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Entry 718, on 2008-03-12 at 18:57:58 (Rating 4, News)
Yesterday I referred to the new seven deadly sins discussed by Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti in an interview published in the Vatican newspaper. I noted that, perhaps contrary to my normal attitude on religion, I thought the idea was worth treating seriously. Unfortunately I then went on to lampoon the traditional sins and ridicule the church in general, but today I want to seriously examine the idea of modernising the sins list.
So here's the list described by Monsignor Girotti: genetic modification, carrying out experiments on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice, causing poverty, becoming obscenely wealthy, and taking drugs. Well there's some potential there, at least but I want to go through each idea individually and say whether I support or reject it.
Genetic modification. This is just silly because genetic modification is an important technology which should be controlled carefully but definitely shouldn't be rejected as a whole. I presume they are referring to the more contentious forms of GM here, such as creating transgenic organisms, because the more established forms, such as artificial selective breeding, have been practiced for years without comment. I presume the objection here is more form a theological perspective than a social, political, or practical one.
Carrying out experiments on humans. This also seems silly because experiments are the only way we have to establish the efficacy of new drugs and treatments amongst many other things. Experimenting on humans without their fully informed consent might be unjustified but I think there are times when experimenting is perfectly acceptable. For example, if I was dying from cancer I would want to be experimented on with the hope of finding a cure. And if the church thinks they can stop such worthwhile aims its them who belong in Hell!
Polluting the environment. Well duh! No one likes pollution, although some people will justify a certain amount of pollution to achieve positive outcomes such as achieving economic goals. So a blanket statement like anyone who pollutes the environment is committing a sin is useless. I pollute the environment when I drive to work. No one is totally free from this, so the aim is clearly at major polluters, which is fair enough, but where do we draw the line?
Causing social injustice. Very few people will say they support injustice in any form, but most of the people who cause it have a good justification for it. By giving big corporations more power a government causes social injustice but strengthens the country's economy which (theoretically) helps those who suffer the injustice. So how do we tell which are the sinners and which aren't? Again this is both obvious and meaningless.
Causing poverty. The same arguments I applied to social injustice apply to poverty, and again poverty is usually justified in some ways, such as achieving longer term economic goals. Another more or less useless sin, I'm afraid.
Becoming obscenely wealthy. Well by including the word "obscenely" here the church is already making a value judgement based on no objective reference. And the most ironic thing, pointed out by many people who have commented on this issue, is that the Catholic Church itself is obscenely wealthy. It shows how truly out of touch these people are that they would even mention this.
Taking drugs. I guess they mean illegal, harmful drugs here otherwise I would be in trouble for taking paracetamol after I drunk too much wine the other night. Oh yes, is alcohol a drug? Don't the Catholics use wine in some of their rituals? Again I'm confused because I don't know which drugs are included and which aren't and the problem (as always) is in the detail.
So I started off by being positive about the idea but here I am back to my old habit of ridiculing the church again! I honestly thought I would be more positive about this but as I analysed the new sins and wrote about them I just found that they don't work. Its entirely possible that if the ideas are clarified and expanded they could be quite valuable, but in this form they are worse than useless. They might as well go back to their original list of sins and punishments!
One suggestion I would have here is that the church might want to consider using some of its obscene wealth to ameliorate pollution, social injustice, and poverty, and to help drug users. They could improve their position on five of the seven sins in one easy step (and yes I know they do a certain amount of charitable work already but its hardly enough, is it). And just stop inflicting your religious superstitions on science and forget about the first two sins, OK?
Comment 1 (1263) by Jim on 2008-03-14 at 21:06:34: (view recent only)
OJB is being very disingenuous in this post. He's deliberately trivialising what one person in the church has said, its not the official word of the church. This is not a fair way to criticise the Catholic Church.
Comment 2 (1266) by SBFL on 2008-03-16 at 22:21:09:
Jim - OJB takes much glee in ridiculing the church. He thinks he can disguise it as measured, fair, logical and reasonable opinion but it is oh so thinly veiled. His jealousy is his weakness, which is why I come back to the blog to point out the flaws in his 'argument' !
Comment 3 (1267) by SBFL on 2008-03-16 at 22:23:35:
"And the most ironic thing, pointed out by many people who have commented on this issue, is that the Catholic Church itself is obscenely wealthy."
OJB - you should read this post.
Comment 4 (1272) by OJB on 2008-03-17 at 15:05:19:
You should say the perceived flaws in my argument. I think the majority of what I say is well supported and I think most of SBFL's attacks are shown to be somewhat lacking in substance.
I do concede though, that the state of the Catholic Church's finances is a difficult subject, mainly because they hide it so well (why?). I did quite a lot of research on this and I really couldn't find anything definitive one way or the other. The anecdotes described in the link above though, hardly have any real bearing on the subject, especially considering their very biased source.
Comment 5 (1275) by SBFL on 2008-03-18 at 23:45:15:
Okay, "perceived flaws" then. We have differences of opinion. Not so sure about the lack substance you talk about. Your posts are somewhat vacant of links that support your viewpoint, and I have raised this several times. As the 'poster' you are subject to more scrutiny and therefore could have more links even if those links are up for debate. Two is more then one, right?
Listen, the Catholic Church being rich is a load of bollocks right. You can't find their statements online because they are not a public listed company (care to have your personal finances exposed for all to see?). What I do know is that local parish's are always struggling to make ends meet, and that is their intention. Do you know what the income of a Catholic priest is compared to his Protestant counterparts? Look it up.
Any businessman will tell you the true health of a company is based on cashflow. So assets such as artworks, buildings and land don't add to real wealth (they are fixed assets, not income streams). Therefore those who focus on these need a reality check. Church income is based on donations from real down-to-earth people, the liberals need to respect this fact and get off their hobby-horse of Catholic-bashing.
Comment 6 (1286) by OJB on 2008-03-19 at 18:19:54:
OK, I accept your point. I'll try to link to sources in my posts in future.
But I don't accept your cashflow statement. The wealth of a big organisation is measured by its assets, not whatever part of its financial transactions it allows to be made public.
Comment 7 (1288) by SBFL on 2008-03-20 at 23:42:51:
Actually the wealth of an organisation is measured by its share price which is determined by EBITDA (profit) and return on assets. Broadly speaking this boils down to cashflow. Antiquities don't usually have a high RONOA. Buildings and land are often sold off by companies who don't see themselves in the property industry because they prefer to invest the cash tied up in those assets in the core business they operate in (so they lease). The Church generally doesn't have this luxury and I would imagine strategically it wouldn't be advisable. So thats why I think those who say the Church having lots of property means they must be wealthy is an unfair statement.
Comment 8 (1301) by OJB on 2008-03-21 at 10:07:15:
I did a bit of research on this and there are so many ways to measure the total value of an organisation that its quite overwhelming. I saw no reason to believe that a value based on cashflow or share value was particularly useful though. I found this link at Wikipedia useful.
Surely you can see that having a huge amount of value tied up in assets instead of cash doesn't make an organisation less wealthy. Its the total assets owned which is the key measure, in my opinion.
Comment 9 (1315) by SBFL on 2008-03-21 at 21:47:58:
Well let me give you an example...have you heard in the news about how the housing boom has given kiwis an artificial or false feeling of being wealthy? I have heard it many times in recent years. Hope this explains why your opinion ("Its the total assets owned which is the key measure, in my opinion") lacks merit on this one.
Part of what I referred to was in your Wiki link (eg Weighted Average Cost of Capital). As for measuring shareholder value have a read of Economic Value Added. Would be interesting to see where the Church fits with this. I would imagine it would be very low considering its high proportion of fixed assets, which yield low returns.
Comment 10 (1326) by OJB on 2008-03-22 at 18:44:57:
Well I disagree. Are we talking about the total value of the organisation, not the short term flow of cash which might be important to the shareholders for that particular accounting period. This really isn't an area that interests me greatly so I really can't be bothered investigating it in too much detail. I find business, economics, finance and accounting to be one of the least intellectually interesting areas of human knowledge. That's just me - could be wrong - don't care.
Comment 11 (1334) by SBFL on 2008-03-25 at 00:53:24:
Okay, fair enough. I find "business, economics, finance and accounting" to be extremely critical to society as it involves jobs and livelihoods. But back to the original point, a man who has a lot of fixed assets that generates little if any income is not a man of wealth. He receives little income as a result and is thus NOT wealthy. That is my point. In business, cash is king, and the Church lacks in this area...therefore it is not wealthy (and if it was that would be great because it could help the poor even more).
Comment 12 (1336) by OJB on 2008-03-25 at 10:05:29:
Yes, unfortunately we do have a strong reliance on business. That's one of the main reasons the human race are such under-achievers (the other is religion). I'm sure there are elements of business (especially the finer points of economics) which are quite fascinating but I've always rated it as the least intellectual area of human knowledge. Just a bias on my part.
Any organisation which has heaps of assets but less cashflow at a particular point of time is still rich in my opinion. Like many of these questions there is no right or wrong answer because most of the rules of business are totally arbitrary. There's the old joke about asking an accountant to give an answer to some problem and he says "what sort of answer did you have in mind?".
Comment 13 (1372) by SBFL on 2008-04-01 at 21:31:39:
We'll just have to agree to disagree on this one. Maybe an economist might pass by this post and voice his/her views.
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