Pope: Don’t Take Bible Literally

Pope: Don’t Take Bible Literally

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images

In his latest treatise, Benedict XVI reverts to medieval teaching.
From the February 2011 Trumpet Print Edition

Can you trust the Bible? Is it, in fact, the inspired Word of God?

The pope recently weighed in on these questions in an “apostolic exhortation” called Verbum Domini (“The Word of the Lord”), issued on November 11. As cna/ewtn News reported it, this papal message was “a lofty and impassioned plea for everyone in the church to rediscover the Bible.”

The truth of it is, this was more than an “impassioned plea” from this pope to his parishioners. It was a direct attack on all who believe the inerrancy of the literal Scriptures as inspired by God!

Pope Benedict “criticized ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘literalist’ interpretations and urged renewed appreciation for the symbolic and spiritual interpretation techniques used by the ancient fathers of the church” (ibid., emphasis mine).

An authentic interpretation of the Bible must always be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church, Benedict declared.

We must look at this declaration in light of other recent endorsements of the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church. This pope has said more than once that all Christian denominations other than Roman Catholicism are illegitimate—either defective or not true churches. Now he has reasserted the medieval stance that only the interpretation of Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church has authenticity.

That is a blatant papal lie that the very Scriptures themselves oppose!

How to Understand the Bible

Your Bible clearly declares, first and foremost, that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).

It further declares that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). There is no instruction here to resort first to any “symbolic and spiritual interpretation techniques used by the ancient fathers of the church”!

Those “interpretation techniques” as applied over the centuries have led to many contradictory interpretations of Scripture, even within Roman Catholicism. But Jesus Christ plainly said “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). The Bible does not contradict itself!

It is not for the pope, it is not for any of his priests, it is not for man at all to interpret the Scriptures based on any particular religious ideology!

Only one power can unlock the plain, straightforward meaning of Scripture. That is the power of the mind of God alone, exerting His influence on the mind of an individual by the power of His Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ Himself, the Word of God personified, declared that when the Holy Spirit comes into the mind of an individual, it reveals all things. He called it “the Spirit of truth, [which] the world cannot receive, because it seeth [it] not, neither knoweth [it]” (John 14:17).

Christ called the Holy Spirit the “Comforter” (John 16:7). It is a revelatory Spirit, the Spirit of truth—actually a portion of God’s own supreme intellect embedded in the mind of a converted Christian. Christ declared that when it is given by the Father to a servant of God, it “will guide you into all truth … and [it] will shew you things to come” (verse 13).

cna/ewtn News described “The heart of Verbum Domini” as comprising “a long and often technical discussion of ‘hermeneutics,’ or the proper method for interpreting the sacred texts.”

The reality is that Jesus Christ, the very Author of the Word of God, gave us the proper method for understanding the Bible. We read of the direct experience of His original disciples, from whom the original apostles were ordained and who in turn formed the very foundation of the one true Church. Of their experience with the resurrected Jesus Christ, they remembered, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”

It is thus the living Jesus Christ, the true Head of His one true Church, who opens up the Word of God to us by the power of God’s Holy Spirit!

The Real Reason Men Interpret the Bible

Yes, it takes dedicated study to grow in understanding the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15; Isaiah 28:10, 13). But, in reality, the Bible interprets itself!

Why do men insist on trying to interpret the Bible?

A quarter of a century ago, Herbert Armstrong gave the answer. In the Plain Truth magazine of November 1983, he wrote, “The Scriptures are profitable for the purpose of reproving and correcting us. But we resent being reproved and corrected. How many people do you know who are even willing to be corrected where they are in error—to be reproved for the wrong things they do?

“People do not like to be reproved and corrected. They love praise and flattery. But reproof and correction they surely hate.

“That’s why it is so hard for so many people to understand the Bible and to agree on just what it says. The Bible is God’s great spiritual mirror. It shows up every flaw in our thinking and reveals every spot on our characters. It pictures us as we really are—as God sees us, not as we like to think we are or to have other men look upon us.”

That’s the plain and simple truth.

Hebrews 4:12 reads, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The Bible is a powerful weapon that cuts both ways, opening up and laying bare the inner man!

That is not a comfortable process—and thus, too often, men simply won’t subject themselves to it. As Herbert Armstrong further stated, “Too often men have applied some different meaning to the scriptures that reproved them. They have passed right over some scriptures that corrected and rebuked them. Instead they studied diligently to find some other scripture into which they could read a meaning that would justify their course of action.

“That is how men began, centuries ago, to interpret the Bible. And so God’s Word has become perverted, twisted, wrested, distorted. And almost every false and counterfeit meaning imaginable is read into it instead of seeing the natural meaning—the plain, simple meaning God intended.

“Today we have hundreds of interpretations of the Bible. But you never hear of hundreds of interpretations of a biology textbook. Why? Because biology textbooks do not rebuke and correct men.

“Instead of acknowledging the truth, repenting of the sin, having it legally justified by the blood of Christ, men seek to justify their own acts by perverting the sacred and holy Word of God.”

Melanie Phillips recently mused that the Vatican today, under this pope, may be taking “a giant step backwards into a darker age”—an age when the Vatican dictated that the Roman Catholic Church alone was the sole authority for interpretation of the Bible! (Oct. 25, 2010).

Could it be that this pope is in reality seeking to hide what inerrant Scripture reveals as to the true nature of the religious body he leads, its true beginnings, and its prophesied end? Hide the truth by insisting on the application of the interpretation techniques imposed by the “ancient fathers of the church” and thus interpreting, or rather wresting, the Scriptures to suit the whim and the will of the Vatican? (2 Peter 3:16).

You need to allow the Bible to interpret itself on this burning question and all others. Request our free booklet Daniel—Unsealed at Last! for insight into, and for the biblical answers to, this question.

Loneliness: The Cause and the Cure

From the January 2011 Trumpet Print Edition

Our society is afflicted with chronic loneliness. Concerned experts warn that loneliness is at the epidemic stage, affecting both genders of all races. It is a global problem.

Of course, it is only human to feel lonely at times. Professionals refer to this as situational loneliness. For example, the death of a loved one can cause painful loneliness. However, this condition generally lessens with the passage of time.

Chronic loneliness is far more dangerous. Confronting loneliness daily is a difficult struggle. Medical professionals now see it as a serious health threat that can lead to heightened stress, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep disorders and depression.

The irony is, world population is at an all-time high. Cities are bulging with people. So why should anybody be lonely? What is the cause? What is the cure? You may be surprised at the answers.

People Living Alone

To understand the cause of loneliness, we must first recognize that it is a modern malady. Previous generations did not have the problem on the same scale. Why? Sociologists have collected some interesting data to help unravel the mystery.

In the United States in the 1950s, about one in every 10 households had one person living alone. By the 1990s this figure had jumped to one out of four households. New Census Bureau figures show that “just me” homes are 27 percent of U.S. households today. These figures are similar for most countries throughout the Western world.

So we can see there has been a marked change in our social landscape. More and more people live alone. The startling truth is, single-person households are the fastest growing segment of our 21st-century populations.

No wonder loneliness has risen so dramatically. Some predict that this century will be known as the lonely century.

Several centuries ago, when large extended families dominated society, a single adult living alone would have been unthinkable. Even in the mid-20th century, single adult homes were dominated by either young, pre-married males or older widows. Yet today, the majority of one-person households are middle-aged men and women.

Why are so many people living alone? Some are forced to because of the death of a spouse, but this primarily affects the elderly; younger widows and widowers often have children living with them, and they are far likelier to remarry.

The majority of people living on their own today are those who have suffered through divorce. Worldwide divorce rates have risen sharply in recent decades, and second and third marriages have far less chance of success. In America, 41 percent of first marriages fail, and 60 percent of second marriages. Among third marriages, nearly three out of four end in divorce.

In addition, a growing number of men and women are simply choosing to postpone getting married or avoid marriage altogether. It is estimated that 1 in 10 Americans plans never to marry. Some—especially well-educated, upwardly mobile single women—delay marriage until well into their 30s to pursue careers. Many young men are choosing not to marry in order to remain free to pursue personal hobbies unhindered by responsibilities. Some refer to this choice as enjoying the me years.

Others decide not to marry because of a poor family life. After growing up amid parental bickering and fighting, or witnessing excruciatingly painful divorces firsthand, they are soured on marriage. Living the childhood years under the stress and tension of parents at war has caused many to fear repeating this tragic history. They want nothing to do with marriage.

More and more people are failing at family or avoiding it completely. Experts have concluded that all this aloneness has led to chronic loneliness.

Their solution seems simple enough. Chronically lonely people need to develop strongly bonded loving relationships.

Yet are these conclusions true? Do the experts truly understand the cause of chronic loneliness? We must get to the root of the problem, or nothing will change.

The Real Solution

Is the solution to the problem merely developing strongly bonded relationships?

Today, there is a desperate search for such relationships, and people are experimenting with all kinds of ways to make these relationships happen. Many couples live together without marriage. Others get into same-sex “marriages.” Some people even try to develop strong bonds with pets, including exotic wild animals.

In the end, these relationships will not work. Loneliness often remains. The needed strong bonds cannot be built. Human beings are meant for better.

Let’s look at this problem honestly. Why are people chronically lonely? The facts lead us to the only viable conclusion: We have chronic loneliness because we have been systematically destroying the God-ordained institution of marriage and family.

The traditional family of a married couple with children—so common just a couple of generations ago—is disappearing. Society today doesn’t just embrace all other possible combinations—it exalts them at the expense of the biblical model. Men and women, by their own self-acquired wisdom, have created their own ideas of family. Yet the truth is that all the combinations man dreams up will never be truly family!

Chronic loneliness is a curse resulting from what we have done and are doing to marriage and family.

God never intended for men, women and children to live alone or be lonely. At man’s creation, God said, “It is not good that the man should bealone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). From the beginning, God created man to need human contact and support. He solved the problem by creating a help suitable for Adam, which happened to be Eve—a woman. No other created being could fulfill such an important role (verse 20).

Then, to insure that men, women and children would remain in a state of togetherness, God created marriage and family. After creating Eve, God said: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (verse 24). Adam and Eve were the first humans to be married, yet their children were also to marry.

Marriage and family were created to ensure that no human being would suffer chronic loneliness. God has an awesome plan for mankind. He earnestly wants us to become His sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18). To ensure man’s success, He created the family.

A full understanding of God’s plan for man reveals that marriage and family are eternal institutions. For more details on this subject, request our booklet The God Family Vision. It will be sent to you at no charge. This stirring booklet explains in detail that God is a Family and that man, made in His image, is destined to be in that Family for eternity.

To permanently solve the problem of chronic loneliness, humankind must get back to building family God’s way.

Gain True Education

The Prophet Isaiah stated thousands of years ago that family life would nearly be destroyed in our day. Isaiah 3:1-12 discuss this breakdown and its tragic results.

Newscasters and commentators recognize that our world has been turned upside down, yet they don’t know the cause. Most blame our failing economy. Others condemn the politicians. Most seem to forget that we the people have chosen those who lead us. We must come to see the truth as Isaiah prophesied it: that today’s failures in leadership and our collapsing economy have their roots in our sick family life.

God holds everyone accountable for our upside-down world. Each individual must point the finger at himself or herself. God sees our problems clearly and tells us how to solve them.

He states: “Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?” (Isaiah 29:16). This society has rejected God by saying He made me not. This one simple statement sums up everything written on the subject of evolution!

By rejecting God, mankind has also pushed aside His revealed knowledge about marriage and family. In doing so, we are saying that God had no understanding when He created man. How arrogant of human beings!

Even though mankind has stockpiled vast amounts of knowledge, we lack the understanding of how to build and maintain right relationships. We have lost true education in the things that really matter.

To end the human suffering caused by chronic loneliness, we must come to know and apply what God teaches about marriage and family.

God used Herbert W. Armstrong to restore this incredible knowledge for those willing to read and study it. Request our free book The Missing Dimension in Sex. It thoroughly explains God’s purpose for creating marriage and family. This knowledge opens up to us the only workable solution to set right our upside-down family life.

All lasting, loving relationships are built and maintained within God’s design for family. God intended the family to be the training ground for building right relationships. It is within the context of family that we learn to love, care for, serve and support others. If our family life is twisted and distorted, all our relationships will be twisted and distorted. We will continue to suffer from ills such as chronic loneliness.

However, when our family life is strong and oriented in God’s ways, the results are miraculous. No elderly person is left alone. No couple experiences a painful divorce. Young people marry and have children to help build up a stable society.

Does this seem unreal to you? This is the kind of world Jesus Christ will build at His return (e.g. Zechariah 8:4-5). You can begin to enjoy that world now. It is your choice.

How Important Is Music?

How Important Is Music?

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What the ayatollah, Darwin and Freud were missing out on
From the February 2011 Trumpet Print Edition

“It’s better that our dear youth spend their valuable time in learning science and essential and useful skills.” Those were the words of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last August when he denounced all forms of music as “not compatible with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic.”

It’s not unusual for dictators to forbid harmless or even worthwhile endeavors that they find threatening to their authority. But did the ayatollah have a point? Are science and other skills more “useful” to our children than music? Many people apparently think so, just judging by the impoverished music programs of the average public school.

How important is music to our existence? Our underfunded music curricula aren’t able to answer that respectably. Even some recent efforts to validate music have backfired. Consider the famous “Mozart effect” study. Using faulty science, the study endeavored to show music’s usefulness—by proving that it improved students’ performances in “more important” subjects! “Think how absurd this would sound if we turned it inside out,” Daniel Levitin pointed out in his book This Is Your Brain on Music. “If I claimed that studying mathematics helped musical ability, would policy makers start pumping money into math for that reason? Music has often been the poor stepchild of public schools, the first program to get cut when there are funding problems, and people frequently try to justify it in terms of its collateral benefits, rather than letting music exist for its own rewards.”

What are music’s intrinsic rewards? How vital is it to life? Is it a frivolous hobby for the specialized few, or an extracurricular entertainment for the “undertalented” masses?

Lost Wisdom

Centuries ago, such questions would have sounded absurd. Music and science were not considered at odds with each other. A scientist examining the ayatollah’s comment about “learning science and essential and useful skills” would have been flabbergasted that the ayatollah was excluding music from that grouping.

“It is a recent notion that music is a divertissement to be enjoyed in comfortable surroundings at the end of the day, far removed from the hurly-burly of life’s business,” writes Jamie James in The Music of the Spheres. “[T]hroughout most of the history of our culture, music was itself an essential part of life’s business. … [I]t was taken for granted throughout the whole history of the West that music was a defining human activity, and therefore every educated person was trained in the rudiments of music.”

James points out that music “remained an important constituent of mathematics in European education until the 19th century.” The concept of music existing merely to give pleasure would have been considered as ludicrous as the idea of believing that sex only existed to give pleasure. Thinkers before the 19th century believed music has a pure and enlightening purpose in human existence—that it links us with the eternal and the spiritual.

“Musical training was considered one of the high marks of refinement in the Middle Ages,” write Patricia Shehan Campbell and Carol Scott-Kassner in Music in Childhood. By the time of the Enlightenment, “Music instruction was more than ‘window dressing’ in European schools. It was viewed as ‘basic’ to the education of all children.”

Men of science long believed that music was not only sound that emanated from a minstrel’s lyre, but the way both the heavenly bodies and even the human body were ordered. It was no coincidence to them that the ratios dictating the measurements of the solar system were the same as the ratios in the frequencies that created the harmonies we found most pleasing, and that by understanding music, we could better understand the universe. Ancient scientists also believed our bodies and minds are a musical instrument. We find certain harmonies pleasing, in fact, because they agree with our own internal rhythms. Our bodies are soothed or stirred by music because they, like a taut string, vibrate sympathetically to sounds produced around them. Considering the healing properties of music, and new discoveries on how the brain reacts to music, we know they were on to something.

The Brain Loves Music

New brain-scanning technology is showing us some remarkable things about the impact of music on health and brain function. People who cannot talk have sung. People who cannot walk have danced! Medicine is further acknowledging something it should have known all along: the health-influencing properties of music. The healing properties of music (expounded in our July 2010 article “Well-Toned: A Whole New Meaning”) should be enough to make the case for music’s intrinsic worth in our lives.

The brain has no single music “center.” Listening to or performing music engages “every area of the brain that we have so far identified, and involve[s] nearly every neural subsystem” (Levitin, op. cit.). You could call it the best mental workout around. Physical education experts laud swimming for using all the body’s major muscle groups. Music, you could say, is the swimming of mental activities.

No wonder the corpus callosum (the area connecting the brain’s two hemispheres) is enlarged in professional musicians. No wonder studies have found that musicians distinguish and remember sound better than non-musicians.

But music’s impact on the brain is true for musicians and non-musicians alike. Brain imaging has shown that the brain “gives a little start of surprise when a passage of music takes an unexpected turn” even in someone without musical training (U.S.News and World Report, Aug. 5, 2001).

It is a mistake, in fact, as Music in Childhood points out, to buy into the “myth that few children are musically endowed”—one that “threatens the right of all to a musical education, and may even endanger a musical culture.”

Music aids our minds in that it can be a powerful mnemonic device. How many children learn the alphabet by having it attached to a Mozartian tune? How many remember the books of the Bible with the aid of a song? At the very least, we can all think of popular products sung to the tune of a commercial jingle.

Music is like a reliable secretary for your mind. Our brain is full of filing cabinets and papers, but of all forms of organization meant to put those papers in the right drawers, music is most effective.

Music was how the great Irish minstrel-bards were capable of retaining and recalling so much information in their advisement to the Irish kings: They knew, as Dr. Oliver Sacks writes in Musicophilia, that “music … has played a huge role in relation to the oral traditions of poetry, storytelling, liturgy and prayer. Entire books can be held in memory.”

Music benefits our mental, physical and emotional health. It aids our thinking and our moods. It also aids our children through their earliest development—even while still in the womb.

Study after study is emerging showing that when our children have musical training, they tend to excel in their development and may even enjoy a boost in IQ. (The studies cite the neurological benefits, though we can’t count out the behavioral habits that regular disciplined practicing instills.) Some educators are taking note, and Kindermusik and other music programs are receiving more funding.

Research also suggests that the brain is prewired for music from infancy and can learn music as quickly as it can learn speech. Because of parents’ tendencies to speak to babies in singsong, Sandra Trehub of the University of Toronto speculates that “we are born with a musical brain because music provides a special communication channel between parent and child” (U.S. News, op. cit.).

Music in Childhood states, “Children are stimulated intellectually, physically, and even spiritually in their recognition of music for its own sake as well as its integration with their knowledge of the humanities, the sciences, and the social studies.”

Music Haters

As off base as the ayatollah’s comments may seem, he is in famous company—particularly among two thinkers who shaped the musically handicapped modern education system as we know it today: Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin.

Not only was music simply not important to them, there appeared to be some great chasm between them and this illustrious element of humanity. In all his writings, Freud mentioned his personal connection to music only once: “I am almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure [from music]. Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me.”

Darwin was similarly unmoved by it. “Formerly … music [gave me] very intense delight. But now … I have almost lost my taste for … music,” he wrote. “My mind seems to have become a sort of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of fact. … The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

Perhaps this inability and even blatant refusal to enjoy music by the fathers of modern psychoanalysis and modern evolutionary thought is evidence of their—ahem—mental instability.

“Music is part of being human,” Dr. Sacks writes, “and there is no human culture in which it is not highly developed and esteemed. Its very ubiquity may cause it to be trivialized in daily life: We switch on a radio, switch it off, hum a tune, tap our feet, find the words of an old song going through our minds, and think nothing of it.”

How important is music? So important, in fact, that it ironically becomes trivialized by its very saturation of our lives. May we never let that familiarity breed such contempt that we forget its impact on our existence, how intrinsic it is to the world created around us, and how vital it is to the instruction, development and maturation of our children.

Why Your Dollars Buy Less and Less

And how the greenback’s falling value will have some scary consequences
From the January 2011 Trumpet Print Edition

Ever feel like your money doesn’t stretch like it used to? There’s a reason for that. And it’s more serious than you probably think.

The dollar’s value is plummeting. It has been slipping for years, but the trajectory is getting steeper. Against the world’s major currencies, the dollar has lost more than 14 percent of its value over just the past five years—and a shocking 32 percent in the last decade. In October alone, the dollar plummeted 6.5 percent. For the first time in history, the Australian and Canadian dollars both traded at parity with the U.S. dollar.

But the dollar rout is actually even worse than these numbers show. As the dollar has devalued, so have the currencies the dollar is compared to. When measured against hard commodities, the dollar crash is much more vivid. A decade ago, you could have purchased an ounce of gold for $275. An ounce of silver cost $4.80. Today you will pay around $1,400 and $28 respectively. But the dollar isn’t just plunging against precious metals; it’s crashing against virtually all commodities.

What’s going on here? Well, American politicians have spent the nation to the verge of bankruptcy. Total government debt (local, state, federal) now stands in excess of $14.7 trillion. However, this is only beginning to scratch the surface of America’s debt problem—despite the fact that it is already over 100 percent of America’s gross domestic product. Total debt in America was a gargantuan $57 trillion as of last April, according to the Grandfather Economic Report. If you include liabilities such as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and other pension plans, the government is on the hook for another $59 trillion or so in promises.

There is only one way America can pay its debt—and it is not an honest way. Central bankers know it, the world’s top financiers know it, and foreign nations are beginning to realize it too. The Federal Reserve calls it “quantitative easing.” The world calls it counterfeiting.

The only way America will be able to pay its debt is to simply print the money to pay the bills. But as the laws of supply and demand dictate, with every dollar created out of thin air, each existing dollar becomes worth less. Since we are talking tens of trillions, then over the long term the dollar is virtually doomed to depreciate in value.

Americans can feel the pinch. But it also puts the rest of the world in a mighty big pickle.

“U.S. Policy Is Clueless”

On November 12 and 13, the richest and most powerful nations descended on South Korea. It was the biggest G-20 summit of all time, attended by nearly 10,000 of the world’s most influential politicians, ceos of international organizations and corporate business barons. There was a good reason for that. Global currency exchange rates are in chaos. The world is locked near stall speed.

At the heart of the problem is America, the world’s biggest economy, executing a “beggar thy neighbor” policy to poach trade and boost economic growth. In response, other nations have adopted the strategy as well.

Tempers are flaring. The world is up in arms over what to do about the dollar!

The problem is enormous: America’s trade partners can either knuckle under, letting their currencies appreciate and risking severe recession—or they can stage a dollar revolt. This would upend the global economic system.

It’s in this precarious climate that the Federal Reserve, just prior to the G-20 meeting, raised the stakes. It announced that it would unleash a second round of “quantitative easing” to “stimulate” the economy—a move that is guaranteed to sink the dollar even more. The Fed’s hope is that by creating an additional $600 billion—out of thin air—to purchase U.S. government bonds, interest rates will fall and consumers will begin spending.

The world, however, took a more cynical view.

Some nations, like Germany, saw it as a blatant attempt to devalue the dollar and thus steal trade. Others, like China, worried that it was an attempt to stealthily repay America’s debt with fraudulent dollars.

But even if the $600 billion money-creation plan was solely implemented to stimulate the economy, the plan is doomed to fail. JP Morgan analysts estimate that $2 trillion might buy America 0.3 percent additional growth in 2011 and 0.4 percent in 2012. To get America on track, some analysts say upward of $6 trillion might be needed. One Goldman Sachs guru says that, considering the debt deleveraging and the wealth destruction the economy is still facing, it might take $30 trillion to do the job.

But for America, money has never been an obstacle. From the world’s perspective, though, that’s precisely the problem.

“They have already pumped endless amounts of money into the economy with extremely high budget deficits, and with a monetary policy which has already pumped in lots of money,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said. “The results have been hopeless. With all due respect, U.S. policy is clueless.”

That about sums up how the rest of the world feels about America too.

Politicians try to distract attention from America’s debt problem by pinning the blame on China. But it is the politicians who are the most culpable.

Yes, China is purposefully undervaluing the yuan to promote Chinese manufacturing at the expense of American jobs, but it has been doing so for decades and American politicians and academics have said and done virtually nothing.

Speaking from Beijing, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus recently railed at China for not allowing the dollar to fall against the yuan. He said that if China allowed the yuan to appreciate to its true value, the result would be the creation of up to 500,000 new American jobs. Baucus might be right, but the bigger point is that 500,000 jobs is not even close to what America needs. Over 8 million jobs have been lost during this recession. And America needs to create around 150,000 jobs per month just to keep up with population growth.

America’s biggest economic problem is by far its debt problem—and now it is the world’s problem.

What Happens in a Dollar Revolt?

China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Brazil, South Korea, Germany, India and other nations collectively hold more than $4.2 trillion in U.S. government debt. That does not count state or corporate debt, or the $6 trillion owed by U.S. mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

These countries have invested their money and their faith in America. But now they see the U.S. embarking on “quantitative easing” monetary policies that will pay them back with devalued dollars.

Dissatisfaction with the dollar is escalating. And America’s trade partners may be getting to the point where they actually do something about it.

A dollar revolt is brewing. And though the signs are increasingly obvious, America’s leaders act like they don’t see it coming.

If the world decided to abandon the dollar as a global reserve currency, living in America would change overnight. America would be engulfed in a dollar flood.

Dollars flooding back into America might sound like a good thing, but in reality it is the equivalent of the repo man coming to take away not only your F-150, but the leather couch, and all the copper pipes and wiring in your house too.

That may sound extreme, but ask yourself what a dollar bill really is. That piece of paper is nothing but a fancy iou. It is a debt instrument—a promise to pay. And America has issued them to the point that they have—literally—gone out of style.

What does this mean for Americans? It means that inflation is virtually guaranteed. It means that not only will the supply of dollars surge due to the government printing presses, but trillions more dollars that until now have been locked away in government vaults in China, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere will also be released into the economy.

It means that foreign sovereigns are about to go on a shopping spree in Americans’ backyards.

Spend It While You’ve Got It

Foreign nations understand that the best way to preserve their wealth is to spend their U.S. dollar hoards—to buy something, anything—before it is too late and the dollar is worthless. And as this happens, the velocity of dollars zooming through the U.S. economy will suddenly accelerate too, causing imbalances, supply shortages, and drastic plunges in the purchasing power of the dollar.

The dollars are already heading home.

Across the country, indebted cities and states are auctioning off their best income-producing assets—at fire-sale prices—to plug budget holes.

In October, the state of California announced that it had sold floor space that was the equivalent of two Empire State Buildings to plug budget shortfalls. The state will receive $2.3 billion from a group called California First llc. Over $1 billion will go to repay a tiny portion of the state’s debt. The rest will be spent for general administration. The state will now rent back the buildings from the investors for the next 20 years! During that time, the state will pay $5.2 billion in rent, according to the Associated Press.

Just guess where all those billions in future rent will go? Not to Californians. California First llc sounds pretty American, but it doesn’t take much digging to find that it is just a front to make the deal more palatable to voters. One of the biggest investors is Antarctica Capital Real Estate—an opaque international hedge fund. Saudi Arabia? Russia? Who knows where that money will end up.

The liquidation sale is becoming commonplace in America. And the prices are dirt cheap because the country is broke and there is so much for sale.

The Parable of the Parking Meters

Consider the desperation of Chicago. To plug its spending holes, it sold the rights to all its parking meters—for 75 years!

Originally, the 36,000 meters were sold to a group of investors led by Morgan Stanley. This consortium, which goes by the innocuous-sounding name of Chicago Parking Meters llc, happily forked over $1.15 billion for the opportunity to extort parking meter fees from Chicago residents. Later, investigative journalist Matt Taibbi revealed that investors stood to gross about $5 billion over the life of the contract—for a cool $3.85 billion profit.

As Taibbi shows in his new book Griftopia, that is just the good part of the deal. Now, the new owners have changed the hours on the meters: Instead of allowing free parking before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m., they collect between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. One alderman wanted to keep the old hours for 270 of his meters and was told it would cost $608,000 over three years. So if the city wanted to pay for the privilege of keeping the parking hours the same as they were before the deal for just those 270 meters, over the next 75 years the city would be forced to pay the investors $2.12 billion—far more than the investors originally paid for all the meters in the first place.

If the city wants to close the streets for a festival, roadwork or any other reason, it has to pay out even more compensation. The meter rates have gone up too—from 25 cents per hour to over $1.25 in some areas. Take a guess at what meter rates will be in 70 years or so.

Chicago residents might also be surprised to find out who the new parking meter owners really are. When the deal first went through, Morgan Stanley’s investors were pretty benign-looking—either Americans or investors from nations with uncomplicated relationships with America, from places like Australia. Only 6 percent of the investors were from Abu Dhabi, for example.

But then, just two months after the deal was done, guess what happened: The ownership structure completely changed. Morgan Stanley sold its stake, and several other investors bailed to make way for new investors from Abu Dhabi, who now own 30 percent of the meters. Investors in another fund called Redoma sarl now also own 50.1 percent. And no one knows much of anything about Redoma except that it has an address in Luxembourg—a notorious tax shelter and flow-through for Middle Eastern investors.

To say the deal heavily favors the investors is an understatement. And if the dollar keeps falling in value, they can keep raising the meter rates.

For the next 74 years, Chicago meter revenue will flow to enrich wealthy oil sheiks and who knows who else. Chicago’s budget problems, however, will remain.

How will Chicago plug its budget gap next year? Sell some more city property. There will be plenty of dollar dumpers.

Revenge of the Creditors

Not that it is any consolation, but Chicago is far from alone. Parking meters have been sold in Miami, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and other cities. Toll roads in Indiana. The Chicago Skyway. A port complex in Virginia. A whole slew of infrastructure projects in California. Airports are also being considered. The Pennsylvania Turnpike was almost sold.

It is liquidation on a national scale.

Each day, more of America’s collective wealth is transferred to the bank accounts of foreign governments—because America is so corrupt and morally bankrupt that it cannot control its spending. Consequently, America’s income-producing assets are being auctioned off at an alarming rate. And increasingly to foreigners who no longer want so many dollars.

America is broke. It has run up a massive trade deficit and its economy is in travail. Foreigners hold trillions of dollars’ worth of U.S. debt, and now that money is coming flooding back into America to purchase strategic infrastructure. Instead of biting the bullet and cutting back its big-spending ways, America has decided to cheat and print money to pay for its spending.

And it is all leading to the destruction of the dollar.

In Habakkuk 2:6-8 God warns America of this exact predicament: “Will not all of these take up a taunt-song against him, even mockery and insinuations against him and say, ‘Woe to him who increases what is not his—for how long—and makes himself rich with loans?’ Will not your creditors rise up suddenly, and those who collect from you awaken? Indeed, you will become plunder for them. Because you have looted many nations, all the remainder of the peoples will loot you …” (New American Standard Bible).

A dollar revolt is brewing. Next comes the looting.

How to Concentrate

From the January 2011 Trumpet Print Edition

We have all done it: read the same paragraph over again, having daydreamed through it in a haze the first time, gaining nothing. Frustrated, we command ourselves to concentrate and try again.

Surely you’ve also experienced another common annoyance: being introduced to someone, only to forget his name before your conversation ends. How embarrassing when your new acquaintance greets you by name merely hours later, and your only response is, “Hi … you.”

Why can it be so difficult to concentrate? Why do we forget some things so quickly?

Interestingly enough, both of those conditions—difficulty in concentrating and forgetting things as soon as you hear them—are symptoms of the same problem. Fortunately, both are curable.

The Key to Memory

We think of memory as our ability to recall information: the name of a colleague or the answer to a question. But before a memory can be recalled, it must first be stored.

When you first encounter new information, be it a person’s name or an anecdote from a book, your brain collects the details into your working memory. From there, the information travels into your longer-term memory.

The trouble is, your working memory is extremely small. Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows, likens the size of your working memory to a thimble. “Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble,” he says. “That’s the challenge in transferring information from working memory into long-term memory.”

Meanwhile, you are constantly bombarded with firehose-streams of information. Your thimble can transfer a preciously tiny amount of that information back to the bathtub for permanent storage.

So if you want to remember something, you must concentrate: set your thimble under a single dripping faucet, ignoring the other streams of information. It turns out concentration is a real, tangible state of mind: Studies by biologists have proven that the act of concentrating releases hormones that set off a chain reaction of signals through various memory-forming areas of the brain, enhancing the brain’s immediate ability to store memories.

Lack of concentration, on the other hand, is the reason you forget someone’s name the moment you hear it. Instead of focusing on the name, you were thinking about what you were going to say, how the handshake felt or how the individual looked. You can’t recall the name later because it never made it from the thimble to the bathtub.

Overloading Your Brain

It takes no extra time to concentrate, but it does take significant effort.

There are more impediments to concentrating today than ever before. In our world of technological conveniences, information is instantly accessible in torrents—as is constant distraction.

Does a tiny distraction like an incoming text message affect your memory? Recall how small your working memory is. Every time a distraction pours in, the contents of your memory thimble overflow, and the old information is displaced by the new. The phenomenon is called “cognitive overload.”

The very design of the Internet leads us to cognitive overload. Unlike books, which are linear and focused, the Web is a hurricane of distraction. Using it, our brains, in addition to reading, must make constant decisions about clicking hyperlinks, flashing banners, pop-up windows and more. Information pours into our working memory at a dizzying rate. Our brains cannot store everything. Concentration—and thus memory—suffers.

How, then, can we concentrate?

Pondering Makes Perfect

Eliminate distractions. When reading or studying, turn off your music. Silence your cell phone ringer. Quit your e-mail program. Go to a quiet place if possible. Turn off all the information faucets except one.

When listening, focus your eyes on the speaker and imagine you are a translator, having to capture the meaning of every word.

Admittedly, you can’t always turn off all distractions. You may have a job that depends on timely access to e-mail and phone calls. But consider: Can you set your e-mail to check less often? Can you disable audio notifications of new messages on your phone? If not all the time, consider setting aside certain distraction-free periods.

More good news about concentration: You can get better at it. Research by biologist Eric Kandel has demonstrated that the makeup of our brains changes according to what we do. Neurons form new connections as we repeat tasks. The more connections that relate to a given activity, the easier that task becomes. That is not surprising: It’s why we get better at things we practice.

Less known until recently is that mental activities are also improved by repetition. Research by psychologist Sheila Crowell indicates that the acts of concentrating and remembering actually modify the brain in such a way that it becomes easier to learn in the future. The more we concentrate, the easier it becomes.

So if you want to improve your concentration in a world of distractions, engage in activities that require it. One of the easiest is to read books. If you’re used to reading only snippets on the Internet, you might find it difficult to focus for prolonged periods at first. But stay with it. As you concentrate—away from your computer, with your cell phone in silent mode—your neurons will go to work, and your powers of concentration will grow.

Clouds Across the Rainbow

Following the euphoria surrounding the World Cup, it’s back to cold hard reality in South Africa.
From the January 2011 Trumpet Print Edition

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the lounge of the King George Hotel in beautiful George in South Africa’s Western Cape province. Memories of South Africa’s big moment of the year, the hosting of the soccer World Cup, were already fading. The country had returned to dealing—or rather not dealing, in many respects—with its ongoing challenges.

Looking out across the rugged Outeniqua Mountains, all appeared calm and peaceful, just as it did when I first took in this view back in 1994. But then, as now, the view belies the reality. South Africa is far from being “the rainbow nation at peace with itself,” as touted by Nelson Mandela shortly after he gained the nation’s presidency in 1995. This troubled society is jarringly at odds with the beauty of the handiwork of the Creator who carved out its breathtaking countryside.

After spending a few days in the picturesque tourist resort of George, we landed in Cape Town, its renowned Table Mountain dominating the hinterland, the waters of the famous harbor glistening in spring sunshine.

The first time I took in this view was also in 1994. I expected change, and that’s what I saw. The most obvious change is the prominence of African blacks in positions of service previously held by whites. This is the result of a deliberate policy of the African National Congress (anc)-dominated government to displace whites with blacks based on racial preference rather than job performance. The result has been an obvious reduction in the efficiency of the delivery of service.

Those whose minds have been perverted by the inane political correctness of the age will have trouble handling that statement of fact; nevertheless, it is the reality. There is no political correctness in today’s South Africa—just a blatant effort by the leaders of the majority ethnic population to take from those who brought them from rank tribalism to civilized society in barely a couple of centuries.

A Broken Promise

Any transition of power from a dominant, sophisticated culture to a less developed culture would ordinarily take a good deal of time and effort, and full cooperation between the parties involved. This has not been the case with South Africa. The old government simply wanted to divest itself of the largest problem in its “too hard” basket, for the right price. The new government came in with an agenda: Displace whites from their perch and take over the wealth of the land, distributing it to privileged blacks who had been the most vocal and active in resisting white rule.

In South Africa, the result has been much the same as in other ex-colonial African nations: The Big Men (and women) get the lion’s share of the wealth; the poor continue to rot in their festering ghettos.

A year after the handover of the country by President F.W. de Klerk to the anc-dominated government, I stood only a few yards away from Nelson Mandela in the press gallery on the lawns in front of the fine old colonial Union Building in Pretoria. The politicians who had helped give away a country that had been gifted by God to the modern descendants of the ancient nation of Israel sat behind him. Before Mandela, the adoring, clamoring crowd amassed on the lawn. The occasion was the first anniversary of the handover of the country, “Freedom Day” as it has come to be labeled.

As I looked into the eyes of Mandela, the former terrorist, one year into his presidency of the great country of South Africa, the words of my editor in chief rang loud in my ears. “South Africa,” he said to me as we discussed just what 1994 portended for the West, “is the first of the Anglo-Saxon nations to give away its God-given birthright.”

Returning to this once richly blessed country a decade and a half later, I see the results of that fatal decision. The shanty towns in Cape Town that were a new blight on the country in the mid-’90s are now entrenched in the urban scene. They are larger and continue to extend, month by month. Illegal immigrants pour across the nation’s ill-secured borders to the north. Their number adds to an already endemic social problem in South Africa: the rapidly swelling ranks of the unemployed. This in a country that already has a staggering 37 percent general unemployment and 60 percent youth unemployment. That latter figure is now leading to spontaneous youth riots in various communities.

Mandela’s electoral promise of a home for every black remains largely unfulfilled even as a significant class of black nouveau riche has arisen attached to the government, the bureaucracy and, to a certain extent, business and commerce. This is the result of deeply entrenched corruption, nepotism and a “jobs for the boys” mentality: Ill-qualified lackeys of the anc are granted fat-salaried “jobs” that often amount to nothing more than an official title with the trappings of office and a nice paycheck with little or no accountability. This situation has not been helped by a white commercial class that has toadied to the government for the favor it needs in order to continue reaping corporate profits.

Despite such rampant corruption, the South African government continues to window dress under the delusion that it can aspire to global power status.

A New Growth Path

In late October, South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, trotted out a list of platitudes designed to mask the reality of the systemic problems that have plagued the country for 17 years now.

The Economist reported on October 29, “President Jacob Zuma’s government announced a ‘new growth path’ this week, with the aim of creating 5 million jobs over the next 10 years. Since the official unemployment rate stands at over 25 percent—and at almost 37 percent if those too discouraged to go on looking for a job are included—this should indeed be a priority.

“Sadly, however, there is not much new in the government’s plan. It amounts to little more than a long list of worthy suggestions (less corruption, more efficiency, greater cooperation with unions and so on). If conditions were right this might do it. But they are not.”

On the foreign-policy front, the Zuma government seeks to align with the so-called bric emerging economies—Brazil, Russia, India and China. Zuma has visited each of these countries over the past year in efforts to raise inward investment in South Africa.

Last August, President Zuma visited Beijing and signed a comprehensive strategic partnership with China, the latest in a number of efforts to cozy up to other emerging economic powers and thus increase Pretoria’s global prestige. However, as Stratfor reported, “While such partnerships can help bring much-needed investment and technical expertise into the country, South Africa’s domestic challenges, such as unemployment, public sector strikes and widespread poverty, will need to be addressed before it can credibly rise as a regional power with global influence, and some of the potential partnerships with China could even exacerbate existing problems” (Aug. 24, 2010).

The Zuma government must recognize that any nation that invests in the development of South African resources will have only its own national interest at heart. Distracted by deeply entrenched social problems and having lost much of the strong military edge that South Africa once possessed before the anc/sacp took over in 1994, more dominant powers have little to fear in terms of retribution for pillaging the nation’s wealth. As Stratfor noted, a “potential influx of Chinese laborers displacing their South African counterparts, as has been the case elsewhere in Africa, would compound Pretoria’s existing employment problems” (ibid.).

A Difficult Choice

South Africa faces a difficult choice. To survive, it must market its much-desired natural resources. The risk is that it will be taken advantage of by stronger and more resilient economies such as China and the increasingly powerful European Union, especially its lead nation, Germany. These two giant competing yet interdependent markets are eying South Africa’s raw materials as they seek to feed their resource-hungry industries. These are the two great “marts” prophesied in Isaiah 23. Between them they hold the major portion of the bargaining chips for South Africa’s mineral wealth.

Any aspiration by South Africa to mix with the mighty as a global player will continue to be frustrated by the ineptness of its self-serving political class. Rather than advancing the lot of its native population, South Africa appears rather to be retrogressing in the delivery of much-needed social services. As in so many other African nations, it seems the cult of entitlement has subsumed any sense of public responsibility in South Africa’s post-apartheid rulers.

Storm clouds are gathering over the rainbow nation. The risk is that the tensions between the 4 percent of the population that pay taxes and the rest will become so great that South African society will erupt in internecine strife. In the meantime, those of the birthright people who remain, whose leaders sold their nation for a bowl of pottage, maintain a precarious foothold, mostly in the Western Cape province.

A Curse Fulfilled

Whether it is obvious or not to the casual observer, South Africa is a classic demonstration of what happens to a people who forget their God. He simply allows them, in their rebellion, to flush their God-given birthright down the drain!

In the great prophecy to the Israelites, the Eternal God declared, “[I]f thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes … all these curses shall come upon thee …. The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high; and thou shalt come down very low. … [H]e shalt be the head, and thou shalt be the tail” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 43-44).