Posted by: rogermitchell | July 30, 2011

Economics at the end of Christendom (ii)

Before continuing in the exploration of kenarchic economics, I will make a further comment about the connection between my research and the practical critique of capitalism. It is because I know that a lot of people are finding what I have to say helpful, that I want to make clear what is its source and what are its limits.

Put simply, my starting point has been the contemporary Western fulness of capitalism, or biopower. In my attempts to understand and reflect on this, I am indebted particularly to the work of Foucault, Agamben and neo-Marxists like Hardt and Negri for the standpoint I have developed. As a committed disciple of Jesus, I have attempted to bring him and his body to the present situation as I understand it. So my question is, given where the so-called Christian West, as I see it, has ended up, whatever happened to Jesus and his ecclesia along the way? My attempt to answer this question has brought me to the proposal that there has been a fall in the history of the ecclesia, which I understand in terms of its embrace of empire, that is to say sovereign power, as the means to achieving the kingdom of God. My continuing research then set about tracing the genealogy of this misalignment to the present day. I explore the mediaeval and modern worlds in the light of this trajectory, and it is from this that I discover the eventual, and almost inevitable, conjunction of sovereignty and money in the nation state.

Several things follow, not least the need to re-evaluate the theology, history and theoretical knowledge that Christendom has produced since that time. I am not simply junking all of it, but bringing it to the revelation, or hermeneutic, of Jesus. This causes me to reassess theories of history, especially those that go back a long way to try and get the whole picture, in the light of the incarnation and what has happened since. While of course we can and should learn from all human experience and formulate our thinking in the light of the insights we gain from past knowledge and research, for me it is vital to nuance them constantly in the light of the testimony of Jesus, for “in him are hid all the riches and treasures of knowledge and wisdom” (Col 2:3).

Two further important points for attempts to reconfigure daily life and relationships in the human community follow on from this:

First, while I certainly do not regard the Bible as in any way a scientific text book, I do believe it contains the essentials for political governance. This is because the incarnation, as narrated by the gospels, is clearly presented as the manifestation of God’s rule or kingdom on earth. This obviously includes economics both because the kingdom is clearly expressed by Jesus in economic terms, and because economics are an essential part of governance.

Second, as has been coming more and more clear in the posts of this blog, the gospel is political as well as spiritual. Free market capitalism and free trade are not just possible political options. They are theopolitical heresies and unjust systems which disciples of Jesus need to repent from. We should have done this long ago, and now they are crumbling it is crucial that people of peace and disciples of Jesus join together to configure loving creative alternatives.

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Responses

  1. You know, it has been interesting to watch the whole debt ceiling debate (is it a debate?) in the USA in light of this blog. There you have a rather routine point of governance that would allow the government to borrow the funds needed to fulfill the budget Congress passed earlier. But it has become a moment of brinkmanship with an inevitable outcome. The folks that said from the beginning, way back in January, that they were willing to go to any extreme to see Obama lose, and to win power for themselves, to the point of destruction of the country, win. No question, that is the way it was going to go. And, a political note here, I think Obama saw the outcome from the beginning too. He isn’t willing to allow default so he and many, many others lose.

    But the economic assumptions behind this political power fight has been fascinating as well. One party appears to have abandoned any desire for any social contract, social safety net, care for the poor etc. They openly support tax cuts for the rich and for rich corporations. They sometimes use language of caring that their children not be in debt but the refusal to raise taxes on the rich negate that statement. And so the ones who most claim to be righteous Christians (the religious right is all bound up in this) are also the ones that champion the cut of benefits to the poor, elderly, grants to students, revoking of union rights, care for the environment, and will not consider new revenues for the govt. How did it happen that we came to believe that Jesus supports such an agenda?

    I read yesterday that Bill Gates alone has the same amount of wealth as the bottom 40% of Americans. Astounding. The Apple corporation has more cash in its box than the US gov’t has in its treasury.

    Now I know some of this is bound up with a conservative (fundamentalist?) belief that gov’t is evil and that their righteous mission is to destroy it. Hence the ‘starve the beast’ approach. And I also realize, in light of the funding from various foundations led by conservatives but especially by the Koch brothers, that in some senses this is really a hostile take-over of the govt (I use that in a business sense). One (or more) wealthy corporations have done what they can to weaken the gov’t and then will pick up the pieces as they are privatized (think Shock Doctrine here). And this has already been happening state by state (privatized prison corporations, charter schools, emergency powers to shut down muncipalities and their elected officials, union busting, laws to make voting more difficult) so it was only a matter of finding the right moment to go after the federal govt.

    A group of pastors across the US have formed a ‘circle of protection’ to advocate for the poor in this conversation. I can’t think they have had much effect but the extremes of the political discourse appears to have pushed some churches to re-examine their understanding of care for the poor, women and children and to act politically. Jim Wallis is the leader of this coalition. Every year when the budget comes out he notes that national budgets are moral statements. And, of course, in the rush to appease the market and the huge corporations that have the real power, he is ignored.

    All this to say. . . yes Roger. In this moment this conversation, the result of all of your hard work is incredibly important. People go hungry, children die of lack of sanitation world wide, more and more species disappear forever as we hurtle down the path we have chosen. I pray for breakthroughs in the Spirit and of the Spirit!
    c.

  2. PS: I was just reading an article about research done on empathy. While a lack of empathy can be due to genes and early parental care (or lack thereof) it can also be socialized through group norms. We see this all the time even in the political discourse. The language used, the assumptions made, the descriptions of the poor (laggards on welfare) or the unemployed (unemployment insurance makes people lazy), or any number of other issues that are economic and political. All of this to say – it is critical that there be people who really, really are attuned to Jesus’ way of love involved in the conversation. Otherwise whole societies can be resocialized in very negative ways that discount or disregard empathy. c.


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