Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Working Catholic: Gaps, Part One by Bill Droel and John Erb

For some time now, we have thought about the meaning of income levels in our society. Our main point in this essay is not so much the preciseness of the numbers, although we consulted several sources. This multi-part essay is one attempt to put lots of discussion into one format. In our professional settings (a financial advisor’s office and a community college) and in informal conversations, we sense that most of us have only a vague notion of economic realities in our country. Despite comprehensive books about inequality, despite newspaper articles about factory closings or about new business ventures, despite national political campaigns, most of us are fuzzy about how our situation compares with others and about our own prospects for economic stability and about the reliability of our economy’s promise: “Hard work will be rewarded.”

In normal conversations people do not speak too specifically about their income. Even in those situations where personal income is revealed, many people lack an up to date perspective on how their family compares to others. For example, $85,000 per year was once considered a good income, but for most Americans today this amount is often not enough to dispel economic stress.

Does our $85,000 income example include a pension or a retirement account? Probably not, because as each year goes by many more families have no guaranteed pension. That means families who deserve a secure retirement have to dedicate about 15% of earnings toward retirement savings. Social security benefits, under both Democrats and Republicans, have been reduced, and continue to trend in that direction. Thus, an individual’s own savings becomes more important for security in retirement.

In addition to concern about retirement, our $85,000 family is likely stressed these days because of health care insurance. There has been a 25% increase in insurance cost over the last five years for the middle class, even though the insurance mechanisms have supposedly been reformed.

And finally, there is college education for this family. Its cost was not proportionately a big part of a family’s budget even 20 years ago.

So, if a seemingly secure family is budgeting for retirement in a responsible way, has adequate health care insurance and is saving for college, there is not much left over on an $85,000 income.

The Gaps

It is true that the overall U.S. economy has doubled within the past 35 years. It is true that the average income has increased. The income gap, however, is growing. When it comes to income increase, 70% of it now goes to those in the top 10% of income. More dramatically, the top 1/10% is gaining income far ahead of all others, including the next top 4.9%.

For half of all U.S. families, their share of the growing economy has shrunk significantly. This bottom 50% of families earns 12.5% of the country’s total income. The top 1% in income actually gets 20% of the total income in our country.

In addition to an income gap there are parallel social gaps. We stress that there is not an easy cause-effect relationship between these other gaps and the income gaps. That is, it is wrong to say that if every family changed their behavior on this-or-that, those families would increase their income. Or that if somehow a family would simply move from here to there, that family would increase its income. It is wrong to say that if only government had this social policy instead of that social policy, families would get with it and they would improve their income.

Nonetheless, some social and cultural gaps strongly parallel income gaps. Specifically, there is general correspondence (though not hard cause-and-effect) between income and one’s geography, one’s cultural setting, one’s educational level and one’s family stability. 

To be continued…

Monday, December 19, 2016


For a tree there is hope, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again and that its tender shoots will not cease.  Even though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump die in the dust, yet at the first whiff of water it may flourish again and put forth branches like a young plant.  (Job 14: 7-10)

From the beginning 'till now the entire creation as we know it, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth and not only all creation but all of us ... for we must be content to hope that we shall be saved.  Our salvation is not in sight. we should not be hoping for it as if it were - but we must hope to be saved since we are not saved yet ...  (Paul, Romans: 8: 18-35)

And remember Job when he cried to his Lord, "Truly distress has seized me, but You are the Most Merciful of those that are merciful."  (Qur'an 21:83

From the bloggers - Bill & Joanne Lange & Bill Droel 

Monday, December 5, 2016


    In his farewell address President Ronald Reagan saw the U.S. as a New Jerusalem, the shining city upon a hill.  The reference for the president’s patriotic speech was biblical.  (See Mt. 5:14, Rev. 21:21) Reagan’s carefully crafted, sanctimonious American image still remains, but Reagan and U.S. responsibility for massive killings of indigenous people in the Central American civil wars have been quickly forgotten.  (200,000 civilians killed in Guatemala - never publicized)

   The Reagan legacy continues with Trump; only the bigotry, nationalism and militarism are out in the open with a deluge of threats and unapologetic vile rhetoric.  With the ground of U.S. Democracy flooded with hate, where do we establish our roots?

   Let us consider some thoughts of three courageous women during the time of the Second World War.  A summary of their work can be found in the book, Three Women in Dark Times, Cornell University Press, 2000, Ithaca, NY by Sylvie Courtine-Denamy.  All references in this article are to Courtine-Denamy’s book.

   The three women, Simon Weil (1909 – 1943) Edith Stein (1891 – 1942) and Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975), were recognized as outstanding philosophers in their own time. Simone Weil finished first   in a Sorbonne general examination on philosophy ahead of notables Merleau–Ponty and Simone de Bouvoir. 

   The Three Women of Dark Times addresses the horrible events and politics of their era with courage and wisdom.  Weil and Stein had an idealistic approach and Arendt a pragmatic and existential vision. The women were from Jewish families. 

SIMON WEIL 1909 - 1943

   Weil addressed the problem of “up-rootedness” by trying to establish a “universal” identity.  She worked in factories and did farm labor to experience the alienation of the worker.  She became mal-nourished because others did not have a sufficient diet.  Simone Weil was hostile to Judaism in her attempt to be above race.  Jewish scholars, Martin Buber and Levinas “underscore not only Weil’s profound misunderstanding of the Jewish religion but also her unfair treatment of it.” (143)

   Weil warned that the rootlessness of our time tempts people to “belong unconditionally to a totalitarian system which gives them a solid illusion of inward unity.” (p. 142) She explained:

God’s children should love no fatherland short of the universe as a whole…one must uproot one’s self and have no native land… One can only be rooted in the absence of a definite place. (pp. 43-44)   

Simone Weil tended toward pacifism, but opposed Hitler and fascism to the extent that she volunteered for the Spanish Republican Army to fight Franco in Spain’s Civil War.  She died in England in 1943 of tuberculosis refusing to take nourishment.  Weil, although close to Roman Catholicism, never requested baptism and maintained her “universal” identity.

EDITH STIEN 1891 - 1942

   Edith Stein was a student and assistant to the founder of the philosophical method of Phenomenology, Edmund Husserl.  She broke with Husserl over her Ph.D. dissertation on Empathy – Einfuhlung translated by a German professor as, “to feel into the feeling of another.”

   Was Stein’s “Empathy” opposed to Weil’s “Universalism”?

    In 1922 Edith Stein converted to the Roman Catholicism.  She saw faith and Thomistic Theology as the necessary confirmation for her philosophy.  She never renounced her Jewish heritage but joined the Carmelite order of nuns in 1933.  She took the name Benedicta of the Cross.  In 1938 Edith Stein as Sister Benedicta of the Cross wrote a letter to Pope Pius XI asking for an Encyclical to defend the Jews.  She never received an answer and the Encyclical was never written. 

   Her roots were in the Great Commandment of the Jewish Law, ‘Love God and love your neighbor as yourself including the stranger,’ (Dt. 6:3, Lv. 19:18, 33) however she expressed it as a Christian.  She wrote, “For the Christian there is no such thing as a ‘stranger.’  There is only the neighbor, the person next to us, the person most in need of our help.” (p. 205)

   Because she was Jewish she was executed by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1942.  Edith Stein was declared a Saint in 1998 by Pope John Paul II.

HANNAH ARENDT 1906 - 1975 
   Hannah Arendt was an associate of Martin Heidegger, one of the first and most renowned of the Existentialists.  However, she could not give him a pass on his association with the Nazis.

    Arendt agreed with Husserl that philosophy begins with the consciousness of the person, but this did not lead her into the idealism of Stein and or even that of Husserl and Heidegger.  Action was crucial for her. She recounts a story of her childhood.  She told her Rabbi that she feared that she had lost her faith.  “Who is asking for it?” he replied.  Jewish scholar Emmanuel Levinas commented, “What the Rabbi meant was - doing good is the act of faith in itself.” (p. 205) Arendt saw that action springs from humane loving friendship in an in-human world.  Friends board an Ark like Noah and collaborate in action with those floating in companion Arks. (pp. 209-210)  Hannah Arendt escaped to the United States in 1933.  She believed strongly in the U.S. Constitution.

     The three women, Simone Weil, Edith Stein, and Hannah Arendt did not curse their fate for having to live in the “Dark Times” of the 20th century.  They not only accepted their fate, they loved it.  A subtitle of the book, Three Women in Dark Times is ‘Amor fati – amor mundi’   they loved their fate – they loved the world. (pp. 41- 52, 219-221)

A challenge of the prophet Micah is brought to mind. 

 Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and walk   humbly with your God.  (Mi, 6:8)

   The three women responded with classical philosophical writing to help in understanding a time which defies understanding.  The universalism of Weil, the empathy of Stein, and the dedication to action of Arendt are only a tiny piece of their philosophical work, but an important aid to understanding and acting in our own dark times.