Posted by: rogermitchell | March 9, 2010

Kenarchy and capitalism

My late academic supervisor Paul Fletcher made a couple of great statements that I am currently attempting to work out in my research. They come in his recent posthumous book and require a bit of working at to grasp. They make an important contribution to what I would suggest is the difference between kenarchy and Christianity under capitalist occupation. He reckoned theology as prayer so try a bit of that if you are stuck!

“Christianity, in the midst of its occupation by capitalism or, which is the same thing, its anti-eschatological accommodation with the ascendancy of guilt, is dependent on the horizons of possibility and significance that are (as with the constant recourse to the future) only tangible in their promised effects. As a counterpoint to this disastrous theological position, we must begin the activity of identifying and reconstructing a genuinely Christian form of temporal existence, an undertaking which begins from the point at which the God of capital is not only identified but from which the practice of giftedness and kenosis is intensified within the very heart of the dream-world of the system.” Paul Fletcher: Disciplining the Divine [Ashgate 2009] p. 158

I offer a couple of comments on each stanza of these important interrelated statements.

i) Beginning with the first stanza, firstly, on his point about Christianity being occupied by capitalism, he is basing this on the obvious fact that in Christianity’s mainstream expressions almost no-one challenges the supremacy of the capitalist economic system. Secondly, on his point about an anti-eschatological accommodation of guilt being the same thing as being invaded by capitalism, he is suggesting that a preoccupation with personal sin and guilt and its payment by Jesus on the cross but with the promised perfection and wholeness still pushed away into a future heaven, is much the same as being taken up with the work and consumption entailed in capitalism without the satisfaction and universal peace promised by money which is also always in the future. This debased Christianity parallels and even legitimates Mammon, the god of capital.

ii) Moving on to the second stanza, firstly, his emphasis on the need to identify and reconstruct a genuinely Christian form of temporal existence amounts to the recognition that the existing mainstream forms that take the western political system for granted need to be deconstructed and replaced by the practice of giving our lives away [giftedness] and emptying ourselves in love [kenosis]. This is not to downplay the cross but to see it as the very fulcrum and consummation of divine grace and out-poured love.  Secondly, and very importantly, he identifies the place where this now needs to take place as being in the here and now of our daily lives within the very heart of the deluded system in which we live and work.

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Responses

  1. wow roger – what a quote. Amazing. It reminds me of a couple of things. First Michael Moore’s movie on Capitalism which he called a Love Story and chronicles the rise of casino capitalism. It also reminds me of a series of informal meetings with some Christian leaders in which I participated for awhile. They were focused, at times, on being Christian in the market place. I argued that Capitalism was a false system since its assumptions were false and therefore the point was not to redeem it but move on from it. Boy, did I get into trouble. No way were those pastors going to go there with me. Not. They defended capitalism and derided my view of it. I was always struck by how blind they were, somewhat enchanted. To be enchanted is to be ‘sung against’, that is, cursed. I think the church and most of the world at one time or another has been enchanted with the promises of capitalism. If you live and work with the poor, that enchantment tends to break at some point. C.

  2. Opps, its only now I see that you have linked this to Moore’s movie. So the link is obvious to you to. There is an interview with Chris Hedges on Truth Dig right now about this subject. It was filmed for Moore’s movie and then not used. Hedges trained in seminary and then left it but I believe still identifies himself as a Christian. He believes Capitalist is destroying the US. I’ll find that link and get it to you. c.

  3. Hi Cheryl. Actually I hadn’t linked this to Moore’s movie at all, which has not yet been released in the UK, although I am looking forward to seeing it. He is certainly an important prophetic voice although I find him at times superficial and other times irritating and sometimes both.
    Rog

  4. Roger, These are huge mindset shifts your are talking about. I think if I hadn’t of gone through so much shaking this last year i would be able to see this. Bring on the shaking so others can see past this false system which we place our trust!

  5. It amazing how leaving out n’t after would can change what you mean! I was trying to say “I wouldn’t be able to see this”.

    It’s quiet a challenge to live from a different source of power and provision in this capitalist system. It seems to be a strange mix of greed and fear. It great to think that he that is in us is greater than he that is in the world.

  6. This is very lovely stuff Roger. Not sure if I dare take on more reading just now, but sorely tempted to discover the context of this quotation.

  7. In response your “so try a bit of that if you are stuck” line from your March 9 blog, I would just say, that’s what I love about you and Sue: helping the rest of us get unstuck. For me, your work charges up my dormant neurons. I have to admit your work here is what I turn to when I need to be inspired or challenged intellectually. Even though I can’t keep up with your pace, I love coming to this site for the flashes of glory I that come together and form words that would otherwise get absorbed by life.
    Some of those words now forming in my mind relate to what Paul Fletcher said, “Christianity…is dependent on the horizons of possibility and significance that are…only tangible is their promised effects.” Whatever else Dr. Fletcher may be saying, it seems to me that he is revealing the shame that is associated with living and accepting the limits of not being able to reach the “horizon,” as if we are all standing on a shore and dreaming of the glories of a another world we can only touch if we jump through the right hoops, so to speak. Now, I know we say we can, but the massive introspection (preoccupation with sin and guilt, as you say) and its failure of righteousness prove that we don’t believe it. So, while repentance is the key to open that door into being able to live in the world in the “kenarchy” that is ours, so might a greater revelation of His righteousness. It seems to me that folks, who live in a capitalistic mindset, are generally shocked to find out that they never had a righteousness of their own, that much of their work has been about establishing and proving their own value and progress so as to make it to that distant horizon, where all is happiness and goodness all-the-day-long. Because of this, it is impossible then to be present to the moments at hand, to be other-centered; the need to become something (and having to manage our time in that effort) trumps all other noble motivations—real justice and real compassion pushed off to another day. That’s why a good exercise is “walking the extra mile” and “turning the other cheek” is good for us. No one does that well whom does not have this righteousness issue worked out. Those situations do not prove anything to us about ourselves but whether or not God is the source of all the resources we need in this life. His thoughts and plans for us began in his mind before the foundations of the earth and are without limits, which in its effect, is abundant life now even in the midst of the “groaning of creation” about the imperfections of mankind. Could it be that our taking another look at His imputed righteousness (by recognizing the lack of it through seeing it through the mistaken goals of capitalism) is also a key to living in freedom indiscriminately giving our lives and gifts away?

  8. Thanks Lorrie for the encouragement and the good food for thought. Hopefully these insights into the given-ness of God will keep this string of comments going for a bit because there is more to be said!
    Blessings
    Roger

  9. I’m massively interested in ‘gift’ which, in its true form, has to be something which transcends economies of all sorts. Don’t have much time to go into it now, but you might be interested in what Caputo says:

    “Economies are made fertile and productive by the gift by which they are ruptured and interrupted, punctuated, opened up and expanded. Economies need gifts even as the gift goes beyond what is needed.” (WWJD, p. 72.)

    “There is, there ought to be, something that we do in life that is not for return but just because what we are doing is life itself, something a little mad. That is the gift.” (WWJD, p. 73.)

    “The Greek philosophers, and Aristotle in particular, pursued an idea of moderation, of finding the sensible median point and avoiding excess. But that does not give us a good fix on the figure of Jesus, whose life and death are marked precisely by excess, not the excess of violence but the excess of the gift, of finding the point of equilibrium and then recommending the step beyond so that to follow in his steps is to be committed to taking an extra step, to going the extra mile. ‘You have heard it said, love your friends and hate your enemies, but I say love your enemies; you have heard it said, do not commit adultery, but I say if a man lusts in his heart for a woman he has already committed adultery.’ He is guided not by the philosopher’s ‘principle of sufficient reason,’ nor by any idea of the rational mean, but by the excess of the gift, the excess of love, which is ‘without why,’ as Meister Eckhart said.” (WWJD, pp. 85-86)

  10. Stephen, I think gift is extremely important – it is the main characteristic of the Kingdom. Or as I generally explain it – Kingdom economics are about sharing. And it is sharing/gift that most subversively undermine the system of the powers and principalities. Mammon has no defense against gift and sharing, hence the emphasis in Paul on organizing the church around sharing gifts in the body. It goes way beyond the system in which, one way or another, most people are slaves and forced into involuntary labour. c.

  11. I’m meditating on 1Peter 2 and struck by how the chosen cornerstone should be a stumbling block (scandalos). The contrast is between belief and disobedience (see also Heb 3&4; John 3:36). Our disobedience showing what we truly believe.
    The cornerstone principle determines the ‘rule’ by which we live, the line to which we must conform/be conformed. It is of necessity outside of ourselves and requires submission and being brought ‘into line’ in the lowest place. A Cornerstone is ken-archy, authority/rule in the lowest place.
    Personally, once again I’ve had to make one of those choosing him over me decisions that is required for things (ie in me) to shift.

  12. Thanks Hywel for your challenging combination of thought and praxis! I was part of an interesting discussion at the Uni of Chester a few weeks ago that is still resonating. It centred around the question of whether or not God’s love is conditional or unconditional and whether grace trumps law. Walter Brueggemann [whose thinking I usually appreciate] suggests in his book An Unsettling God, that the distinction is misleading. However it seems to me that it is the unconditionality of his love that leads to me making “Those choosing him over me decisions” that a balance of law and grace would never lead to me to in the end.

    • We’ve been digging into grace here, having looked at the Law through the lens of what does it tell me of the Character of God rather than as a straight-jacket. We’re made in his image and being conformed into the image of the Son, and yet he give his name to the Law (Lev. 19 looks like individual decrees he signs “Do this because this is I AM).
      Of course this then throws us off kilter when we try to understand the unconditionality of Grace and Love. IT HAS TO BE otherwise grace would not be grace and love not love. There is nothing I can do or be to gain his favour/grace outside of Christ. But there is much that I can do in disobedience and unbelief that shuts me off from it in ways that I don’t want to get my head around theologically at the moment. the passages I mentioned above illustrate the point.
      Though the OT Law can be regarded as non-obligatory (Acts 15), we cannot get past the Great Commission and the charge to obey all of Jesus’ commandments. Obedience in the New Covenant is as essential as the Old.
      So which is it, or how much of each tempered by the other?
      So I’ve decided I’m not going to be balanced for these reasons:
      If I’m balanced then that’s it its me, all of my effort and in-dependance and so I enjoy the fruit of the tree of knowledge and boast.
      If I’m balanced its me deciding where the line is drawn, not the voice behind me telling me when I’ve veered left or right.
      If I’m balanced the way may one day be narrow but the next broad, all subjective.
      But my balanced position may not be your balanced position, so we need to balance it out…
      So I’m going for being held in Tension. Tension releases me into trusting him whilst not releasing me from responsibility. Being held in tension makes me dependent on him and the body. Fellowship becomes essential, submission necessary, kenarchy the way forward… being emptied of self, thrown onto his rule
      Lay me down close to the cornerstone Lord!!!


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