Vanity thought #1523. Money as the root of all…

Usually they say that money is the root of all evil. It’s actually a Biblical quote and, interestingly enough, comes from the same letter to Timothy that has “Don’t let women into any position of spiritual authority” injunction by Paul I mentioned a couple of days ago. We, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, are not particularly fond of this saying about money but we understand the sentiment.

We can refer to Mahārāja Parīkṣit banishing the personification of Kali to reside in gold, ie money. The other four places allowed to Kali were where gambling, drinking, illicit association with women and animal slaughter are performed (SB 1.17.38-39). Śrīla Prabhupāda explained that gold was asked and permitted because during the reign of Mahārāja Parīkṣit there were no places where four illicit activities were practiced but gold would eventually attract all of them. Thus our actual beef is with breaking regulative principles rather than money itself.

Being attached to sinful activities is an offense against the holy name and committing them while hoping that the holy name would clear our sins is another offense on top of the first one. Offensive chanting keeps us from realizing the Name’s full glory and, therefore, there’s no spiritual life for those who keep sinning. It’s simply impossible no matter what they claim. God can forcefully reveal Himself to anybody, of course, but sinful people do not have necessary clarity of vision to perceive Him otherwise.

Hmm, one could say that without Lord’s mercy no one can see Him, sin or no sin, and it is true, but spirituality is a big area, seeing personal form of Godhead is a pinnacle of it and lesser aspects of it are automatically revealed according to our purity. Impersonal Brahman realization, for example, can be achieved by anybody through his own efforts (or so it seems to advaitins themselves), and it’s usually the impersonalists who claim to have spiritual visions while still leading gross and sinful lives. They can’t have them, these claims are fraudulent. Same goes for Christians who think that reading the Bible qualifies them to have a personal vision of Christ – jñāna in this case won’t work for them just as it doesn’t work for sinful advaitins. It’s a separate topic, though.

Anyway, money as the root of all evil, or love of money and greed, to be exact, is a common realization across the whole western world. Stephen Fry brought it up during the debate but, as usual for him, he twisted it to imply that money makes Catholic Church evil, too.

He was ranting about limbo and introduced purgatory and was about to reveal the real evil purpose behind it – money. Here’s what he said:

“A soul needs to be prayed for in order to go to heaven… And for many hundreds, indeed over a thousand years you’d be amazed what generous terms those prayers came at. Sometimes as little as two thirds of a year’s salary could ensure that a dead loved one would go to heaven. And money could ensure that your baby, your dead child, your dead uncle, your dead mother could go to heaven. And if you were rich enough you could have a chantry built and monks would permanently sing prayers so that that existence in heaven for a child would go up and up and up until they are at the table of the Lord themselves.”

I don’t think I have any illusions about Vatican greed throughout history, I still remember stuff about selling ingulgencies so that one may commit any sin safely. I think this argument resonates deeply with the public but we should look at the bigger picture and consider Church’s own view on the subject, too. I can’t claim to speak for the Church but I see where they might be coming from.

In the modern world money isn’t only the root of evil, it is also the common currency to determine the value of practically everything. There are insurance payments for the death of a child on terms that parents have negotiated and agreed on. It’s not exactly a price of a child but it certainly a monetary expression of child’s value. Insurance companies calculate values of everything, no one loves them for that but our modern life wouldn’t exist without insurance. It’s not just insurance either – we have the price for everything and, at the end of the day, everything is expressed in dollars and cents. Maybe not all the time but people with money know that they can buy practically anything they want, it’s only a question of price.

Why should the Church be ignorant of the value of money? Why wouldn’t it use such a convenient yardstick in its everyday dealings? Note how it was the price of two thirds of one’s yearly salary, not an absolute amount, demanded for the prayers. This distinction is significant, let me explain why.

What earns people points with God is sacrifices. Unless one has pure devotion, acts completely selflessly, and sees everything as God’s property, he must make sacrifices. Sacrifice is, at its heart, a relinquishment of one’s claims over Lord’s property. We, the spiritually condemned thieves, see at least parts of the world as ours to enjoy and control. This vision is born of ignorance, of course, and there’s no other way we can cure ourselves from our thieving propensity – we must give whatever we can back to the Lord.

People were asked to sacrifice two thirds of their work, not money. I don’t know where the specific number mentioned by Fry came from but I don’t think it was actually “salary”. Most likely it was two thirds of whatever one produced, probably in the form of grain or chickens. Until very recently no one paid salary big enough to donate two thirds of it and survive anyway.

Fry made it sound like fraud, implying that no way anyone in the Church could have prayed any dead soul into heaven and it was a simply money grab but he didn’t consider the personal sacrifice aspect of it. As long as the priest comes from line of disciplic succession, which is still the case with Catholics, his personal qualifications do not play a big role in the success of a sacrifice and how the Church spent the money should not be a consideration either. Once the work/money is offered to the Lord the sacrifice is over, in fact one should offer it without reservations and conditions and without trying to keep an eye on it as if it’s still his.

And the Church asked for money so that their priests could pray, which is another form of sacrifice – saṅkīrtana! It was especially clear in the case of building chantries. Somehow even Catholics recognized that the most spiritually efficient way of passing someone’s sacrifice on to the Lord is chanting.

It wasn’t about money, it was a pure karma yoga elevated by the Church to pure saṅkīrtana. Well, not pure but close enough, and Fry didn’t understand any of it, making it into a caricature and missing all the important points. We should know the principles of it and spot such attacks a mile away if anyone tries it with ISKCON.

Oh, and money in this case becomes the source of one’s liberation, just as it’s taught in Bhagavad Gīta.

Vanity thought #1520. Judging History

Next in the animated short summary of the debate on the merits of the Catholic Church was Anne Widdecombe’s attack on the atheist historical perspective. I won’t go through all the accusations hurled the Catholics way, there was Inquisition, there were Crusades, there was destruction of Constantinople etc etc. Hitchens read the long list of these past crimes and it was a blood boiling stuff that the Church can’t deny, in fact it publicly apologized for it, as Hitchens noted. That is not the end of the story, though.

As I said a couple of days ago, bringing up past transgressions for which the guilty party has apologized is too vindictive to my taste. Hitchens could have said that the apology was not accepted so he is free to raise this subject again and again but these crimes weren’t committed against him, the apology wasn’t directed at him. Afaik, no one blames the current Church for the sins of their predecessors, most of the world realized that it’s time to move on.

Hitchens then would say that if we want to judge the overall merits of the Church then we have to consider history as well, it’s not like the Church has always been good until recent child abuse scandals came out. Fine, let’s look at history then, and that’s what Widdecombe’s argument was all about:

“If you are going to judge the Catholic Church at any given stage in history then you have to judge it against the standards that were prevailing at the time, and condemning the Inquisition, which was a horrible thing [condemning or Inquisition was horrible?]… Condemning the Inquisition in isolation from condemning just about the whole, in fact the whole of European society, which at that time rejoiced in punishment and torture as a means of dealing with criminality, and with treason, and with wrongdoing, to try and divorce the Catholic Church from that and say that it was uniquely guilty, under the inquisition, is simply trying to look back at centuries gone past and apply a standard that nobody applied at the time.”

Nice, even though somewhat imperfect. There was a little ambiguity in the middle and the end wasn’t as powerful as the build up suggested but it’s still a solid argument. I don’t know how to improve it, perhaps just add that we don’t apply laws retroactively, it something wasn’t a crime at the time it happened it can’t be judged as crime now. If we now think that torture was wrong but at the time of the Inquisition it wasn’t, then the Catholic contribution to the society wasn’t evil by that society’s standards. At the time it could have been seen as a force for good while still torturing the heretics, no one minded.

Or, put it another way, if contemporary society didn’t think that Inquisition was bad and rather thought that the Church was undeniably good, then that’s what we have to accept as evidence from history. Hitchens could have found some testimonies condemning the church but he didn’t and so we can assume everyone went along with the Inquisition just fine.

As an argument it was solid but as a means to win the debate it wasn’t, because by that time it was all about rhetoric and emotional appeals. Hitchens’ cries for justice were more appealing even if there were groundless so they counted while Widdecombe’s argument didn’t.

Fry also jumped in, and the animation editors made it sound as if he was directly addressing Widdecombe but he went precisely nowhere. No matter, he did in style, with audience drooling at every turn of his thought, so he “won”.

“Now all this is in the past and it’s irrelevant and I acceede to Anne Widdecombe how irrelevant it is, except in one thing. This Church is founded on the principle of intercession. Only through the apostolic succession, only through the laying on of hands, from this Galilean carpenter, who we can all admire, only from the laying on of hands from his apostles, to Saint Peter, to the other bishops, all the way down to everyone consecrated in this room [consecrated in THIS room?], anyone ordained here [here?] will know they are… they have this extraordinary power to change the molecules of wine into blood, literally, to change the molecules of paste bread into flesh, literally, and to forgive the sins of the peasants and the poor whom they routinely exploited around the planet. Only this Church has this extraordinary principle that it is through these male priests, and only male priests, that this is given. It is a doctrinal fact, it is more than a doctrinal fact, it is a dogma, “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus”, outside the Church there’s no salvation.”

What has it got to do with history and Widdecombe’s argument against judging it my modern standards? Nothing whatsoever, the conclusion is an entirely different subject. I can’t be bothered to mark every word Fry stressed there with capitals, and despite a little ambiguity in the middle as well, the overall effect was in Fry’s favor because he is simply a better speaker with a better voice, and a better command of his voice.

Next time you hear atheists claim that they win with logic and reason remember that it’s not true, they are as reliant on flourish and rhetoric as any politician out there and logic and reason are often completely missing from their presentations, no matter how convincing they sound.

The animation moved on but there’s one more thing I think needs to be said about history. In the full version of the debate Widdecombe continued with the defense of child abuse, too – if judged from the perspective of that era, which wasn’t a long time ago but is still in the past. She was referring to the activities of Pedophile Information Exchange, a group that was disbanded only in 1984 and which was affiliated with UK’s Council for Civil Liberties and printed booklets on pedophilia sponsored by public funds. It wasn’t a big deal then, Widdecombe argued, we made it into a big deal much later. Respectable people who no one would ever accuse of child abuse supported that group and everyone was simply acting out the ignorance of that time.

She then also added that when they, the Church, learned of the abusive behavior they weren’t taught, because no one knew it at the time, that there’s no way that someone who abused would simply stop. I suppose she implied that punishing the priests was enough and there was no need to remove them from their positions. Punishment in those days was also light, it appears from her speech. The realization that sex offenders need to be registered and watched permanently didn’t occur to anyone until mid-nineties. In retrospect, she said, the Church should have acted differently, but so should have the magistrates, the courts, the Council for Civil Liberties etc etc.

This is the argument I heard from one ISKCON leader as well. At the time no one knew what to do and what the real dangers were, ISKCON acted as it would have been expected at the time, and it was only until much later that the world has realized it wasn’t enough. Neither we, nor the Catholic Church, had any unique insights into sex-offenders psychology at the time.

Could we have turned to Śrīla Prabhupāda or to śāstra on this? Nope, child abuse is such a low grade behavior that it goes beneath śāstra’s radar, and it didn’t even occur to Śrīla Prabhupāda.

Personally, I think the same argument can be made in defense of rape in our books. I don’t think Prabhupāda ever meant forcing oneself on a woman while she is screaming and fighting back with all her might. I don’t think “rape” in our books ever means sex without consent but a testament to the power of man’s persuasion. Some men are hard to refuse, like Rāvaṇa. He could have “raped” Sīta in the modern sense of the word but sex without consent didn’t occur to even demons like him, it’s such a low grade behavior and Rāvaṇa was an exemplary king in many respects, he wouldn’t have stooped so low.

This needs further investigation, though.

Edit:  Rāvana did rape a woman, though, and was cursed that he’d die if he ever tried it again. My bad. “Even Rāvana” part of the argument doesn’t hold.

Vanity thought #1518. Debate Animated

As I said, I’m not going to go through the debate about Catholic Church word by word but the organizers kindly provided a short animation summarizing the best arguments from Anne Widdecombe for Catholics and Stephen Fry for atheists, so let’s cover that.

The two other speakers, an African bishop and Christopher Hitchens, were excluded but it’s not a big loss. Perhaps I could say a few words about the priest but Hitchens’ facts I covered yesterday, I don’t want to watch the whole two hour affair again to check if he said anything else of note.

If you watch this short it might appear disjointed, jumping from topic to topic, and it should be expected from this video because it’s made of selected clips, but the rest of the debate was the same, everybody was making himself heard all the time and no one was obliged to follow up on questions. Even when the speakers were answering questions from the audience they were free to pick and choose what to answer and what to ignore.

This was the fault of the organizers, it put too much unnecessary pressure on the speakers, giving them too many questions to juggle and too little time to respond. Half the questions from the audience were not even questions but personal comments and gripes. There was one guy who said he just returned from a UN conference and there he submitted a list of five transgressions by the Catholic Church and the Church admitted it hasn’t done anything about them. It was a one sided piece of information, no one knew what he was talking about and whether it was factually correct.

The debate was organized more like a court proceedings, with time allocated to the prosecution and the defense to make their statements and the audience acting as a jury, but a lot of what was heard would not have been permissible in court, like that guy’s “testimony”. If he was allowed to speak as a witness the defense would have been given time to cross examine him and bring their own witnesses and experts. Otherwise he just made an emotional appeal that manipulated the hearts and that’s all.

Anyway, the animation, it starts with Widdecombe asking us to imagine the world without Catholic Church giving billions to charity. Very easy. In my world I do not see Catholic Church charities at all, they are not collecting them where I can see, and they are not distributing them where I can see. They are also not in the news, my world is already is as if Catholic charities didn’t exist. No big loss.

There’s also the mercantile dimension to this argument that doesn’t do anything good to Catholic Church’s image. I get it that they were trying to speak the language atheists can understand and measure – money, but when you treat people like that, if you appeal to their lower nature, don’t expect them to respond any differently and appreciate unspoken spiritual arguments in your favor. If you talk to them as if they don’t understand anything but money they’ll repay in kind.

Anyway, Catholic Church apparently contributes more than any nation. Sounds nice, but it’s a somewhat dishonest argument. Catholic Church is bigger than any other nation, save for China, and all these other nations have to invest in defense and what not so the comparison is inappropriate. Makes for a good soundbite, though.

Thankfully, Widdecombe quickly switched to the message of the Catholic Church, and that is of hope and salvation it gives to more than a billion of people. She used their lives as testimony that the Church is the force for good, but, as I said a few days ago, atheists usually discount cumulative affect of individual lives and go for doctrine instead, and not for Church’s actual doctrine but their interpretation of it. If they manage to twist something and make it sound bad it outweighs experiences of those billions of people. Reasonable? No, but it wins debates such as this.

Next came Stephen Fry, and he started (the animation started) by saying that he is going to take great pleasure in castigating the church, though he put it a lot more eloquently, earning himself applause from the audience. Where did the virtue of being dispassionate and logical go to? Why do the atheists applaud departure from rationality and diving into pleasure seeking rhetoric? What sort of debate is this where one side abandons its proclaimed strength and goes for emotional feel instead? It’s not a debate, it’s a propaganda exercise.

Fry then reminded everyone that Catholic Church IS a nation state, contrary to what Widdecombe stated earlier. Well, of course the Pope is the head of Vatican but Widdecombe and her fellow Catholics are not Vatican’s citizens, why did he not acknowledge that? He moved on to some UN conference where the then current Pope (it was 2009) issued a statement together with Muslim nations led by Saudi Arabia on behalf of the revealed religions of the world… Pure rhetoric – all the emotional triggers are there – head of state, joined with backward, repressive Muslims like Saudis, speaking for religions of the world. And what did he say? Unclear, something about blocking women’s sexual freedom. Doesn’t matter, the outrage was already planted in the audience.

What kind of sexual freedom did the Vatican block? Unclear. How many people would argue against sexual freedom for their own wives? Seven and a half billion, I guess, but it’s the Church who is the culprit. And what can Vatican ever block in the UN? It’s not even a member! Fry doesn’t have a coherent argument here at all, but with emotional triggers he got the audience by its heart strings.

“The Islamic world AND the Catholic church have never been anything other than implacably opposed to women’s choice in their own bodies and their destinies,” concluded Fry, and applause followed. As I said, most husbands would also oppose to their wives exercising absolute freedom with their bodies and destinies, too. Even in the modern world all such decisions are taken together, that’s what marriage is. It’s just Fry’s flowery words with no substance, but people loved it.

Once again, it was debate organizer’s duty to prevent such blatant abuse of the audience. You can’t stop people from reacting to emotional appeals but you can stop speakers from making them. Not by taking away their mike, of course, but by setting the appropriate atmosphere and elevating the level of discussion. Once again, the woman in charge thought that if it sounded good and felt good then it was okay. It wasn’t.., will continue tomorrow.