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Father bless!

Thank you for this.

I have been interested in several aspects of American "evangelicalism", one of which was the apparent coalition of several disparate elements (Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism and Neopentecostalism) behind a political agenda, the "religious right", which has had several significant effects in Africa.

I've also been interested in the "emerging church" movement, which is very varied. We recently invited a group of them to come to Vespers in our parish and to discuss their experience. One reason for inviting them was that they spoke of the inadequacy of "traditional mission" (by which many seemed to mean the megachurch model, which has only grown up in the last 30-40 years), but had not the slightest idea of Orthodoxy or Orthodox worship, apart from a few watered-down ideas mediated by Brian McLaren (ikons and candles are cool).

It was an interesting experience. Our emerging visitors were impressed by the theological knowledge they saw in the Orthodox laity, and it was the Orthodox who mentioned and explained "orthopraxy" and not one person mentioned "spirituality".

I look forward to reading the later articles, and though I think that African Christianity is somewhat different, it has been influenced in many ways by American models -- even Orthodoxy, since America is the main source of Orthodox books in English.

If you are interested, you can find my account of our meeting with the emerging church people at

http://khanya.wordpress.com/2009/02/09/orthodox-emerging-missional-dialogue/

I have found a great variety in South African emerging people, at least in what they are looking for. What they do have in common is that the vast majority of them are white.

(note: Father approved this huge comment beforehand, although I have added an update about Bernanke's new plan and the link to The Trumpet)

Father Tobias,

Your article, "Prospects, part 1" is excellent and very insightful. Thank you for your analysis; I eagerly await part 2!

The only place where I don't agree with you is that what we've experienced is laissez-faire capitalism. There are three problems with labeling our economic system laissez-faire:

1) Government sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac entirely distorted the mortgage market. By rapidly buying up newly issued mortgage loans, and by having access to special interest rates that no other bank could access, Fannie and Freddie created a system of insane leveraging that artificially inflated housing values beyond their historical sustainable levels of 3x income. The GSE's themselves had more than 40:1 leverage -- ratios that hedge funds can only dream about (well, unless you trade FOREX, although the mortgage market was "guaranteed to go up!"). This is interference with the market and thus not laissez-faire.

2) That process was only made possible by the manipulation of the money supply not only through interest rate manipulation but through outright printing via the private bank that is the Federal Reserve. As the Fed admits in their own literature, when they write a check it need not come from any account; they simply loan money into existence as they buy up Treasury Bonds from banks. Government requires money -> Treasury issues bonds in auction -> banks buy Treasuries -> Fed buys Treasuries from banks with money that is simply printed. This is interference with the market through manipulation of the money supply and thus not laissez-faire. Bernanke today detailed new plans to essentially print as much currency as he desires by buying up T-bills at below-auction rates: http://market-ticker.denninger.net/archives/747-Bernanke-Game-Over.html

3) That is only possible because of the use of a fiat currency, which is always subject to inflation in an economic system that allows interest -- especially so with fractional reserve banking. The total money supply must always inflate in order to meet interest payments. When this system is instead faced with substantial deflation through defaults and bankruptcies (or in our now globalized world, high demand for the USD), excreta hits the rotating blades.

With the use of a non-fiat real currency, there is a hard limit on inflationary growth (only so much gold can be mined per year as opposed to Bernanke's "printing press" graduate thesis). This innate hard limit to inflation necessarily prevents over-leveraging by rendering it impossible to sustain. With a fiat currency, there is still the mathematical impossibility of exponential growth in a system governed by hard limits (rates of growth of energy resources, of mining resources, etc), but as there is no hard inflationary limit this is not nearly as clear nor is it as quickly experienced. The elite hit their limit here because incomes did not scale to inflating housing prices, and also because realty mania created a market for subprime. For now, we're only seeing the effects of subprime: so-called "prime" loans are next, as housing prices have only just crossed the halfway point to returning to historically sustainable 3x income levels.

The economic crash has been labeled as the failure of free market capitalism, but this is simply not the case. Our economy and the very basis of our economy, our currency, are subject to constant manipulation in order to try to achieve the effects desired by the economic and political elite. Through government manipulation of the housing market, manipulation of the money supply by a private bank, and the removal of the innate self-regulating feature of currency through the destruction of the gold standard and the adoption of a printable fiat currency, we developed the tools and created the conditions for an economic bubble of hitherto unknown proportions.

Through hedonics, substitution, replacement, and other types of manipulation of the way the CPI is calculated, inflation has been knowingly and purposely understated (likewise, GDP has been overstated, inflation-indexed entitlement programs have been understated, inflation-indexed union pay rates have been surpressed). During the periods of time when the US adhered to a silver or gold standard, the cost of living was largely the same: during fiat regimes, the cost of living increased (this is first observable during the Civil War and the establishment of fiat currencies to pay for it). During the period of the housing boom especially, inflation was rampant and the cost of living skyrocketed. The result is that the poor and the middle class must work harder and harder to maintain the same standard of living, while financial engineering funnels the fruits of the inflationary fiat regime to the elite. Madoff has nothing compared to the ponzi scheme of the world banking system! http://www.thetrumpet.com/index.php?q=5865.4227.0.0

Deflation, which would restore balance to the system by destroying artificially inflated prices and returning to sustainable valuations given current income levels, is now made out to be "the great evil" for it will destroy the wealth the elite has accumulated over the past decade or so. Meanwhile all those who were suckered in (and those who knowingly lied) get creamed, and the effects have now spread to the world economic system. Even with over $1 trillion printed in the past few months, the Fed has not been able to prevent the market from continuing to correct housing prices back to historically sustainable levels. Banks still won't lend to one another, because they know the real deal behind their toxic assets, kept hidden in "Level 3 assets" and off balance sheet vehicles, and hidden even more by TARP which lowered reserve rates to 0% and allowed the suspending of mark to market. The only alternative to deflation is to magically increase the average household income to not only sustain but continue the excesses of the housing bubble. That would cause hyperinflation, which we saw in Weimar Germany and we can see now in Zimbabwe. Let's hope that it doesn't come to that!

There is much confusion as to what brought about the economic crash, and without understanding the causes of the crash we cannot put forth proper solutions: indeed, the solutions being put forth are all the same as the causes! If this admittedly Austrian analysis makes sense to you, then I highly recommend that you check out The Crash Course at http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse

Thank you again for your remarkably insightful writing. I pray that this is of some benefit to you. If I have made any errors here, please let me know.

Father Tobias: Father, bless. On a sidenote (if you're interested), Philip Rieff's 'My Life Among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority' (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006) is a splendid examination of, among other things, the problems, aesthetic and moral, of contemporary art. I don't know if this is a direction in which you were planning to head with your course, but it may prove valuable.

Joshua

Joshua,
You are spot on about Bellah's part to play, later on. He and Philip Rieff's Triumph of the Therapeutic will be appearing in future installments.

Father Tobias: Father, bless. Your understanding of evangelicalism aligns so well with the book I'm currently reading, 'Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life', by Robert Bellah and others. I'm Canadian, but there is, sadly, so much similarity between the emphasis on 'therapy' and individualism in the American and Canadian understanding. Perhaps Bellah's work will be helpful in your future 'prospects'.

Joshua

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