Being friends with Christians

E10704.jpg

Credits: National Gallery of Art.

The other day, I came upon an article written by a self-appointed Christian, courtesy of the WordPress Reader, not too long and well organized, which ends on the recommendation of two films that “will equip you to do what you can where you are to combat Communism and Socialism”.

This made feel a bit queasy because I know a lot of people out there who are Christians and they’re usually not so fast to call to “combat” (not sure how violent this is). There’s lots of violent people out there with different “world views” though, communists included, so let’s leave this aside.

What bakes my noodle more is how to deal with this.

Online, it’s easy, you just close the tab, the window, the browser, whatever, and it’s gone. But the world isn’t exclusively your web browser: you most probably have a job, a family, friends, fellows practicing the same hobby, even strangers you meet on the street. If they bring up this kind of “Marxism is evil, destroys morality” kind of discourse, how do you deal with this?

In the spirit of a true Marxian, I think that, unless that person is Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates or some other such mega-rich capitalist, you want to engage with a person in such a way so that you and they can foster a struggle against people like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates or some other such mega-rich capitalist.

That person might tell you that Marx replaced the original sin of man with the original sin being capitalism, also sometimes worded as “Communism supplanted the Garden of Eden with a Rousseauian primitive man at harmony with nature” (which is simply plain wrong), or that man is inherently evil (completely doing away with praxis), or that abolishing private property is against the commandments (a belief in the sacro-sanctity of a specific text), or that Marx places work as an impostor of God (HOW DO YOU EVEN?…), or that human dignity comes from Christ’s sacrifice (believing in mythical events and periods like the Garden of Eden or that the woman comes from a rib of man), or that materialistic accounts of the world distract us from first seeking the kingdom of God and his righeousness (believing in Heaven or Harry Potter for that matter), etc. the list goes on and on.

“The Bible requires work, frugal living and honest dealings. It mandates impartial justice, sound money and property rights; plus endorses liberty and limited government – all essential elements of capitalism. Christ even used free market principles repeatedly in his teaching. Jesus clearly appreciated price signals and the role of incentives.” (Forbes article)

This is real. Unlike others who believe in something they’ve never seen, I’m having trouble believing what I’m seeing (or reading). “Jesus clearly appreciated price signals and the role of incentives”. This is not a joke, it’s not sarcastic, it’s dead serious. And it’s published on a Forbes blog, with the huge readership it has.

How do you deal with people lying, cheating, misinformed or simply being dumb through the conversation? It’s a psychological regularity that as soon as a person is corrected about something, the reaction is to hunker down on your position and oppose your opposer. A 2016 study (found through Vox) found that resistance to change happens in two zones of your brain (insular cortex and amygdala), the amygdala being especially prone to “fearful and threatening stimuli”. In other words, opposing ideological views are treated as personal insults.

Although it’s unclear from the information the paper provides about the experiment, it seems like the results also suggested that if a person perceived an issue as political (or let’s say value-based, or involving morals) beliefs were much less likely to change than if the person perceived an issue as nonpolitical (or scientific).

Edison-vs-abortion-belief-change

Source and credits: Nature Scientific Reports.

So if you’re ever faced with somebody who initially seems sensible but who then tells you they support capitalistic forms of public policy because Jesus encouraged the role of incentives, I think that the best thing to do (again, if you want to create solidarity between you and the person) is either to renounce your authority on this subject by saying “I don’t know enough about this to talk to you about it” or to neutrally state some undeniable facts (even for someone believing that Harry Potter exists): “Ok Chad, policies creating incentives sure help productivity and all sorts of innovation, but I wonder if this productivity and innovation really helps people like us, who have a normal job; for example, did you know that since the 1970’s productivity has gone up 77%, but hourly compensation (wages and benefits) only 12%, which is a 6 fold difference, here’s a chart I have on my phone”.

productivity-vs-compensation

Credits: EPI

Now, if you’re in front of a person who says science is fake, just move along: that person belongs to the dustbin of history, and it’s not up to you (unless you’re somehow really close to this person) to demonstrate the processes of experimentation and generalization which make, say, the GPS work.

But the overwhelming odds are that if you sincerely consider this person as misinformed and you modestly present some evidence which can inform his position on the matter, even if they do not immediately (or ever) declare themselves as communists, even if they SEEM to hunker down on their position, in reality they have reconsidered some stuff, even if they are hiding it out of pride or whatever (and as unsatisfying as this is for someone trying to provide information about a subject).

But, if Chad then answers “it’s better if we are poor because it makes us worthy of God”, it’s a much more difficult thing to face, because you can’t transform this in a thing about facts. I still think that the most important thing is to remain on his side in some way, like: “yeah, I want to be worthy of God too, but I think I can be worthy without being completely exploited, no?” and kind of see where it goes from there.

My point in all of this is to drive home that ideas and even logic are socially constituted processes. This will be controversial to some, and that’s OK, maybe someone will comment and start a discussion. But if what I’m saying is true, then the only way to foster a collective enterprise against exploitation is to foster the collective itself, to make sure isolation doesn’t happen, to participate in what others do and to try to make others participate in what you do, because that’s what reality means.

In the spirit of full disclosure of this publication, my advice is strongly inspired by my education as a sociologist, where the central axiom is that human essence is nothing abstract, it is simply the result of the complex interaction of social relations and institutions.

“The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. […] The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.” (Marx, Theses on Feuerbach)


Sources

Christian stuff:

http://joshuabontrager.com/2018/09/25/can-a-christian-be-a-marxist/

https://tifwe.org/the-four-twisted-truths-of-marx/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/billflax/2011/05/12/do-marxism-and-christianity-have-anything-in-common/#456e20a76877

Scientific and Marx stuff:

KAPLAN, J. et al. (2016) Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence, Scientific Reports, 2016, https://doi.org/10.1038/srep39589.

Economic Policy Institute. (2018) The Productivity–Pay Gap, updated August 2018. https://www.epi.org/productivity-pay-gap/

MARX, Karl. (1845) Theses on Feuerbach, available online here.


A well-deserved LOL for those of you to made it to the end of the page: All Chilean bishops offer their resignation over sexual abuse cover-up

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