My wife is a devout Slovak catholic who goes to Church about 50 times a year, probably more. From time to time she succeeds in dragging me along with her. The only point of interest to me, are the passages from the Bible and how the priest or his helpers try to interpret these, and the sermon, especially the sermon.

I find the standing and kneeling to be ineffective when it comes to fitness, and rather scary when it comes to the meaning behind all the up, down, up, down, up, down choreographics. Most of all I zone out during the songs that almost always remind me of the painful death knell of dying animals.

For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

Matthew 25:29, New International Version.

At the same time I wish there was something like the Church that could really unite us and help us get integrity, spiritual guidance, and common values that we would actually adhere to, that would at the very least make our economy more moral and let people be sexually free.

My absolute biggest problem is that the Church rants about inequality, without having the faintest notion about how to fundamentally address this, apart from calling upon everyone to give money to charity. By the way: the worst begging place is right outside a church door. Really. Never seen beggars get more ignored than when they are standing near a church door right after mass. That’s my other problem with churchy people, they rarely practice what they preach. I know some noted exceptions though. My parents in law and her eldest daughter ( my wife) and the christian guest family I had in Palestine. When they DO practice what they preach, they are pretty amazing folks to be around. Though practicing their religion as it should be practiced also makes them too modest to really try and influence society on a bigger scale.

Church attendance is in such decline here in Belgium, and so few young men feel the urge to become priests, that three out of four times the local mass is performed not by a priest, but by ‘regular’ people. Often they are teachers. My wife and I are practically the youngest people in the audience, apart from two friendly looking teenagers with Latin American roots who come with their dad.

Anyway, today they read the parable about the talents. Which later gave birth to the term of the Matthew effect in economics.

The gist of it:

A master leaves home, and trusts his servants with his money. He has three servants. The first one gets 5 talents, the second one gets 2 talents and the third one gets only one. Upon the return of the master the first two have DOUBLED what was borrowed to them. The third one hid the talent and just gives the one talent back. The master rewards the first two and is infuriated by the third one. So, to those who have will be given more, and those who have not will be stripped of the little they have.

The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer.

The lady who read this parable in church today admitted that she has a lot of trouble swallowing this.

But she goes on to say that the world is indeed unfair, and that we are supposed to grow our talents, no matter how untalented we are.

The attitude of the master, who is said to ‘reap where he has not sown’, is not questioned.

Then she says Bill Gates gives away millions to make the world better… We are to accept this, it may be true, but we are not presented with any study of Bill Gates’ charity work.

But the message is clear, it’s an other appeal to give to charity.

The most optimistic interpretation is that we are supposed to play the best game we can no matter which cards we have been dealt.

No fundamental analysis of our economy, we are to accept that some are way more talented, and when they become rich, we are to hope that they throw us a bone, out of their own free will.

We have to accept that the world is unfair and we have to count our blessings, because somebody is always worse off, somewhere.

And I sit there and I wonder why my wife, who, outside of Church, loves abstract thinking, loves structural analysis of large and complex system from many different angles, also loves to be here every Sunday, in a place where economics is reduced to accepting things as they are and counting on the giving hearts of the superrich to combat morbid inequality between the superrich and the rest of it.

I’m not sure about the answer either. Until september 2012 I thought that perhaps the answer could be a modernised version of communism, until I realized that wealth and power accumulation in the hands of a tiny elite is a feature of any economic options we have on the table so far.

I’m not even sure ‘universal basic income’ would change much if we all got a decent salary every month, regardless if we worked or not. Am guessing their are many effects that are not apparent when this is tried in one city. In limited experiments it has proven succesful, but I think if implemented globally, the effect would soon erode, and pretty quickly. Stuff for a different blog post.