Thursday, April 23, 2009

The More Given, the Less Earned

by Dennis Prager

One of the reasons for the ascendance of the English-speaking world has been that the English language is almost alone among major languages in having the word “earn.” Those of us whose native language is English assume that the phrase “to earn a living” is universal. It isn’t. It is almost unique to English. Few languages have the ability to say this.

In the Romance languages, for example – a list that includes such major languages as Spanish, French, and Italian -- the word used when saying someone “earns” money, is “ganar” in Spanish, “gagner” in French. The word literally means “to win.” In Hebrew the word “marveach” means “profits.” In German, the word “verdient” means “deserves.”

Obviously, it is very different to “win” or to “deserve” or to “profit” than to “earn.”

Since the 1960s-‘70s, a concerted effort has been made to weed the word, and therefore the cultural value, of “earning” from American life. Increasingly little is earned. Instead of earning, we are increasingly owed, or we have more rights, or we are simply given.

Many American kids no longer earn awards or trophies for athletic success. They are given trophies and awards for showing up. These trophies are not earned, just granted -- essentially for breathing.

Another increasingly widespread concept that undermines the notion of earning is “unconditional love.” The term, which was barely used prior to the 1960s, is now ubiquitous. It is a prominent goal, a human ideal to strive for. The idea of having to earn love is more than unheard of today; it would strike most moderns as morally suspect.

We expect unconditional love not only from parents to babies and toddlers, but to children of any age, no matter how they act. Parental unconditional love means that all people, no matter how disgracefully they act --- even toward a parent -- and no matter how old they are, must be shown infinite love from their parents. Parental love is never to be earned, always to be given.

We expect God to show unconditional love to all people, again no matter how they act. According to the doctrine of divine unconditional love, God loves sadists as much as He loves the kindest individuals. No one earns God’s love; we receive it, like sports trophies, for breathing. Many fine people believe this about God, but I think it is religio-cultural-specific, and non-biblical. In 15 years of study in a yeshiva I had never heard the phrase, and it would have struck me, as it still does, as quite odd. It depicts God as a love machine who, like an air-conditioner that emits the same amount of cold air no matter how the inhabitants of a house act, emits the same amount of love no matter we act. It means that we in no way influence God’s love for us. I don’t find that comforting. And it is certainly no more likely to induce decent behavior in human beings than a God who does show conditional love based on human decency.

We expect unconditional love -- meaning unearned love -- from spouses. No matter how awfully you treat your wife or husband, as soon as you were married, you were owed unconditional love. While your spouse and you had to earn each other’s love prior to marriage, the moment you got married, you no longer had to earn the other’s love.

We also expect forgiveness to be given without being earned. Many people believe in what I call automatic forgiveness -- the obligation to forgive anyone any crime, committed against anyone, no matter how many victims and no matter how removed from my life. Thus the pastor of a church attended by then-President Bill Clinton told the president and all others at a Sunday service that all Christians were obligated to forgive Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist murderer of 168 people. Did McVeigh earn this forgiveness? Of course not. So where did the notion of unearned forgiveness come from, especially unearned forgiveness from people who were not the victims of the evil being forgiven? It is one thing for me to forgive those who have hurt me; it is quite another for others to forgive those who have hurt me. God Himself demands that we earn forgiveness. The term for that is repentance. No repentance, no forgiveness.

Finally, the increasingly powerful culture of entitlement and rights further undermines the value of earning anything. The more the state gives to its citizens, the less they have to earn. That is the basic concept of the welfare state -- you receive almost everything you need without having to earn any of it. About half of Americans now pay no federal income tax -- but they receive all government benefits just as if they had paid for, i.e., earned, them.

America became a great civilization thanks to a culture based on the value of having to earn almost everything an American got in life. As it abandons this value, it will become a mediocre civilization. And eventually it will not be America. It will be a large Sweden, and just as influential as the smaller one.


Outrage reserved for Israel

FEW places on earth have been as systematically brutalised over the past decade as Chechnya. So you might have thought that the Russian Government's decision last week to declare an end to its "counter-terrorism" operations in the territory would have been an occasion for sombre reflection in the Western media. Forget it. It's a 600-word news item at best.

Here's a contrast to ponder. Since the beginning of the second intifada in the autumn of 2000, about 6000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire. That figure includes combatants as well as those killed in January's fighting in Gaza.

As for Chechnya, there are no solid figures for the number of civilians killed since the second war began in late 1999; estimates range from 25,000 to 200,000. Chechnya's population, at a little more than one million, is about one third or one fourth that of the Palestinians. That works out to between 25 and 200 Chechen deaths per 1000 as against 1.5 to two Palestinian deaths per 1000.

Now type the words Palestine and genocide into Google. When I did so on Monday, I got 1,630,000 results. Next, substitute Chechnya for Palestine. The number is 245,000.

Taking the Google results as a crude measure of global outrage, that means the outrage over the Palestinian situation was 6.6 times greater than over the Chechen one. Yet Chechen fatalities were between 13 to 133 times greater.

Final calculation: With an outrage ratio of 6.6 to one, but a proportional kill ratio of one to 13 (at the very low end), it turns out that every Palestinian death receives somewhere in the order of 28 times the attention of every Chechen death. Remember that in both cases we're mainly talking about Muslims being killed by non-Muslims.

I'll admit this math exercise is a bit of a gimmick. But it raises a worthwhile question: Why is Palestinian life so dear in the eyes of the world, and Chechen life so cheap?

Maybe the answer is that the Palestinian cause is morally worthier than that of Chechnya. But that can't be right. Yes, Chechen terrorists have committed spectacular atrocities, notably the 2004 Beslan school massacre. Yet modern terrorism is a genre Palestinians practically invented. As it is, Chechnya has been suffering grievously under Russia's thumb since the 1800s. (Just read Tolstoy's Hadji Murad.) If colonialism is your beef, the case for Chechen independence is inarguable.

Maybe, then, the answer is that there is no shortage of imagery of Palestinian death, and thus it engages more of the world's attention. By contrast, the Russians imposed a virtual media blockade on Chechnya, and journalists who covered the story, such as Anna Politkovskaya, had a way of ending up dead.

But imagery need not be televised to be vivid, nor does the world lack for testimonials of Russian brutality. "I remember a Chechen female sniper," a Russian soldier told Los Angeles Times reporter Maura Reynolds. "We just tore her apart with two armoured personnel carriers, having tied her ankles with steel cables. There was a lot of blood, but the boys needed it."

Maybe it's that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is simply more important strategically than Russia's war against Chechnya, in the same way that the attacks of 9/11 mattered more in the scheme of things than, say, atrocities by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

Yet even before 9/11, there was evidence that al-Qa'ida was feeding money and arms to Chechen fighters, putting Chechnya squarely into the context of what became the global war on terror. Evidence of al-Qa'ida involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sparser and only came to light in 2007.

Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inflames the Muslim world in a way the Chechen one does not. But why is that, when so many more Muslims are being victimised by Russia?

Then too, why does the wider world participate in the Muslim world's moral priorities? Why, for instance, do high-profile Western writers such as Portuguese Nobel laureate Jose Saramago make "solidarity" pilgrimages to Ramallah but not to the Chechen capital of Grozny? Why do British academics organise boycotts of their Israeli counterparts but not their Russian ones? Why is Palestinian statehood considered a global moral imperative, but statehood for Chechnya is not?

Why does every Israeli prime minister invariably become a global pariah, when not one person in 1000 knows the name of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a man who, by many accounts, keeps a dungeon near his house in order to personally torture his political opponents? And why does the fact that Kadyrov is Vladimir Putin's handpicked enforcer in Chechnya not cause a shudder of revulsion as the Obama administration reaches for the reset button with Russia?

I have a hypothesis. Maybe the world attends to Palestinian grievances but not Chechen ones for the sole reason that Palestinians are, uniquely, the perceived victims of the Jewish state. That is when they are not being victimised by other Palestinians. Or being expelled en masse from Kuwait. Or being excluded from the labour force in Lebanon. Things you probably didn't know about, either.

As for the Chechens, too bad for their cause that no Jew is ever likely to become president of Russia.


Snobbish "liberal" Catholics in Britain

Some comments from a more traditional British Catholic priest and blogger

As UK readers, and American readers of UK blogs will know, "The Tablet" is a Catholic liberal weekly. It is fondly referred to by those who dislike its dissenting tone as "The Bitter Pill". In short, it is the Catholic journal conservatives love to hate. Recently the Bitter Pill picked on Fr. Tim Finegan the Hermeneutic of Continuity blogger. In a longer editorial The Tablet have vented their fury on blogging and conservative Catholic bloggers in particular. Here is my fisk of the paragraph in question:

"Blogs - a corruption of web-log"

That the readers have to have 'blog' defined for them is hilarious. Don't be misled. This is not a journalistic attempt at clarity--it is a classic, upper middle class English attempt at a back hand slam. It's an example of English snobbery. See, when you're really upper class you don't even know what such common and vulgar things are. Thus English UCTs (upper class twits) show their snobbery. Example: You mention Oprah Winfrey in conversation and they put on a fake confused look and a John Gielgud accent and say, "What is an Oprah? Is that the same thing as an 'opera'?"

"were invented in America"

The snobbery continues with one of the English literati's stock items: anti-Americanism. Don't you know if it comes from America it comes from the land of nose picking hillbillies who marry their sisters, believe in creationism, tote guns in their pick up trucks and slurp Mountain Dew non stop? "It's from America my dear! How simply ghastly!" 

"where they still thrive"

Goodness me! this funny American thingy called a 'blog' still thrives? You mean it hasn't died out yet? What, those people in America cling to their blogs like they cling to their religion and their guns? How awfully, awfully backward of them!" Isn't it more likely that it is the print media's survival that should surprise us? What? a little weekly magazines with editors and reporters and subscribers? How quaint! You mean the English still do such things? And it still thrives? Not for long. 

"particularly among the political and religious right wing."

And there are no left wing blogs? Doesn't anyone ask why right wing talk radio and right wing blogs are a success? It's market forces. People are not getting what they want from the mainstream media, so they look elsewhere. Happily publishing and broadcasting is now totally open. Let the market decide who survives.

"What feeds the blogosphere's paranoia is a sense of resentment that "they" - those in charge - are engaged in a conspiracy against "us" ordinary folk".

Uh. This is a two way street.  This article sounds a little bit paranoid to me. Doesn't such a tirade suggest that the writer at the Tablet feels threatened? All those invisible underground bloggers are all against 'us' main stream media types. They must be stopped! 

"The main media is regarded as part of that conspiracy, which is why the internet - cheap, unregulated and with unlimited capacity - has drawn the bloggers to itself. In Britain, too, there are Catholic bloggers, again often right-wing, polemical and vituperative".

What!? You mean there are some British people who actually have lowered themselves to write those awful American 'weblog' thingies? How too too horrid? It really is ghastly! Not only British, but even a few English? Dear me, what next? 

"The targets in this case often seem to include The Tablet, in some sort of fantastical conspiracy with the bishops. Generally, blogs are far from an idealised forum for an exchange of intelligent ideas that would be constructive."

I love this. Blogs are immediate, allow for readers to comment and exchange opinions with one another at length. This compared to the typical newspaper's letters column--in which editors pick and choose the letters they publish, edit them down and have to limit in time and space all the comments that are made? Anybody can publish a blog and have instant global publishing. This is called freedom of speech. This is somehow inferior to a magazine whose editor is appointed by a rarified, self appointed board of directors in order to consciously promote a particular agenda? Notice too the assumptions in this pompous statement. The blogs are all, by implication stupid and destructive and it is the main media (like the Tablet) who are obviously 'intelligent' and 'constructive'.

"More often they indulge in straight poison-pen character assassination without reference to any requirements of accuracy or balance."

This is simply an untrue slander. To be sure there are some bloggers out there who are pretty nasty, but the vast number of conservative Catholic bloggers are intelligent, charitable, funny and not a few are genuinely scholarly, devout and humble.


Gutsy Australian churches unite against Islamic school in Sydney suburb

Fancy daring to tell the truth in an era of political correctness!

FOUR Christian churches have joined in an unprecedented attack on the Islamic faith in an attempt to stop a Muslim school being built. Calling the religion an ideology driven by world domination, a submission to the Land and Environment Court yesterday said a proposed school at Camden was a "beachhead" in Islamic takeover of southwestern Sydney, threatening the Australian way of life.

The attack, co-signed by local heads of Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian and the Evangelical Sisters of Mary churches, formed the spearhead of Camden City Council's defence to a court challenge over its rejection of a development application for the Muslim school. "Islam is not simply a private religion. It is driven by a powerful political agenda, it is an ideology with a plan for world domination," the letter said. "The Quranic Society application to establish an Islamic school in Camden is typical of a regularly repeated pattern to form a beachhead in an area for the development of a sub-culture which, for the most part, regards its own legal system as superior to the current Australian law." They said the Muslim community would seek to dominate public space in Camden "as we have seen in Auburn, Bankstown, Lakemba and more recently Liverpool".

The provocative submission was penned by Camden's Baptist Pastor Brian Stewart, St John's Anglican Rector Tony Galea, Presbyterian minister Warren Hicks and Sisters of Mary's sisters in charge Sister Simone and Sister Gideona.

Use of the letter is a turnaround from previous claims that the council's ruling was on the grounds of traffic congestion. The first day in the society's court challenge began with a visit to the proposed site on Cawdor Rd, Camden. Chris Gough, heading the Quranic Society's legal team, said there were no planning grounds why the school, for 900 students, should not be approved. "The constitution of Australia talks about freedom of religion," Mr Gough said.

In their objection, the Christian ministries said they may be seen as racists or hypocrites but they were trying to preserve a rich, hard-won way of life that was incompatible with Quranic Society teachings. "The Quranic Society espouses a world view which is not compatible with broader, Australian egalitarian culture," they said. "A fundamental tenet of the faith is that Muslims are not required to obey any law that does not come from Allah."



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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