Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"Dung of the Devil"

Tomorrow (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. For Christians around the world this is the important 46-day period (40 days plus Sundays) of preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Although Ash Wednesday and Lent are now widely observed in Protestant churches, they started, of course, in the Catholic Church—and the main reason the Baptist church I grew up in, and most Baptist churches back then, didn’t observe Ash Wednesday or Lent is probably because they were thought to be Catholic practices.

While I have some reservations about the whole cyclical church calendar thing, I now acknowledge that there are good and important emphases in the observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent. I will be attending my church’s Ash Wednesday service tomorrow and observing some limited Lenten practices until Easter.

Pope Francis’ annual Lenten exhortation for this year was released on January 26. In a Religion News Service article posted the same day, journalist David Gibson wrote that in this year’s “message to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics,” the Pope uses “some of his most powerful language yet” in talking about “the corrupting influence of money and power.”

In his article Gibson also pointed out that the Pope has called the “unfettered pursuit of money” the “dung of the devil,” and he links to an address that the Pope gave in Bolivia in July 2015. Here is a bit from that powerful speech by Pope Francis:

Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem. The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea – one of the first theologians of the Church – called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the “dung of the devil”.

Some newspapers, such as The Guardian, the British national daily founded in 1821, reported on the Pope’s 7/15 speech under this headline: “Unbridled capitalism is the ‘dung of the devil’, says Pope Francis.”

Others pointed out, correctly, that that sensationalized headline wasn’t exactly true. The Pope went on to say (after the words cited above), Once capital becomes an idol and guides people's decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women . . .”

So even though it is often difficult to separate capitalism from greed, it is the latter that can be, and has been, called the dung of the devil.”

Just recently I learned about a Catholic group whose name is Malteser International Americas (MIA). According to this article, this year is their second annual “Make Lent Count” campaign. They emphasize that Lent is a time for giving and not just giving up.
________________February 10, 2016________

Parenthetically, this same group has recently taken action in South America to protect women and their unborn babies from the Zika virus. (See this article.)

In January of last year I wrote about Super Bowl Idolatry, which seems to have gone unabated this year. But the Pope’s warning is about the idolatry of greed, which is not unrelated to activities surrounding the Super Bowl but is of much greater importance—because it is worldwide and year-round.

The practice of giving up something for Lent—or of extra giving during Lent as the MIA and other Christians emphasize—is important as an antidote to the ever-present tendency to step into the dung of the devil.

*****
500th Post
      The first post I made in this blog was in July 2009, and it was very short and tentative. Counting that as the first, though, this is now my 500th blog posting. At this point I don’t know how many more there will be—probably I won’t make it to 1,000—but I plan to keep on at the same pace in the foreseeable future.

I am grateful to all of you who have read many, of even some, of my articles. My special thanks goes to those of you who have taken time to respond with posted comments and by email.

11 comments:

  1. Congratulations on #500!

    I'm pleased that the Pope is speaking out against greed and unbridled capitalism. He's continuing a prophetic voice that has characterized Catholic Christianity for a very long time; a voice unfortunately lost to some currents within Protestantism.

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    1. Thanks, Anton! You have perhaps posted more comments on this blogsite than anyone else, and I appreciate that very much.

      I agree with your comments today--but, as you know, there are those within Catholicism who are not happy with the Pope's anti-capitalism remarks and there are those within Protestantism, such as Jim Wallis and Shane Claiborne, who have long spoken out against greed and unbridled capitalism.

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  2. A worthy achievement, Leroy. Thank you for all you've made us think about these past seven years. While I understand you make no promises, I hope to be among those who read and think about #1000! A blessed Lent.

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    1. Thanks, David!

      At the present rate--and at some point before too long I may start to post every six days instead of every five days--the 1000th article would appear early in 2023 when I am 84 years old. While it is certainly possible that I could and will continue until then, that might be pushing it.

      As long as I don't have to struggle to find suitable topics and something that I think is worthwhile to say about them, I will continue. (To this point, I am happy to say, I have never had to struggle to find my next topic.) But if or when it becomes a burden, or if or when the articles don't seem to be making people think about important issues, then I will quit.

      I hope that will be after I have written the next 500!

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  3. Congratulations on the BIG milestone! Much has been challenging in my personal, spiritual sojourn which started nearly 40 years ago.

    Lent, of course, pre-dates the Roman (and other western and Protestant) Rite. It has been practiced in some form from very early in the history of the holy catholic Church. The Roman and Anglican rites were very instrumental in my own sojourn for many decades. Although I still feel most at home among the Anglicans and celebrating the Church holidays with them (and nearly being confirmed 10 years ago), the sojourn has shifted more toward eastern Orthodoxy now, which of course has a different calendar. This year I will begin the season of Great Lent with them on March 14 in an evangelical Orthodox manner. Obviously the same roots are there as this is a part of the holy catholic Church.

    There are serious issues with laissez-faire capitalism, as we have seen from history. There are also issues with the practice of other economic theories. However, this Pope has done a good job of ad hominem which has done his part in driving me farther from the western rites. It is a very poor debate tactic. Just this morning my wife was mourning the political ad hominem which has now relegated her to a special place in hell, by a fellow "Christian". So much for a Christianity of LOVE.

    Throughout Jewish and Christian history, there are specific commandments to take care of certain groups, but throwing out the Love commandments does not help to accomplish them. Hopefully the time of Lent/Great Lent will be a time of repentance and renewal for all Christian believers - and a time to revisit the four great Love commandments of Christ.

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    1. The Pope's new book (2016) is titled "The Name of God is Mercy," and it was the #1 bestseller in the New York Times Religion, Spirituality and Faith section again this week.

      According to the blurb on Amazon.com, "In this conversation with Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli, Francis explains. . . why 'mercy is the first attribute of God.' God 'does not want anyone to be lost. His mercy is infinitely greater than our sins,' he writes.

      It seems to me that Pope Francis exemplifies the spirit of mercy and love, and his stringent criticism of greed is because of his love for the multitude of people whose lives are being damaged and even taken because of that greed.

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  4. The key word for me in this blog is "unfettered." Capitalism works quite well in a number of fields if it is tamed by the will of people through transparency, options, and regulation. Wild capitalism leads to disaster as the powerful overwhelm the weak. This is a current issue in the modern world as we are living through a current version of nineteenth century "Robber Barons." We had one near meltdown in 2008, which was followed by disproportionate and inadequate reforms. The rise of Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left illustrates the depth of the remaining problems.

    We live in an age that proclaims "Greed is good." It is time for greed go get back to being one of the seven deadly sins.

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  5. Canadian Thinking Friend George Takashima shares these comments:

    "Right on...I totally agree that money/greed is the "dung of the devil".....I have seen this in so many places in our own country.

    "Politics (conservatives in general) have been corrupt and adding misery to the lives of many people so much so that in the past year we have seen a change in government federally and here in the Province of Alberta. The (Progressive) Conservative Party, the ruling party of the federal government for over ten years and the ruling party of the Province of Alberta for over forty years was very much immersed in power and greed and corruption that the people finally 'saw the light' and ousted it out in May 2015 (Alberta) and in October 2015 (federally).

    "While the current parties in power, the New Democrats (socialist) in Alberta and the Liberals (federally), are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, they are more open to the public by listening to what the people have to say--something that was lacking in the PCs."

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  6. I am currently reading the Acts of the Apostles. I am amazed the Church has held together. There seems to have been dissension since the beginning.

    I plan to read the book of Deuteronomy during Great Lent. It seems to have be on Christ's mind at the time. I am aware of some of the themes, but it is always an amazing read. Last time reading through there seemed to be a strong business model in place. Jesus was obviously pro-business, but certainly did not condone misbehavior or malpractice.

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  7. I appreciate these comments from local Thinking Friend Larry Guillot:

    "Add my kudos for your contributions and perseverance for the blog.

    "I am a R. Catholic and fan of what Francis is trying to do. He knows the value of the leadership position he holds. Acknowledging himself a sinner and seeking to imitate Jesus, focusing on the poor and broadsiding the greedy get more attention than long encyclicals.

    "WWJD: I can imagine Jesus railing against the greedy persons and institutions who have us in the 'shitty situation' of 1% = control of half of the world's financial wealth. At the same time I like the stance of the R.C. social encyclicals that take the position that capital means resources and is a basic element of economics, made up of labor, human capital, along with buildings, technology and financial capital. The fundamental principle is that the development of human capital, the development of peoples, is first and should be the objective of the other capital resources.

    "Let the 'dung of the devil' slingshot call attention to the absurdity of the 1% or 10%, half of the world in a situation of poverty, and the working middle class, to which most can rightly aspire, being squeezed out of existence!"

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  8. I also appreciate the comments Thinking Friend Charles Kiker in Texas posted on Facebook:

    "Leroy, since Patricia and I are now 'sort of' good Methodists, we will make our way to the United Methodist church tonight and receive the imposition of ashes. But I shall wash them off before venturing out tomorrow, lest I be found practicing my piety before men. Something I recall Jesus warning against.

    "Surely greed is the dung of the devil. The more scatological Martin Luther might have preferred another alliterative term, 'the sh-t of Satan.'

    It's mind blowing that some of my decidedly not 1% relatives defend the right of the 1% to keep what they have earned. 'Why is it greed for them to keep what they have earned, and not greed for those who have not earned it to want to take it away from them?' But there is no point in arguing with them."

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