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What Makes A Culture?

Can an individual have their own culture, or must the aspects be shared by a group?  How much can be absent or altered without losing (collective) culture or (personal) identity?

When I think of culture, one of the first things to come to mind is food.  When I get a chance to visit another country, I want to experience their food: the tang in the air, the flavors, the different ingredients.  I’m curious whether food is mostly served at home or at a restaurant?  If Asian markets are any hint, pre-packaged foods are popular in China.  But Asian cooking involves all sorts of raw ingredients I’ve never heard of here in the United States.  Here also we have one of our cultures that only eats either frozen foods or fast foods or snacks.  But aren’t there still places in the world where cooking from scratch is an art?  Some cultures encourage bonding over sharing food in various degrees from a family meal to a family-style where the food is served all in giant platters into which people dip their hands to hospitality.  On the other end of the spectrum is the more formal dining experience, at a restaurant, with plates individually prepared, courses served.  There are cultures more receptive to buffets (my grandparents from Kansas *loved* them), or short-order cooking.  There is something special that some cultures encourage about preparing food together.  Some places esteem cooks highly, while others relegate the cooking of food to the lowliest classes (or women or slaves).  In some cultures dessert is a special treat, for holidays maybe – while some have a dessert at least once a day!  Which cultures care about nutrition?  Which about presentation?  Which about exotic flavors and innovative dishes?  Which focus more on comfort food and cravings?  What are considered comfort foods in various cultures?

I’ve noticed that different cultures have different modes of posture.  Some use chairs, and some cushions.  Some have sofas, others benches.  There are places where squatting is more common than sitting “Indian-style”.  Related to this, I think, is hygiene: how often do the people bathe, and by what means?  What are their toilet facilities like – or do they use fields, dig holes?  How do the people view health, view disease?  How do they treat it?  Do they use prayers or rituals?  Exercises?  Medicines?  Drugs?  Herbal remedies and nutrition?  Oils?  Mineral baths?  Other practices like chiropractors would employ?  Do they gather the sick together in hospitals or tend them at home?  Are there doctors?  How much treatment is limited to professionals?  Do they believe in preemptive medical care like scans or vaccinations?  At what points do they choose not to treat a person any more?

How are drugs and alcohol viewed?  Sometimes there are whole cultures built around the common experience of these substances.

What do people wear in various cultures?  What are the conventions; that is, is it normal for anyone to wear pants?  Robes?  Hats?  Certain colors or fabrics?  What is the style?  How often do fashions change?  How are they changed?  Does appearance matter as a form of art or more a form of modesty?  Is clothing more about the aesthetic or the functional?  How is clothing used to demonstrate distinctions in gender, age, class, employment, marital status, etc.?  Do people alter their bodies for the sake of appearance: foot binding, neck stretching, piercings, tattoos?

It seems to me that different cultures hold different ideas about acceptable risks.  Is it acceptable to let a child play near a fire?  Jump off a log?  Play where he might encounter a snake?  Get into a fist-fight with another child?  This is not exclusive to children, though.  In some cultures taking risks is involved in a rite of passage.  Risks are joined in together, to form social bonds.  Other cultures are much more conservative and careful, I think.  What do people put on the other side of the scale when they’re weighing risks?  Are fun and excitement of any relevance to them?  Competition?  Appearance?  Or do they only consider practical things like preparing for invasions or hunting for food?

Art is such a huge sphere for culture that I don’t even know where to begin.  Cultures have their favorite mediums, subjects, colors, motives.  I can only suppose that certain fonts are the preferred writing of specific cultures, since the fonts on grocery stores appealing to diverse cultures are unique and identifiable even in the United States.  People groups have their own favorite sounds of music, their customary scales in which their music is played or sung.  Some have more instruments than others.  Dancing varies from culture to culture in complexity and energy and purpose.

There are other forms of entertainment that vary depending on the culture.  Even the predominance of entertainment can be a mark of a different culture.  Sports are observed as entertainment, or played for entertainment; in some cultures it seems to be one more than the other.  Some sports are preferred by certain cultures, probably by way of other aspects of their culture (energy, reserve, risk) and inheritance (what did their parents play or watch?).  The complexity of toys, items used for play and entertainment, is also different in foreign places.  Some toys focus more on athleticism, others on skill and focus, and others do most of the work for you, performing for your enjoyment.  Toys can be scientific or domestic – little representations of the working world.  On the other hand, they can be silly escapes from the real world.

Architecture is probably a form of art, too.  But I think it transcends art in that buildings often serve additional purposes.  So, is the architecture of a culture about efficiency? Beauty?  Community?  Symbolism?  Do they use materials found at hand, or manufactured, or transported to the building site?  How big are they – are they too big for one family to raise themselves?  Do people try to live in the same place their whole lives, or are they ambitious for bigger buildings?  Do they live in natural formations like caves?  Do they dig out holes in the ground?  Do they live in trees?  By rivers?  Do they dig wells or irrigation trenches?  Do they build dams?  And how much do all of these things influence other aspects of the culture, like family and friends and food and business?

An aspect of culture in my own country so glaring that I failed to recognize it at first is materialism.  How many things do people own?  Is it a status symbol to own more?  Is sharing encouraged?  Do people show love through gifts?  How do people feel about financial sacrifice?  Do they invest in material things or in businesses – or adventures?  Where do they keep their goods?  Are things owned by individuals or groups or everyone?  Is there a distinction between land as property and removable objects as property?

Cultures have their own stories.  “Own” is here used loosely, because I have found common threads of story in many different cultures.  There are fables about the origins of things, and love stories, and stories of wars and sacrifice.  Some stories even have comedies, the sense of humor varying from culture to culture (and individual to individual).  What is seen as a hero?  Is it the man who slays the most enemies?  The man who rules the most living men?  The man who sacrifices himself?  Different cultures have their different monsters.  They have their own dominant fears, just as they have different favorite virtues.

Values shape cultures.  It seems that in America the dominant culture values independence, and speaking our mind.  I’ve heard of cultures that value the good of the whole.  Some value honor, others hold preserving life as a higher value.  Some value youth, and others value the elders.

Religions are often associated with and intertwined in cultures.  Is there one sovereign God?  What is He/he like?  Are there many gods worshiped?  Are certain animals or plants revered?  How is worship carried out?  Through song?  Pilgrimage?  Sex?  Sacrifice?  Sacred words?  Eating?

Cultures have often established their own rituals to recognize significant events like birthdays, coming of age, marriage, and other accomplishments (like graduation).  They have special ways of holding funerals.  They bring their own unique takes on holidays.  What fun, to see images and artifacts from Christmases in other places or ages!

Language is one of my favorite aspects of culture.  Is it important to the culture?  Is it precise or more personal?  Is it written or mostly spoken?  Is it tonal?  How appropriate are metaphors, slang, and profanity?  What are the customary greetings?  Besides the words spoken, what other gestures are included?  What gestures are seen as essential to good manners, and which ones are abhorrent?  Which ones are just the convention?  One tribe I heard of rubs its nose while thinking, but it is more common for my culture to scratch our head or chin – or to frown.  Does the culture encourage more or less expression of one’s own thoughts – or feelings?  Which is predominant: thoughts or feelings?  Is expression mostly communicated by gesture, action, word, or art?  Accordingly, are the people of the culture more generally reserved – or exuberant?  Are they loud or quiet?  Does everyone speak at once?  Do they take turns at anything they do?

How intimate are their friendships?  How many friends does a person tend to have?  Do they share their friends with their whole family, or is it a private affair?  How do they play?  Is playing part of friendship?  How do they show honor?  How do they respond to dishonor?  Is dishonor a casual joke or a serious offense?  How are reconciliations brought about?

There is diversity in any culture, large or small.  How is that balanced?  Is it suppressed or embraced?  Is there competition more than cooperation?  Do they try to come to unity, or to sameness?  Are differences displayed?  Analyzed?  Intentionally created?  What things are used to emphasize (or manufacture) what they have in common?  I know in some places religion does this, in others wars bring people together against a common enemy, and in others it is the common experience of standardized schooling that prepares them to respond in similar ways to things.

I don’t know if there are cultures without classes, but given that in most there are, how are relationships between the classes?  Is there mutual respect?  Is there resentment?  Are people generally content with the life to which they were born?  Do they practice cruelty or charity towards the classes that are more needy?  Is this voluntary or institutionalized?

How big is one’s sphere in their culture?  Who does a culture encourage friendship with?  Who does it encourage responsibility towards?  What are members encouraged to aspire to?  How much is proximity a factor?  What kinds of transportation do people use (walking, driving, biking, boating, flying, carting, carrying)?  Do people travel for social reasons or economic ones?  Or are there environmental reasons to practice a sort of migratory lifestyle?

Here in the United States we have many cultures living side by side, some whose “boundaries” are only a block or two from a significantly different group.  And with technology the way it is today, we can converse with people far away, travel quickly to see them, view photos they took, and purchase art created in foreign cultures.  How aware are people of other cultures?  (How aware are they that theirs is distinct?)  Are they interested in them?  Do they want to integrate good things from other cultures into their own?  Do they integrate foreigners?  Is this by means of cooperation or an initiation and instruction?  Are they willing to adapt their own culture?  Do they resist change?  Do they try to replace every culture they meet?  Do they replace the cultures of peoples they come to dominate?  Do they have compassion for foreigners or other cultures?  Do they feel superior?  Do they covet what other cultures have or are?

To an extent, family structure is different in cultures.  How do husbands relate to their wives, and what is expected of each within the home?  How do people come to be married?  How many wives may a man have?  How do parents relate to their children?  Who else bears the burden of child-rearing (community, grandparents, school, nannies)?  What kinds of discipline are used?  Are children seen and not heard?  Are they seen as trophies or contributors?  How important is extended family?  Is family more important than friends?  Are there specific obligations towards family members?  How does a family unit relate to the rest of the world?  How much is the government involved?

Some people view laws and government as providing order and security, or as being the at-the-ready conflict resolvers, while others expect the government to oversee all of the individual’s (and group’s) needs.  Some expect the government to enforce justice, and others are content with a system built on bribes.  Do the people believe it is their place to submit, or to reform, or to revolt?  In some places, the government is not only expected to take care of needs, but to take on big societal problems, and solve them.  Governments tend to look out for their own interests, but whether the peoples are ok with that or not is not so universal.  Some governments take in a vast number of citizens, whereas there are some whose range is limited to the immediate family of a Bedouin tribe.

Is business conducted in a personal way?  Does a person go door to door offering their goods or services?  Is there a public common market or do consumers seek out goods and services at specific phone numbers, websites, or stores?  Is a transaction considered between equals, or are service providers a lower class?  Are the servants recognized as members of a household or anonymous functionaries?  Is there a mindset of professionalism?  Who desires the professionalism – professional or consumer or both or neither?  How influential are corporations – the idea that no one person is responsible for the good or service being sold?

There is such a variety of technology, and tools, that are used in different societies, and these can be both representative and influential.  What things are used for communication?  For building?  Transporting?  How much of life is taken up by work?

What is the general schedule?  What is the work week?  How many hours in a day are work?  Is work a means or an end?  Which hours are devoted to sleeping?  When and how do people wake?  When do they play?  When do they have social activities?  Do they work together or finish their work and then spend time together?  When do they eat and how often?

If a group’s language is forgotten, and they move from the land of their buildings and ditches; if they stop playing with their old toys, and their clothing no longer distinguishes them clearly from one class to another – but they carry on a secret family recipe from the old, old days when all those things had been in place, have they lost their culture?  Can they share their recipe, market their spices and vegetables to other people groups, and still have their culture?  When do we say a culture has become distinct?  When do we say it has merged with another?

Should we try to preserve cultures?  Or is a way of life gloriously defined by the personalities and abilities and histories of the people who make up the group?  Is there a difference between dissolving a culture and replacing it?  What harms does the structure of tradition found in a culture cause?  What benefits does it provide?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I called this edition Pigfest on the Roof, and nominally themed it off of Fiddler on the Roof, inviting people to bring a traditional side dish or dessert for the feast.  But we did not meet on the roof.  Instead, we crammed 21 adults and 7 children into my living room, kitchen, and hallway.  I thought about taking pictures this time, but I am simply not that organized!

In the 3 hours we met, the Pigfesters engaged in seven separate debates.  Everyone behaved very well, which made moderating rather easier.  The topics were interesting and well-engaged.

  1. Because the government is anti-God and immoral, it would be immoral to pay taxes. Jesus said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.  But what is Caesar’s?  To how much was Caesar entitled?  When the sitting executive’s face is not on our coin, as it was in Jesus’ day, is it still to be rendered to him?  Does our personal judgment determine the justice of a tax?  Is the income tax even legal?  Is it rather unconstitutional?  But the resolution was giving moral reasons for refusing to pay taxes, not legal ones.  Must Christians submit to immoral governments?  Is doing something morally wrong in the name of submission ok?  In the Bible, children were wiped out with their fathers for the sin of the father, but we see no mention of justification because they were just doing what their fathers instructed.  Do the layers of responsibility in the government protect us from culpability?  That is, by paying taxes, are we not simply enabling the government to make good choices?  That they make bad choices is a potential consequence of our trust.  But, we are in a democracy where we the people choose our government.  Some of our taxes do go to moral things, like roads.  It was suggested that we look at the federal budget and deduct from our income tax a corresponding percentage to that which the government spends on immoral activities, and to enclose a letter of explanation.  There is a doctrine of Lesser Magistrates, which discusses the conflict between obeying contradicting authorities or whether citizens are required to submit to authorities not established by the higher authority (in this case, the US Constitution).  Jesus paid his taxes (the story of the coin in the fish).
  2. Men have no biblical responsibilities towards their families. Paul had to have been married, so it is possible he abandoned his wife for the call of God.  (This was highly debated.)  If a man does not provide for his own family, he is worse than an infidel – the Bible.  A husband is to love his wife as himself, which often includes caring for her needs.  At this point, the contributor of the resolution conceded that the Bible did have some responsibilities listed for men towards their families, so the debate shifted to what they are:  What is the definition of men?  It includes fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers.  Brothers were commanded in the Mosaic Law to take their sister-in-laws as wife if they were barren widows (law of the kinsman-redeemer).  Lot is an example of a man whom we do not, in our culture, consider to have been a good father.  He offered his daughters to the lustful crowd – and what’s up with that?  But, was he a jerk, or was he righteous?  Scripture is often addressed to fathers, which seems to be significant.  Some of the sons of Jacob slaughtered a city to avenge their sister’s rape.  Is that a responsibility?  God is presented as a Father.  Are we not to imitate Him?  Does God have any obligations to His children?  Obligations (and by implication, responsibilities) have to do with consequences.  When God takes an action, he is responsible for the consequences, and thus obligated to abide those consequences…  Likewise, a man is obligated to deal with the child he has if his wife conceives.  God’s fatherhood is often demonstrated in punishment.  But He is also merciful.  Are fathers, therefore, required to imitate God’s grace as well as His chastising?  Whence comes the impulse to provide and protect?  If not from the Bible, and if not from the character of God, then where?
  3. America has gotten worse since the Women’s Liberation movement. Worse was described as moral deterioration: divorce, abortion, crime.  And the women’s liberation movement was specified as that movement that rose in the 60’s and focused on equal opportunity, women leaving the home for the workplace, and sexual liberation.  Perhaps it is not the actual liberating of women that caused the moral decline, but the attitude women took.  Are we talking about a cause of moral decline, or is the women’s liberation movement yet another symptom of a larger rebellion.  It was a rebellion against God.  “We hate men” was not the origin of the movement, but rather, World War II empowered women when men were unable to work the factories and women left the home to take up those responsibilities.  Or perhaps women’s lib. started with suffrage.  Are not all created equal, even male and female?  Does that not apply to roles?  The real wickedness of the feminist mindset is not, “We hate men,” but “We hate God.”  For they are rebelling against God’s created order.  Perhaps women, though, were not the instigators.  Maybe men abusing their authority, really oppressing them (for example, physical violence) caused women to assert themselves.  What does this subject matter today?  Abortion is going on today, and is horribly unjust to fathers.  They have no legal right to stay the murder of their own child.  A result of the women’s liberation movement is that men were not allowed to be men, and so have abdicated their roles.  But shouldn’t men have stood up against the women’s liberation movement and defended the God-given order?  Those who did were slandered.  Really, emasculation is a result of the Fall and the Curse, when God told Eve that her desire would be for her husband, it is the terminology of desiring to be “over” her husband, just like sin “got the better of” Cain.  Women today do appreciate their liberties, without wicked motives, and make good use of them (women doing missions without their families).  The Christian worldview has been proclaimed as the kindest to women.  Are we kind to women to fight for equality in the area of sexual promiscuity?  Should we not have fought for equality the other way, of neither men’s nor women’s promiscuity being acceptable?  Even though we may disagree with the movement, we can use the women’s liberties today for good: a woman who doesn’t believe women should have the vote can choose to submit her vote to her husband’s views.  The movement is continuing even today, but is evolving, and so is not necessarily from the same motives as the feminists had in the 60’s.
  4. Sharing is unnecessary and not biblically supported. Sharing is defined as co-ownership, especially as opposed to lending.  The distinction between (and comparative value of) giving and sharing was a theme throughout the debate.  Are we saying that taking turns is unnecessary?  When a child’s friend comes over to play, what is the host child to do?  Should he keep his toys to himself?  Or – perhaps he should truly give the toy, not expecting it back.  Sharing is looking out for other’s interests, putting others ahead of yourself.  [Ownership] rights are unbiblical.  We put so much emphasis on our rights, but God calls us to give up our rights.  Christians are told to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Is there a difference morally between offering to share with someone else, and requesting that someone else share with you?  Sharing may be unnecessary when giving is an option.  But to whom are we to give?  How much?  Sharing makes life better and more efficient.  Instead of buying a toy for each child in a family, they can share one toy.  Sometimes there is no money to buy for each individual what they need, but they can have what they need if they all share one.  How is hospitality done if not by sharing?  God owns everything anyway; none of this property is really ours.  God made us stewards, and we are to exercise wisdom and discernment in how best to use what He has entrusted to us.
  5. God withholds because we do not ask. If we are obedient to God, then we abide in God’s love, and God does what we ask.  When we walk with God, He gives us the desires of our hearts.  The Bible encourages us to entreat God – even to the point of nagging Him.  How does God’s sovereignty fit into the equation?  Is God really dependent on our actions?  God gives some good gifts without prayer (common grace: rain falls on just and unjust; and special grace to Christians, but without us asking).  When the Spirit intercedes for our weakness, what if our weakness is that we don’t ask for the right things?  Can He bridge that gap?  Generally that verse is not interpreted as praying for us when we are not praying, but interceding for us as we pray.  God changes His mind when people act or plead with Him.  Either God lies or He changes His mind, for he told Moses that He would destroy Israel, and then God didn’t.  If our children acted that way, we would punish them…  It seems best to act as though what we do and pray matters, regardless of what we believe about the sovereignty of God.  Daniel knew God’s prophecy that He would do something at a certain time, but Daniel still prayed for it to happen.  Is God’s plan allowed to be malleable?  If not for that, could we have this redemption story: God creates the world perfect, but man sins, so God gets to demonstrate His lovingkindness by sending His only Son to die for us.  Or did God plan it that way all along?  Isn’t consistency an attribute of God?  Maybe God must only be consistent within His character (for example, mercy).
  6. Ownership for the sake of hospitality is the best kind of stuff and the best kind of ownership. Best is defined as optimal, in the short term and/or in the long term.  People are not equivalent to “stuff.”  The other reason to have a lot of stuff is to be like a dragon, hoarding riches and laying on them because they bring pleasure to you individually.  Are families included in hospitality?  If you own something for the purpose of benefiting others who are in your family, is that still the best kind?  There is this trend toward larger and larger master bedrooms, which serves no hospitable purpose, but often detracts from available space for hospitality towards others.  Hospitality, though, is an attitude, and can be demonstrated without stuff.  Should we buy a lot of stuff to be hugely hospitable?  There is a difference between purchasing stuff for the sake of hospitality and making hospitable use of stuff bought for other reasons.  This resolution did not address the inherent value of the property in question (ought we to be hospitable with our Play Station?), but rather, with the motive in possessing it.  Hospitality enables relationships.  Maybe a better kind of ownership would be for God’s call: some people need their own space to refresh in order to do what God has called them to do.  If it is impossible to share without making yourself useless, hospitality might not be the most important thing.  We should be willing to give up property when God wants us to do something else.
  7. Intimate friendships with the same sex is just as important for men as for women. Intimacy was defined as vulnerability especially in the senses of accountability and sharing emotions.  Men see the world differently: things versus relationships.  Guys do have as intimate of relationships, but do not express them the same way as girls.  Spending the day hunting and sharing a one-sentence commentary on their job (men) can be as intimate as a three hour conversation (women).  But the argument of the resolution is that men need to express more – a lot of times, and not in a way that looks like women.  Take, for example, David and Jonathan, who had a much closer relationship than what is common to men in our culture.  Men are afraid to reveal themselves, especially for accountability.  There is also a difficulty in expressing masculine intimacy for fear of seeming “queer*.”  Are women really good examples of intimate friendships, or rather than holding each other accountable, aren’t we gossiping and discussing things that shouldn’t be said?  Many men experience closer friendships with other men before marriage, and miss those relationships afterwards, but have been unable or have neglected to keep them up.  Men have been influenced by the doctrine of individualism, so that they overvalue doing things on their own and not asking for help.  The hard world necessitates a shell especially for men, who are in the world more than women.  Men don’t have time for relationships.  World War II hurt the willingness of men to be open, because they did not want to talk about the horrors they had witnessed or even committed.  Were male relationships more prominent in the past or in other cultures?  *queer in the sense of homosexual

Each 15-minute segment seemed to go too fast and be over too soon.  The incredible value of Pigfests it that they do not allow you to really complete a topic, or all the aspects brought up in the debate.  So we keep thinking and talking (and writing!) for weeks to come.  I think it is interesting how there are often two themes weaving their way through the debate.  At some points there were up to four people with their hands up waiting to speak, so the different threads were carried on well.  For myself, I had prepared a resolution, but the things I wanted to bring up with it were touched on in so many of the other debates that I decided not to present mine for debate.

All in all I am quite pleased with how the night went.  God answered all of my prayers for the party.  As hostess and moderator and human being I felt more focused than I have at some Pigfests, and for that I also thank God.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Proverbs 22:7, “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”

 

The Bible is fairly clear that debt is a bad idea.  The Jews were allowed to loan money to each other, and even to take a deposit – but they could not charge interest.  Only outsiders were to be a source of profit to the Jews.  Proverbs teaches that giving to the poor is much better than lending to them; it is compared to lending to God, who will “repay” the generous man. 

 

Proverbs 19:17, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.”

 

Luke 6:35, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.”

 

With this in mind, I have chosen to be neither slave nor master, borrowing nor lending.  I don’t have a credit card, bought my car with cash, and prepay my auto insurance every year.  The most money I owe is paying my share of our family cell phone plan each month, and I try to never get even a day behind.  As a result I have a no credit rating, but I defy an economy built on spending tomorrow’s dollar.  Isn’t it rather foolish of them to base trust on the fact that people are NOT responsible enough to save money ahead of time? 

 

I don’t want to lend money, either.  But living in modern America, to have any sort of normal life one must have a bank.  Banks are institutions that take my money and your money and loan it to others in order to profit from the interest.  The banking crisis of 2008 was precipitated by a ratio of loans to interest received that was too disproportionate to maintain a profit.  The expenses of banks were not being paid by the interest on loans because too many loans were “bad.”  Payments were not being made.  Banks can’t reinvest foreclosed property immediately.  Their funds became tied up, invested in non-liquid assets.  And this is not a bad thing except that they had been too greedy, and left insufficient cash in hand to meet the demands of their customers.  Some of their customers were the depositors, some the borrowers (small businesses were a big concern; apparently they function on future dollars almost exclusively), and many bank clients are paradoxically both.  That this is bad for the economy as a whole is becoming more and more evident. 

 

The practice of profiting from loans (associated with shady characters for centuries) to people in need is hurting individuals as well.  Obviously to give an interest-free loan, or even a “hand up” gift in hard times would be much preferable financially.  Traditionally this would be done relationally, by capable friends who would be able to assess the legitimacy of the need and the efficacy of the gift.  To those not in need loans ought to be less available.  Politically and economically the Levitical law on charging interest to foreigners corresponded to the idea of duties (benefiting the people directly, rather than the government).  To participate in the God -directed and –blessed economy of Israel, a Gentile could borrow money from a Jew, but the Jew was allowed to charge him for this privilege, taking the form of interest.  (This is as covered in the law; it is plausible that Jews could charge other things like duties or rent for market space.)  I suppose that business loans resemble this category, but it is not sound business to rely so heavily on borrowed cash. 

 

Here is where I would like to introduce the concept of investment.  What is commonly considered investment today is more accurately called “speculation.”  It is a risk, calculated or wild – a gamble.  Either a bank is taking a risk on a loan, betting that the interest yield will be profitable and that the debtor will not take off with the money; or an individual or institution is throwing money into stocks hoping the value of the stocks will go up, and that they can sell at a higher price in the future.  Investment is different.  Investment relies on dividends for profit.  Dividends are a share of the profits less than the total profits divided by all the “shares” of stockholders, so that some of the profits may be reinvested in the company for continuing productivity, like farmers not selling all of their produce, but saving some for seed and planting a portion of it the next season.  Sound investing is to give (as in not expecting or requiring the money to be returned) a sum to a company that one believes will be making profits long enough that dividends will meet or exceed the amount of the investment.  This happens over time. 

 

Another type of investment is in assets, which ought to appreciate through supply and demand.  This property ought to have inherent worth by reason of usefulness.  A few common kinds of investment are land, houses, and gold.  A person may also invest in a service, like education, which makes his skills greater and his labor more valuable.  Investing this way does not always require the sale of the investment to profit.  There can be “dividends” on this as well: rent money from rental property, use of a house or farmland, or application of the skills acquired through education. 

 

I understand how the sale of stock arose, and how useful it is.  I’m not opposed to that being an option.  It should not, however, be the common practice of banks, investment companies, or sound long-term investors.  There would be two reasons to sell stock: 1) You can no longer afford the investment.  Liquidity is more essential to you than long-term profit.  2) Your share in the company is losing value in a way that makes you think that no profit will ever proceed from it again.  In this instance, to sell is to take advantage of another investor, profiting from selling them an asset worth nothing.  Like loaning money or running a casino, it is preying on the risky ambitions of foolish men.  It ought to be legal in a free market, but it is not moral. 

 

All this to say that the ideal bank for me would be one that does not loan money, nor speculate in stocks.  Picture a community of people.  Many of them have money to spare, which they wish to store in a safe but accessible location.  They get together and store their money in a bank.  This bank is managed by a man who guards their cash and processes transactions: deposits, withdrawals, checks, debit cards, transfers.  To pay for his services, the depositors allow him to use a portion of the total money in the bank to invest.  At least a portion of the dividends, if not all of them, would pay for the building, the administrative fees, and the banker’s salary.  The investments ought to be diverse, and published to the depositors for review.  If there was sufficient concern that the investments were imprudent, the depositors could attempt to advise their banker or transfer their money to a more trusted banker.  Depositors would understand that not all of their money would necessarily be available for withdrawal or transfer at once, but at a contractual set period after such a request is made.  As always, more deposits are an insurance against a misjudged investment or a large withdrawal.  If the investments are consistently successful enough, a bank may offer its own dividends to all of its clients, or to those whose deposits are large enough (this is done today through “interest-bearing” checking accounts). 

 

This is slightly simplified.  A larger bank would obviously employ more than one investment manager, for example.  I don’t know all the laws involved.  Many banks, I believe, were begun by one wealthy man (or a few partners) who put up his own money to ensure both initial liquidity and sufficient funds to participate in the market at a profitable level.  In fact the whole idea is similar to a trust, in which multiple parties get together in order to make investments too large for their individual capital.  (If I wanted to invest in gold, I am pretty sure the smallest portions I can buy in a portfolio situation are ounces, so if I don’t have enough extra cash to buy one ounce, I cannot invest in gold.  But if my brother and I pool our investment money, we could afford the ounce and participate in that market.)  Trusts are strictly regulated by contracts defining shares, inheritance, selling out, and management. 

 

I don’t think owning stock in a company should be restricted to corporations or investment firms or banks, nor should it take an expert to understand the buying and selling of stocks.  There is a place for the investment firm that lets investors manage their own portfolios as well as for an investment bank such as the one I describe.  If a client is benefiting from the bank-like services of an investment firm, it is fair enough to let those employed by that company control the investments made, even if in the form of creating a list of acceptable investments or advising on investments (veto power), for the security of their business and thus the continued availability of the demanded services. 

 

My idea here is not brand new.  Think of what banks are called.  You can still find some today called such and such “bank and trust,” or “investment bank.”  I want a bank that does not loan money, and one that does not speculate in stocks.  Do you know of any? 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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