, of the industrial proletariate in the nineteenth century moved Friedrich Engels to describe its dreadful living conditions, and Karl Marx to call for a proletariate revolution in bourgeois society.


Faith in progress was still the new form of human hope, whose guiding stars remained reason and freedom.  The decisive step towards salvation after Marx, however, would henceforth come from politics, and revolution.
Once the truth of the hereafter had been rejected, it would then be a question of establishing the truth of the here and now.  the critique of Heaven is transformed into the critique of earth, the critique of theology into the critique of politics.  Progress toward the better, toward the definitively good world, no longer comes simply from science but from politics--from a scientifically conceived politics that recognizes the structure of history and society and thus points out the road toward revolution, toward all-encompassing change.   
[Marx] simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized.  Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, man and the world would finally sort themselves out.  Then everything would be able to proceed by itself along the right path, because everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another.

Things didn't work out that way as Marx's interim phase, his 'dictatorship of the proletariat,' ushered in a trail of appalling destruction rather than a perfect world.  

Benedict identifies materialism as Marx's error, the mistaken belief that man is merely the product of his economic conditions and that it is possible to redeem him externally by creating ideal economic conditions.

Man always remains man, with freedom, which always remains freedom for evil as well as for good.  Fixing the economy through expropriation, redistribution and control--even if the right steps--would be insufficient to save man and to anchor his hope.

Technical progress opens possibilities for the good, but for evil as well if not matched by a corresponding moral growth at the personal level.

The imbalance between man's material capacity and the reasoned judgments in his heart can only be rectified if human freedom converges at the foundation and goal of our freedom.

"Let us put it very simply: man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope."


Christian hope is substantially different than political hope in progress, or science-based hope.

In the moral--as opposed to the material--sphere, freedom is always expressed anew through personal ethical awareness and decision-making.

Incremental ethical progress is not directly possible as "[t]he moral treasury of humanity is not readily at hand like tools that we use; it is present as an appeal to freedom and a possibility for it."

This means that the world's moral well-being cannot be guaranteed by structures alone, as even the best structures "function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order."

Moreover, it means that the kingdom of good cannot be definitively established in this world.
Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good.  Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself.  If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined--good-state of the world, man's freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all.
Every generation leaves structures to guide ensuing generations in the proper use of human freedom.  But, redemption comes neither through science nor politics.  Rather, man is redeemed by love.


Only an absolute certainty provided by an absolute love--God--can redeem man "whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances."

"Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus--we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone."

Our communion with Jesus draws us into his 'being for all' and makes us live for others.
Love of God leads to participation in the justice and generosity of God toward others.  Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: the love of God is revealed in responsibility for others.
The Pope summarizes, and for our purposes concludes, that the greater and lesser hopes of day-to-day life are necessary but insufficient to satisfy man's yearning for a whole that goes further, that leaves no room for further yearning.
In this regard our contemporary age has developed the hope of creating a perfect world that, thanks to scientific knowledge and to scientifically based politics, seemed to be achievable.  Thus Biblical hope in the Kingdom of God has been displaced by hope in the kingdom of man, the hope of a better world which would be the real "kingdom of God."  This seemed at last to be the great and realistic hope that man needs.  It was capable of galvanizing--for a time--all man's energies.  The great objective seemed worthy of full commitment.  In the course of time, however, it has become clear that this hope is constantly receding...
God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.  His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us.  His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect.  His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is 'truly' life" (emphasis added). 
These sublime reflections are far removed from the reality unfolding in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere, which seems wholly rooted in the political conception of hope.  The instigations of our Potemkin messiah serve only to confirm Noman's assessment.


OWS's hope is to tax whoever can bear the burden, and redistribute the takings through the welfare state.

For the time being, recipients are apparently to include federal, state and municipal employees, college students, universities, unions, green entrepreneurs, political confederates, community organizers, abortion providers, and other Democratic Party constituents.

Catholics need not apply.

Protestors neither consist of nor represent the downtrodden proletariate.  They alternatively appear to be scions of privilege, union enforcers, well-funded organizers, rabble rousers, or adventure seekers.

Noman is tempted to classify them into two groups: youthful free-loaders, and professional grievance mongers.  They are bound by a common sense of entitlement.

They are also bound by anger that someone would dare deny them while the resources to placate them still exist, somewhere, anywhere.

Ironically, protesters bristle at the presence of actual homeless people, and decry their sponging on resources intended for protestors.  (From where?  By whom?)

They tellingly bemoan the theft of laptops and other expensive items foolishly brought to the demonstrations, as if misinformed that only the best people would take part.

Their political idea of social justice is the right to easy living for little-to-no effort.  Oh, and an end to all injustice, generally.

Moreover, they expect government to ensure this right.

This is a twist on Marx's notion that peace would ensue from shared ownership. Protestors believe that peace will follow the provision of everyone's desires--at least Leftist's--at the rich's expense: rich being defined as $250,000 of income.


Christian hope does not look to government to supply the person with every desire.  Rather, its object is something beyond this life's ability to provide, whose possession through faith makes life's burdens and struggles tolerable, even lovable.

We know a tree by its fruit.  What, then, is the person of religious belief, or simply of good will, to make of OWS's lawlessness, confrontation, discord, violence, predation and the like?  What is one to make of the apparatchiks on the sidelines urging more contention, even to the point of Kent-State-like martyrdom?

In a word, Noman finds OWS to be manipulative.  As Saul Alinsky taught, "Revolution by the Have-Nots has a way of inducing a moral revelation among the Haves."

OWS is trying to stir a moral revelation in Noman's breast not only by appealing to hope and his sense of justice, but by threatening him with revolution.

Unfortunately for OWS and its prime movers, Noman's hope lies in faith, not politics.  His sense of justice lies in truth, not grievance.  And, the revolution has already begun, peacefully at the ballot box.

The truly spontaneous revolution in America is that to reduce the size and scope of government, and hence the domain of political opportunism and opportunists.  OWS is but a reaction to it.

Thus, while Noman recognizes a moral duty to pursue social justice, despite the fact that he is upset with self-serving investment bankers, and despite the fact that his life's circumstances are uncertain--as befits a contingent being--he does not see much in Occupy Wall Street to recommend it.

It offers false hope.  It panders to grievance.  It menaces rather than consoles.  It's not for Noman.

He will be happy to see it play itself out, and dissipate its energies.  But, he expects it to persist as long as stimulus funding for it does, or until the present Administration collapses.

The continued threat of bankruptcy playing itself out in Europe, the home of the social welfare state, will serve to fuel the ongoing revolution in America.

As Jesus did not say, the agitators and utopians you have always with you.

Once they relinquish their hold on government and the public purse, Americans will be freer, wealthier and abler to alleviate real suffering, and to ease the plight of the poor through personal initiative, intermediate associations and the subjectivity of society.


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