Posted by: rogermitchell | November 30, 2010

Living by faith – (ii) economics

This post may be a bit of a challenge for some because we have had a mindset of “Capitalism good Marxism bad” and although the Capitalism bit is shaking for some of us, the idea that Marxism isn’t all bad is hard to receive. While I am no way a Marxist I am aware that both ‘isms’ came from the same parentage which is the now familiar marriage of church and empire called Christendom. So while the marriage was a mistake, it happened, and its kids exist and we can learn stuff from both, and the people of God live in and are called to live in a new time zone in either place. [If you think I might be saying that Cuba, Venezuela and China might be children of Christendom, yes I am]. So what in the world has this to do with living by faith? Well it brings us to my second point about it and it goes something like this.

The new Marxists argue that the old idea of labour power has now given way to, and been replaced by, immaterial labour. Labour power was all that the agricultural peasants possessed after they were cleared off the lands that they had been subsistence farmers on for generations, at the beginning of the formation of the nation state. They then had nothing but their physical strength to sell and live by. The only way for them to oppose the system was to withdraw their physical labour or threaten violence. With the ongoing fight for fair pay and conditions gradually met by the employers and the consequent spread of education and welfare, ordinary people in western socieities now have a whole gamut of life skills to add to their labour power; artistic, reflective, social, emotional and affective, all of which increasingly includes the everyday use of the worldwide web. The neo-Marxists call this immaterial labour. The market has grown with and by means of these skills and now includes them, with the result that it now consists of the commodification of life itself, which the theorists call biopower or naked life and which tends to reduce everything to monetary value.

However the exciting thing about this kind of power that the neo-Marxists can help us to understand is that this immaterial form of labour power provides much more potential for changing the system than the old purely physical kind. Instead of strikes and violence being the only way ahead, these immaterial aspects of power give ordinary people the power and opportunity to change the system from the inside starting from many different vantage points in virtually every sphere and position in the workplace. All that is missing is the motivation to do it. And here is the crunch of the whole matter. You need to seriously love people to bother! The system provides such appetite-satisfying, brain-numbing stimulation that some altruistic motivation is required to get the western workforce to care about justice for the poor eighty percent of the world at home and abroad as well as the future of the planet for ourselves and our kids. Which of course is what the kingdom of God is all about. So the neo-Marxists, who seriously care about this, are calling for a return to what they call Judaeo -Christian love. Yes they really are: see Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: Multitude (Penguin Books 2005) p. 351.  And this of course is where living by faith comes in [Oh at last!]. Because at the roots of evangelical revival and the Pentecostal outpouring to which it led was a faith abandonment to the Jesus of the gospels and the multitude he had compassion for that proved the truth of his statement “seek first the kingdom of God and his justice and all these things [enough to eat drink and wear] will be yours as well.”

We Christians have been bamboozled by the western Capitalist mindset to believe that it is the kingdom of God. Far from it. Living by faith calls for a restoration of justice for the multitude. The market has a part to play, but only insofar that it is reorientated to the poor. Living by faith means that we neither look to the market, nor our labour power, but justice for the poor as our primary motivation. We decide to pour out our gifts to deconstruct the system and in its place seed the loving conditions for men and women to choose to do the same if they will. In the process God will supply all our needs. It is how creation was made and how it works. Will we believe that?

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Responses

  1. Just wrote a long comment and lost it in cyber space. Basically it said awesome post.

    • Quite agree Cecil. I am always troubled by the mantra that if you don’t have capitalism you have marxism and so capitalism is good by default as marxism is bad. I’m not Marxist either but some of the principles are good if people are not selfish.

  2. I too agree that justice is important…but I see all these things as part of the loving redemptive purpose of the Kingdom of God. I’m not saying you would disagree with that comment Roger, I just think there is a danger that (as with any concept) it is possible to get skewed in practice towards one aspect – justice – to the exclusion of others. (I’m not saying we shouldn’t debate or discuss particular aspects as you are doing here.) What we humans seem to have a problem with in our practice is holding these things together so that each aspect comes out at the right time in the right way to deal with what’s needed. If we go for justice, we often forget mercy; if we go for love, we often forget truth etc.

    I’m probably not putting this very well but I’m trying to say that if I was in a place to have an impact on something, I wouldn’t want my focus to be skewed by one aspect, justice or love or mercy or whatever. If the neo-Marxists have grasped an essential of the KofG, this is good news(!) as they have influence to change thinking, which they do – and justice IS a foundational issue. But would they also have compassion, discernment, revelation, patience, etc etc all of which are needed to dispense justice a la KofG?

    I totally agree with your statement “We decide to pour out our gifts to deconstruct the system and in its place seed the loving conditions for men and women to choose to do the same if they will” as this is more expressive of using a multiplicity of KofG gifts in the right place at the right time to deconstruct human systems to affect individual lives.

    • Thanks for this Jane. I think I might have miscommunicated slightly. When I said “this is what the kingdom is all about” I did not intend to only refer to justice. Rather the point I was making is that the current domination system needs to be overcome by Jesus’ loving way of life and that justice is a crucial aspect of that.

      • Perhaps I should have let my comment go quietly into cyberspace too! There was nothing wrong with your words. I was just unpacking something of a thread out of what you were saying…so not disagreeing with you but seeking to take it further.

  3. I note today there is an interview out with Noam Chomsky on the Wikileaks. The headline was that these leaks demonstrate how western leaders (esp. those in the USA) have a profound disregard for democracy. Another article out today makes the case that capitalism and free market negate a middleclass (a few become very rich while the rest stay poor, middleclass labour is too pricey for a free market).

    I would agree with both. Isn’t interesting that we have been so bamboozled by the propaganda. I guess because it appeals to our own innate desire to feel good about ourselves and to have more.

    Its time to put aside the myths about any human system and seek the Kingdom.

    c.

  4. hi roger and sue wanted to get in touch with but only just got back with god its been along time. took all this time to stop hateing poeple and start loveing and you and sue helped me to find something special, jesus. i have been out of gods palm for years thought i was alrihgt retired to spain and left god at sothhampton docks. as you can see i should been an english techer by me typeing never done this before. if you get this we can talk if you want. going to start again luke 4 going to work for revival in spain hope you get this in the name of jesus bless you and yours tony

    • Hi Tony,
      It’s great to hear from you. We very often think of you both. We love your heart and the way you keep finding your way back to the real Jesus despite all the jaded crap versions that church and human sin and frailty chuck at us all. We are with you and for you and hope to see you once I get these crazy studies of mine out of the way, which will be Easter 2011 at the latest. Where abouts in Spain are you? Our great friends the Scotts are currently in Majorca but get about in mainland Spain too. Maybe you can connect up somehow. Love as ever, Roger


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