Friday, June 19, 2009

Is Capitalism Christian?

I haven't written anything pertinent to Christian Faith in quite awhile, so I wanted to get back into it with a couple of blog entries that have been brewing in the back of my head for awhile.

"I never been to the Sem-in-air-ee, but I been to Cal-va-ree." So goes the main line to a song by the Reverend Dan Smith, a Gospel Blues Singer/Harmonica Player from the South who passed away in the Mid 90's. I've tried in vain to find a way of posting his song "I Never Been to Seminary" for all to hear, but I did find out that you can hear a snippet of it if you go here. Such a neat sentiment, y'know? If someone was deprived of the privilege of a good education, it's great that they can say that they have been at the most important place, at the foot of the cross.

Of course, it would seem to me that he should also pay attention to that fact that if it weren't for "Sem-in-air-ee" training people to translate the Hebrew and Greek texts into readable English, perhaps Dan Smith wouldn't even have ever been able to hear about Calvary?


Here's the problem : What happens when we devalue education altogether, and make a lack of education a virtue? After all, there was a time when being a well-trained Theologian got you somewhere in life. At least, a guy named John Calvin seemed to do very well in his career as an Attorney/Theologian/Magistrate. More recently, American Theologian Reinhold Niebuhrwas featured in the 1900's on the cover of TIME Magazine's 25 Anniversary edition.

We live in an age where "folksiness" is a virtue - or at least has been. Somehow having an education is held up as suspect and a thing to be feared as part of a greater cabal to undermine society's cherished values. Folksiness is considered next to Godliness. But what have we traded on, in coming to this? Is the Church as a whole being listened to? Well if you have taken the temperature on how we are doing on the debates on homosexuality and abortion, you'd have to agree: not very well.

You are no doubt by now wondering what Rev Dan Smith, John Calvin, Rienhold Neibuhr and Folksiness all have to do with the title of this essay? Well I'm getting to that through a sort of long route series of thoughts. Bear with me.

Speaking of "Calvary" -it was in a local expression of the organization known as Calvary Chapel that I ran into "Get out of Bible college" sentiments, from the Pulpit no less. I think they relished that in the timber and farming industry town in Klamath County, Oregon. It's less threatening. An area that went almost 70% for Ronald Reagan in 1984 is most likely to be made up of meat-and potatoes thinkers who have no time for deep theological questioning.

And the local college there? It's a technical school with little tolerance for liberal arts. Get your education in something that will make you money is the mantra there. When I moved away from the area and started attending a community college at the other end of Oregon, I was surprised to hear a woman who dropped out of the major we were in exclaim that she wasn't bothered at all by not finishing her degree. As she said with robust pride: "Why? I now have a whole vast area of knowledge that I didn't have before!"


Why is knowledge not valued for it's own worth?


Why is anti-intellectualism such a deeply entrenched part of American life?


I don't pretend to know all the answers to those questions but I will definitely try to offer a few good clues before I'm done writing this. One better question to answer is: how do we get back from this long and winding road of hayseed-edness being so highly regarded?

Perhaps if Education were considered a basic human right, even up through the University level? After all, we consider it a basic human right up through grade 12, and society foots the bill. Then people would spend more time getting educated and gaining knowledge for it's own sake, not for it's sake as a commodity that produces financial results. And thing such as theology and philosophy will be more highly regarded as fields of study. Not that they aren't now, but face it: whens the last time TIME has put a Bible Scholar on the cover?

I like getting ahold of magazines and books that libraries often throw out. You never know what little gems can be found that will be of great use down the road. I recently came across the 12/11/2007 issue of Christian Century magazine, and was stimulated to though by an interview with Nicholas Lash, a Catholic theologian I'd never heard of before. You could say that this entire essay was stimulated by my having read this interview.

On page 32 is the following hot potato question by the interviewer and Lash's response:

CC: You’ve also written sympathetically about Marxism. After the collapse of communism, is Marxism still a philosophy that Christians need to engage? Why is it that some viable Christian version of socialism is so difficult to imagine in England and America?

Lash: "Those who doubt that Christians still need to engage with Marx are as foolish as those who doubt that we still need to engage with Aristotle, Kant or Hegel. At the heart of Marx’s analysis of the capitalist mode of production was his insight that it led, with almost mechanical inevitability, to what he called "the universalization of the commodity form," the transmutation not only of all things, but also of all relations, into commodities.

"I can understand why, in a culture as driven and absorbed by messianic capitalism as is the United States, versions of socialism of any kind are hard to comprehend with sympathy.

"As millions of destitute Americans continue to be deprived of adequate access to good health care, people of all parties in the UK regard the retention of the National Health Service, "free at the point of delivery," as essential to our cultural health."

"All things... all relations" ...turned into commodities. Health Care being charged an arm & a leg for because of the justification of an earned income that reaches the stratosphere. Degrees pursued because of their monetary value in "getting a job." Pastors of churches taking outside jobs, and the community is impressed that they are willing to work with everyone else, even though in Biblical times that situation of life was considered an albatross. Such a thing really points up the lowered esteem of the Church in our day and age.

Back to what I was stating earlier: Ever wondered why The Church is losing the debate on Homosexuality and Abortion?

Have we accommodated the language of democracy too deeply into our self-understanding?

Can we really tell that Doctor that he or she can be free to make $3 million per year and not just a paltry $1 million? And then out of the other side of our mouths tell that woman she can't have an abortion? Or that Gay Couple "you cannot marry?"

No. Not in a society that regards relationships as commodities and values individual freedom above all else. The only arguments we will soon be engaging is the Rush-Limbaugh-like "good old fashioned middle class values" dribble. Those don't hold up very well in a society where autonomy is sacrosanct.

Any arguments to the contrary regarding the assumed freedom of terminating a pregnancy or marrying a person of the same sex should be rooted in Communitarian understandings. The fact is, every culture which has held together throughout time and even mass immigration to other parts of the world has honored the sanctity of traditional marriage and the unborn. The Eastern Orthodox, Conservative Jewish Faith and even Old Order Amish and Mennonites tend to come to mind. Split of these communities happen when toleration of dessent leads them to conclude otherwise.

How did God go about keeping society in Ancient Israel from devolving into a mess of commodity-worshipping free for all? The year of Jubilee was one way. It didn't matter if you still owed money on the cusp of the 7-year period, and you had sold yourself into slavery to pay off your debts & feed your family. Your debts were to be forgiven and you were to be set free if you wanted. That kept the economy form freefalling into the type of financial mess much like today's Subprime Mortgage Crisis. And it was Redistribution of the Wealth, a cornerstone of Socialism. Today, if you get a debt forgiven it is income to you. The Government sends you a 1099C in the mail.

In this day and age where lawlessness and disregard for management of God's creation extends beyond personal reproductive morality, and into how we manage our fiances on a mass scale affecting society as a whole, this is a timely debate. Let the Church enter into a debate: Just how in line with the Judeo-Christian God's values is our Economic system?

Oh, I'm well aware that this would be an issue that would touch on so many things that couldn't possibly be covered in a single blog entry. But I'm ready and willing to engage it. One immediate question comes to mind: How would life in Christian perspective look like when implementing such changes as I am doing? Or what might get to the heart of what some may be thinking: Am I advocating a return to unhealthy church/state liaison's of the past that caused untold oppression & bloodshed?


In point of fact, advocating an "other-centeredness" about life, which is at the heart of my advocating a Christian-based repudiation of Capitalism, is exactly what will address these issues quite nicely. The Church ought to think of itself as like The Red Cross (an apt if imperfect analogy I cant remember where I heard): As a separate entity from Government that engages with society, challenging everyone towards implementations of peace & justice, as much as is humanly possible.

And what if future generations feel the need to go to war on behalf of the Secular Nation? Try the best to talk them out of it. but if they must go, make sure that when they come back, they are handed 2 things: A Bible and a Shovel. One for preaching to the lost and the other for rebuilding. And then send them back into the field from which they just came. And then begin to think about where else we can implement other-centeredness at the heart of Christian life.


Some other issues need ot be addressed in regards to this. No doubt people will talk about the simpleness of the disciples and Paul calling all his accomplishments in the flesh as refuse for the sake of the Kingdom as a rebuttal to my pro-education stance. That will be taken up soon, in anothe rentry.

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