Archive for August, 2010
Our grandparents have always told us exactly the same thing economists tell us: TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). Walter Williams–brilliant and concise as usual–explains as much in his weekly column. The example he uses is the myth that your employer pays half of your Social Security tax:
The vision of getting something for nothing, or getting something that someone else has to pay for, explains why so many Americans are duped by politicians. A congressional hoax that’s flourished for seven decades is the Social Security hoax that half of the Social Security tax (6.2 percent) is paid by employers, the other half (6.2 percent) paid by employees. The law says that if you are self-employed, you get to pay both halves. The fact of the matter is whether you’re self-employed or not, you pay both halves of the Social Security tax that totals 12.4 percent. Let’s look at it.
Suppose you hire me and our agreed-upon weekly salary is $500. From that $500, you’re going to deduct $31 as my share of the Social Security tax and you’re going to add $31 as the so-called employer’s share, sending a total of $62 to the IRS. Here’s the question: What is the weekly cost for you to hire me? I hope you answered $531.
The next question is: In order to make hiring me profitable, what must be the minimum dollar value of my contribution to your total output? If you said $531, go to the head of the class because if the value of my contribution to total output is only our agreed-upon salary of $500, you’re making losses hiring me and you’re going to be out of business soon. Therefore, if I am producing $531 worth of value per week, it is I who’s paying the so-called employer as well as the employee share. The reason why Congress created the fiction of the employer share was to deceive us into thinking that we’re paying fewer taxes than we in fact are.
If you’re self-employed, you understand that this also applies to income tax. If you work for a firm, your employer pays payroll tax that you never see deducted from your paycheck. Self-employed folks pay self-employment tax in addition to income tax, to make up for the fact that they don’t have a payroll.
This method of taxation is Congress’s most brilliant scheme for cheating us out of our hard-earned, dearly-needed cash. We never actually send money to the gov’t–it’s deducted for us–and what we see on our pay stub is not even the true tax burden.
For God’s saving grace has appeared to all people, training us in order that we might renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and live in self-control, righteousness and godliness in this present age, waiting for the blessed hope and the appearance of the glory of the great God, our Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself on our behalf, in order that he might redeem us from every lawlessness and cleanse for himself a chosen people who are passionate about good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
Paul appears to have two practical concerns for Titus’s church in Crete: first, that the church would fall prey to false teaching (1:9, 13; 2:1-8), and second, that divisions would creep in (2:2, 15; 1:9). Part of “sound doctrine,” according to Paul, is maintaining order within the faith community. In chapter 2 he expresses this desire for order to the various members of the community: elder men (1-2), elder women (3), younger women (4-5), younger men (6-8), and slaves (9-10).
Now, my New Oxford Annotated Bible (2007, M. Coogan, ed.) calls this 2:1-8 “a catalogue of virtues reflecting and inscribing the hierarchical order of the Greco-Roman household.” The reader of this note is perhaps to infer that the passage reflects Paul’s unenlightened patriarchy. Certainly some have read Paul in that way: throwing out the material that is perceived as chauvinistic or pro-slavery.
But I wonder whether Paul has a different motivation. Throughout the book he expresses a concern for order and unity. This central desire stems from his eschatology: the grace of God has appeared in Jesus Christ (2:11, 3:4), and it will appear again (2:13). In the meantime, it is wise for this small, persecuted community to “keep its head down,” to avoid making social and political waves that would distract from the message of Jesus. Paul doesn’t call for a complete overhaul of Greco-Roman household order. But he does call for a complete one-eighty in the mindset of the Christian, whether male or female, old or young, slave or free. That mindset is dominated by God’s grace (2:11) motivating his people to good deeds (2:12, 14).
I think the beauty some of Paul’s allegedly patriarchal passages is that they quietly overturn the bases of the social orders he appears to support. I think if Paul knew that slavery would end someday, and that women would be revered as equal to men, he would be pleased. I know that he would be displeased by militant feminism and masculism, because both are motivated by selfishness and the struggle for power. When we read Paul’s words in context, we will be driven to mutual submission and a unified face toward the world in our present age.
My best man finished his undergraduate studies last year. His course of study spanned ten years and three institutions. He worked hard, and his wife is very proud of him (and relieved). After a B.A. in Mathematics, he’s now beginning an M.A. in Philosophy. I always used to tease him about his chosen course of study with this joke: “What’s the difference between a degree in philosophy and a pizza?” “I don’t know–what?” “A pizza can feed a family of four!”
Of course, my teasing Diggs about studying philosophy is the equivalent of the raven calling up the pot and saying, “Hey, Pot! The Kettle called–it wants its color back.” Six years ago, I passed up a full engineering scholarship in order to study ancient texts for a living. Now, I’m working for big pharma, just at the start of a doctoral program in OT, and it could be years before I “make a living” in this field. I’m not ungrateful–just impatient at times.
Would I do it differently? No–maybe some individual choices would be different, but my chosen course would be the same. John Hobbins over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry has written an insightful post about the value of a degree in Biblical Studies:
A degree in biblical studies – or a text-based degree in religious studies – is not much more than a piece of paper if it does not develop your ability to collate and analyze data in cross-disciplinary fashion – at a minimum, linguistic and literary analysis; hermeneutics; political theory; philosophy of religion; comparative law, theology, and eschatology; the history of the text’s reception within Judaism and Christianity and the wider culture….
What good is a degree in biblical studies if you earned it at an institution that did not teach you to work collaboratively? If it did not teach you to “cultivate humanity” by coming to an understanding of societies, cultures and civilizations different from one’s own?
If you can’t make sense out of ancient Israel and the movements to which the writings of the New Testament and the Talmud and Midrashim are a witness, what chance is there that you will make sense out of the hopes and fears of your next-door neighbor in the global village?
At PBU, I certainly took some courses that were designed to churn out cookie-cutter dispensationalists who could teach Sunday school from the Scofield Bible. But more of my courses taught me to examine the texts critically and carefully, and to look at all of life with a discerning eye in accordance with Scripture. Thankfully, the school is moving in the latter direction.
I have been given the opportunity to teach a week-long course at PBU’s Wisconsin campus (WWC). In late October, I will be working through Numbers and Deuteronomy with 30 freshmen up in the mountains. I’m very eager to jump right in and engage the texts in study. But more importantly, I’m trying to remember myself–circa 2003, my first semester of college, my first time living away from home. What was I thinking and feeling? Where was I spiritually? Emotionally? Intellectually? How do I reach the minds and hearts of these young men and women?
Brett McCracken, author of Hipster Christianity, has written a thoughtful piece on the WSJ website. McCracken offers a scathing critique of evangelical churches that use stunts like sex billboards and online services to attract the young folks. Here’s a choice line:
Are these gimmicks really going to bring young people back to church? Is this what people really come to church for? Maybe sex sermons and indie- rock worship music do help in getting people in the door, and maybe even in winning new converts. But what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this article. Does a spoonfull of sugar really make the "medicine" more palatable, or does it just make the kid hyper when he should be sleeping because he’s sick?
Koeljamm brought this to my attention: Grammatrain, one of our favorite bands from the ’90s, is back after a hiatus of over 10 years! They’ve released video of their entire reunion concert, and it’s available for free download here. You can also watch the whole concert on Youtube.
Nice to have you back, boys…
I was in the restroom today (which is the only place I read magazines anymore), and I was browsing this week’s issue of Time. I don’t usually care much for Joe Klein’s column, but he has some astute observations about the Senate race in Kentucky. I was a big fan of Dr. Ron Paul back in ’08; he seemed to have some traction that I wish the Libertarian Party had been able to harness. But now Congressman Paul’s son, Dr. Rand Paul, is running for the Senate seat vacated by HoF pitcher Jim Bunning.
Regarding the younger Paul, Klein writes:
The campaign has not been a comfortable experience for Paul; he has been forced to eschew the courage of his father Ron Paul’s convictions. Libertarianism is a basic American political impulse, but ideology isn’t. People don’t want the government on their backs, except for when they do. And so Paul on the stump seems a man perpetually in the act of biting his tongue. His Fancy Farm speech limned the more popular libertarian talking points: the tax code is 16,000 pages long; the federal regulatory code is 79,000 pages long. But the real meat of his message consisted of four words: “Barack Obama … Nancy Pelosi.” In fact, he would just say each name, let it hang in the air and then repeat it.
Klein has put his finger on two problems with political discourse. The average American will of course affirm that he likes liberty, freedom and individual responsibility–until he needs welfare, unemployment benefits, or a book banned from the library. We are quick to compromise some ideal of liberty when someone else’s liberty gets in the way of what we want. Second, the span of our collective attention is about that of a fruit fly’s life on this earth. Dr. Paul could deliver an articulate, thoughtful speech, some of which the crowd will like and some of it they won’t. But when they leave the rally, all they will remember is those “four words.”
My son is three weeks old. Sometimes when he’s crying, I’ll just blow gently in his face. He gets flustered, sputters a bit–and then forgets what he was crying about. Too often, our elected stooges are able to divert our attention just as easily:
Right now, I’m listening to an interesting book called Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans. A young evangelical, Evans chronicles her experiences growing up fundamentalist in the American South and attending a very conservative Christian college.
So far, much of her experience seems similar to mine. I plan to review the book when I’m done, but I’d be interested to know if and what you’ve heard of the book, and what you thought of it.
Here’s some more pictures that are not up on Facebook…
If, as some cultures believe, a photograph steals a bit of its object’s soul, then my son ran out of soul last Thursday. As the first grandchild, great-grandchild, nephew, grandnephew, etc., on both sides of the family, this kid has been shot more times than A-Rod going for his 600th homer. Here are a few more…