Sunday, July 26

New earth and heaven

Greek Reporter spoke to a young Greek scientist that works in NASA to get a better understanding of the potential development for life beyond our planet.
Read more here should it be of interest
Planet earth, has cause to smile 
for no boundaries are in space  
As in centuries of old, foretold  
just to gaze in wonderment 
click below for more and to enlarge the image.

Tuesday, July 21

How does a Christian differentiate himself from a Liberal Humanist?

A growing number of people today identify themselves as liberal humanists embracing an atheistic attitude to life to find how people can live a good life together. 
That means they are atheists in the positive sense since they do not accuse theists for their belief. Liberal Humanist differentiate themselves from the Humanists of European cultural history such as Erasmus and Thomas Moor. They also refuse to align themselves to the various religious or literary humanist groups.  
So simply put liberal humanism, for the purpose of this paper, is an atheistic attitude to life to find out how people can live a good life together. So the question is "How is the endeavour or practice of a Christian to live a good life different from that of a Humanist."?

This may sound an irrelevant question, but it is an important one, as humanism becomes more wide spread. The question arises what Christ told us which stands out from all other philosophies, i.e. humanism.  Of course, faith and the belief in an afterlife are dominant themes but then we can ask how that affects “living a good life” and how is this different to the philosophy of the humanist.

The problem in answering such a question is that all the emphasis in Christianity centres on belief, which is assumed will lead to better outcomes.  But what I propose to do is to examine the early roots of Christianity and their application in modernity to ascertain significant differences to that of the liberal Humanist.  

Christ behind the whitewash of Nicea in AD 325

The problem with elucidating what Christ intended for us as a way to live the good life possibly met its nemesis at Nicea in AD 325. Up until then that question was possibly much more of a hot debate until political consensus was achieved in Nicea. Up until that point there was evidence of flourishing and warring communities as evolving Christianity spread out into the world but not much is known by way of specifics as to how they embraced the teachings of Christ for everyday living.  

At Nicea there was possibly well over 200 bishops in attendance at Constantine’s request for the express purpose of negotiating peace and unity amongst the then disparate groups of Christians. The result was the Nicean Creed and later on adoption of the books that make up the New Testament in 380AD.

Hence our view today of what Jesus said is hidden in the politics and consensus selection that adopted certain texts to be made available in the NT. Even so in the much earlier writings of the apostle St Paul and those attributed to his followers, (which make up nearly half of the New Testament) we have a good idea of how the first early fledgling communities interpreted and applied Christs teaching to living the good life.

Freedom to live life to the fullest  
Paul remains an enigmatically unique character – virtually unknown in a historical sense other than to be remembered in Jewish disagreements amongst followers, but one who professes to be willing to understand all things and become ‘as one’ to all men to further the cause of being “in Christ” which arose from his mystical experience on the road to Damascus. This factor has led many to interpret his work in a more complicated manner than is needed, which I assess to be primarily devoted to championing a freedom from the Jewish law and to shake off shackles of religious ritual. 

Although much has been made of the abstract nature of Pauline theology as a bridge from the more individualistic Judaism into Christianity (with the idea of justification by faith) I rather think the stronger case can be made his primary aim is to champion the new found freedom from the Jewish law.   
In that respect (e.g. as one who has gained a universal freedom) one might say he has something in common with liberal humanism except his freedom to live the good life is rooted in surrender to a mystical master, as in “being in Christ” whereas to  the humanist such freedom is already assumed.

Hence St Paul is of significant interest to secular philosophers because his ideas carry with them the idea of a universal unencumbered system of unity which presupposes through grace existential philosophical aspects to life; to hold our life existence as sacred, to ascertain and acknowledge ones gifts for the benefit of the whole community, to joyfully exist in a state of grace without fear of death, to be free and remain free from guilt, to share in all things and to place love and affection ahead of all other known things.

These rather lofty ideals may be seen also as the province of the humanist, who might argue that existential philosophy does not require any of Paul’s preoccupation with the idea of “bring in Christ” as being implied or necessary to be fulfilled.
The problem, of course, is that in Paul’s communities, it is evident that many fell well short of achieving such lofty ideas. But Paul also acknowledges our humanity and the imperfect cradle of existence which will continue to see communities struggle to straddle the idealism that is encapsulated in their new understanding and freedom from their law only to fall prey to the usual earthly failings.

Paul sends his letters of encouragement and hope in the expectation that the experience of freedom from the law will bring joy to existential living to transcend earthly suffering and sorrow.  This possibly is the key difference to humanism in that the spark of Christs teaching as interpreted by Paul as in the “resurrected Christ” enables one to live to the fullest regardless of circumstance compared to just rational reasoning selected by the liberal humanists. It is hard to see how , being chained to just rational thought can sustain one during the more difficult periods of one life or ensure one continues to find meaning.

That might mean a form of surrender of one’s reliance on the rational to a contemplative state of trust in something bigger- the mystical union in Christ that is of comfort to many which makes the good life more amenable.   
The Gospels and parables as an example of good living.

In the synoptic gospels Jesus is mostly made known to us via the parables and entwined as a charismatic apocalyptic preacher in the story of his public ministry.  Hence the ongoing theme is largely eschatological with continued references to a messianic kingdom yet to come. But what Jesus does leave us with is the idea of a universal ethic of love, some definitive ideas on living as described in the Sermon on the Mount and food for thought in regard to the parables, which continue to offer many different interpretative outcomes.
The key point of difference to the liberal humanist then is more to do with functionality as Christianity places more emphasis on contemplation and renewal in the spiritual sense from reading theses passages. Hence the Christian might be persuaded of the need to give expression to those surviving religious instincts which lie deep within us in contemplation of the parables and how best to be a server in the vineyard. In other words to give expression to vitality for life, both individually and collectively accepting we need not all be slaves within one ideology but to find comfort in the ideals of Christianity. 

Acknowledging the prior input and review by my good friend Dr John Stuyfbergen who is an academic/lecturer at La Trobe University. 

  You can read his article on multiculturalism by clicking here

Monday, July 13

When a no vote to austerity actually means yes.

I noticed the Greek PM, who initially gave the impression prior to the referendum he was willing to make some overtures to his lenders to their austerity measures, has now moved to position where most, if not all of the prior measures on that table are now accepted or are acceptable in a slightly modified version. This news initially caused world stock markets to positively move upwards in anticipation of a final settlement, only to wane as it now appears a long way off.  

The PM, it seems to me, gave the impression that a NO vote would strengthen his hand and at the same time by making a few overtures gave voters the distinct impression that creditors are being unreasonable and not responding to his offers. The vote was not as close as most anticipated, but I gather many, due to the wording, were not clear as to what they were actually voting for. The only major austerity measure that is now off the table as far as I can gather is a cut in defense spending. The other point in regard to a haircut on Greek debt is still in the melting pot, but sooner or later it will have to be considered.
There seems to be a great deal of confusion talked about the position right from the outset. The continuing theme the European Creditors are to blame for imposing austerity measures which resulted in Greece’s economy contracting by about 25% is a popular theme talked about by economists. But the reality is if you clock up debts to the extent of allowing run- away government expenditure to result in a budget deficits of the order of 12% of GDP, most of which was for consumption expenditure, you will in the aftermath risk severe contraction bringing that back into equilibrium.  That inevitably must cause a contraction in any economy in the absence of offsetting stimulatory monetary policy, which in Greece’s situation was long since exhausted as a Eurozone member. Furthermore, whether in modernity or way back to the times when communities were more in tune with nature, some semblance of balance has to be always maintained between continued sustainable available resources and those consumed. The assertion by some economists that the Greek people have not received or benefited from the continuing bailouts is another popular theme which is at odds with reality.  

If Greece had not been bailed out in the past their economy and their people would have suffered far more, as the reintroduced drachma would have devalued and ratchetted up inflation by 30-40% to reduce the countries purchasing power. Benefits across the board would have to be cut and with rapid inflation those provided would be severely devalued.  Whilst some of the funds provided did end up as financier’s remuneration the vast bulk of funds were as a consequence of prior consumption expenditure exceeding tax revenues which was received one way or another in benefits or services by the Greek people.

The idea put forward by another leading economist that the economy would quickly recover in the event of a Greek exit , based on prior empirical studies, to me seems fanciful. Rather I would suggest , this would involve a prolonged period of poverty, particularly as the countries needs new investment not likely to be forthcoming where there is little by way of viable industries or infrastructure other than tourism.

As negotiations drag on the initial euphoria and misplaced satisfaction of a NO vote only highlights the underlying frustration with Greece. What this highlights as a consequence of months of fruitless talks, is an emerging  lack of trust and a lack of reliability which makes compromise much more  difficult.
In the current talks I understand the 2 largest creditor nations, namely Germany and France are taking different approaches. France is lobbying for Greece to stay in the Eurozone, whilst apparently Germany is proposing a temporary "Grexit" which might last up to 5 years.  

Bear in mind if a settlement can finally be reached it will be Greece's third bailout in just five years. Its debt now stands at around 320 billion euros ($357 billion) – representing 180 percent of the country's annual GDP. This is clearly not sustainable.  


Wednesday, July 1

Greek tragedy unfolding

The Greek tragedy is gaining in momentum as yet another milestone passed with an official debt default and ominous signs the government coffers are empty.
Their PM has bailed out of talks with the EU and IMF and called for a July 5th referendum, seeking to convince voters a no vote against the EU proposals will strengthen his hand in negotiating a better deal in exchange for additional bailout funds of 15.3 billion Euro. Unsurprisingly the referendum has not impressed the EU and initially spooked global markets as the fear of a Greek exit might lead to contagion to other weak links in the Euro zone and to banking collapses. A Greek default would cause Greek banks into bankruptcy and their losses would spill over and effect the solvency of European banks, particularly those located in Germany and France, who hold about over €34 billion in Greek debt. But this is dwarfed by the governments of the euro zone who are owed 184 billion. 

The Greek PM is banking upon this fear in this high stakes game of brinkmanship, thinking the EU will cave in and accept less austere measures than are currently demanded.
Although his view has gained some traction I would not be surprised if a yes vote carries the day and the current government is even ousted from office. 
Moving outside the Euro zone a small player such as Greece is hardly going to make any impact so that my concern would be for the local citizens whose savings and capital would be decimated. At the time of writing, the Greek banks are all closed and citizens are restricted to €60 to be taken out of an ATM at any one time. Whilst emergency services are exempt as time runs on stocking and purchasing of goods will become more difficult to further impact upon this beleaguered economy.
Bare in mind the Greek banks were only currently able to operate because of ECB support amounting to cash injections of 100 billion Euro. Now that Greece has defaulted on its €1.5 billion payment to the IMF, the bailout program has come to an end.
The interesting point is 70% of Greek citizens want to remain in the Eurozone but only a smidge over 50% want to stay if it involves accepting the current austerity package on offer. I think one could argue the country would be better off accepting the current package and press on with negotiation for some form of debt forgiveness in the longer term in relation to the $320 billion owing. It is becoming increasingly obvious Greece is never going to be able to repay the debt or even afford the interest bill and some form of debt haircut will have to be negotiated for it to remain as a viable member.  
Whereas if Greece exited this would require a reinstatement of the drachma, with the appealing prospect of ending the misery of austerity measures. But this appeal would be short lived as reality sinks in, for without any reserves, the only option would be to print more currency and allow for a substantial devaluation to encourage exports and lower costs for tourists. In the meantime the country would be plunged into poverty with a falling drachma resulting in hyperinflation to decimate citizen’s savings and capital. In the longer term recovery of sorts would emerge, but only after a prolonged period of adjustment which would be extremely painful for its citizens.
Looking back
One might well ask how on earth Greece managed to reach reach such a precarious position and what role the EU had in failing to ensure to EU standards of performance were maintained.

Greece has suffered from very poor governance stretching back many years where tax seems to have become an optional extra.
But the seeds of this tragedy had its nemesis in 2001, when Greece first adopted the Euro as its currency. The beginning could not have had a less auspicious start as it initially was predicated on hiding the excessive Greek debt levels to gain entry to the Euro Zone. The authorities entered into a complicated transaction with the help of Goldman Sachs, which, according to Bloomberg swapped debt issued by Greece in dollars and yen for euros using a historical exchange rate, which implied a reduction in debt.   

Upon entry to the Euro zone Greece then took advantage of much lower interest rates and undertook extensive borrowing and investment so that its debt continued to rapidly rise, to continue to operate well outside its obligations under the Maastrict Criteria. Greece later confirmed it had not been initially truthful, about the extent of its borrowings, but the EU decided it must defend its member nation to ensure she did not default or leave the Eurozone. Furthermore as both France and Germany were also spending above the limit it was felt it would be unfair to impose sanctions on Greece so the EU opted to allow the nation time to implement their own austerity measures.

The extent of the black hole became clearly visible in 2009 when Greece’s budget deficit stood at 12.9% of GDP, against a maximum of 3% allowed under the treaty. In response Greece announced an austerity package designed to ensure deficit were reduced to 3% of GDP in just two years. Subsequently the EU and IMF provided €240 billion in emergency funds to facilitate support as the nation made the transition to be self-sufficient.  
But at this stage the austerity measures began to bite with evidence of widespread civil unrest and pockets of rioting in the streets as the economy slowed and unemployment ratcheted up to 25%.
In 2011 a Euro 190 billion from the stability fund was added to existing bailouts as Greece's debt to GDP rocketed to 175% of GDP. 
The position was dire but some relief was granted as Bondholders finally agreed to debt forgiveness by exchanging $77 billion in bonds for a debt now worth 75% less.

Since then Greece has made some progress in reducing the size of budget deficits but not the amount it owes.

Either way the future does not look bright, but if integrity is given a chance, there still is the possibility of compromise being reached. Personally I think a yes vote is what is needed and less brinkmanship and a more pragmatic approach to allow for some considerable debt forgiveness as part of an overall package is in the best interest of all parties.