Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Isms" and the economy of God

""No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight."" (Luke 16: 13-15)

So I've been out at the cabin since yesterday morning. I've really been trying to discern God's desired will for me. In fact, I've been wracking my brain over it for weeks now. (No, I still have no conclusion.) Part of it is my own doing. I seem to think about God every waking moment. Yet I rarely get my selfish butt into a chair to even open the bible like I should. It's just so much easier to grab my cup of coffee and check e-mails.

N-E-Way, this morning was a little different. I woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the lake, and decided to get some reading and meditating done. I'm not sure if what I read is a part of the answers to what I am looking for. But it certainly could be.

But lets back up a bit first...

A week ago, I was having lunch with a friend. My friend is to the right of me politically. (I'm never sure where I am anymore, since the political ground seems to shift under my feet with every election.) Anyway, in our conversation, politics & economics came is so often the case.

My friend was surprised when I mentioned that a Christian thinker I enjoy was most likely a "Socialist." My friend stated that it was not possible to be a Christian AND a Socialist. He said that socialism elevates the role of government to the position of God, and therefor was incorrect.

This got me thinking about how God looks at humans and the economy. Jesus had a lot to say about money & wealth. He warned of it's dangers all the time. But at the same time, he used a lot of business style analogies to make his points. From my perspective, it would appear that Jesus really didn't have an "Ism" when it came to economics...i.e Capitalism, Socialism, etc. But he did have a "Kingdom-style" view, that's for sure.

So, let's take a look at world economic views, shall we?

SocialISM: The State runs the economy in one form or another. It provides a cradle to grave welfare state. The basic needs of everyone is met. I think that sounds perfectly compatible with being a Christian.

However, I also agree with Thomas Friedman, when he said that the only equality socialism ever brought to a country was to make sure that everyone was equally poor. History has shown that it's a lousy way to make an economy thrive, or for the truly gifted and entrepreneurial to be rewarded. And, yes, it does raise the State to the level of God in many respects.

MarxISM: Well, Marxism is a religious worldview that teaches a collapse of all economics & government, and the rise of a utopian future...without God. That pretty much nixes that for me.

CommunISM: A "Dictatorship of the Proletariate," in which the State, or usually an individual, assumes absolute control over every aspect of the socialism on steroids. This is why all communist systems end up being run like a religious cult, from Stalin to the current "Dear Leader" of the rancid armpit known as North Korea. (Yeah, you can toss Jesus out the window if you are going down that road.)

FascISM: When the Nation/State, and it's majority ethnic group is trumpeted as being superior to all others. Sure, you get a freer-market system. But you also have to bash anyone who doesn't look or think like you...and maybe an invasion of your neighbor, just to be on the safe side. (Can't quite see Jesus enjoying that very much.)

LibertarianISM: A completely free market, with no government regulations to stifle economic growth or creativity. Also, a completely free social system. You wanna set up a lemonade stand in your front yard while puffing on a blunt and shooting your guns in the air? Don't mind if I do! Wanna marry two women, a man...and a sheep or three? Have at it! Wait, you got a finger cut off while cutting up the lemons, your kid from one of your wives is autistic, AND one of your sheep wants the streets paved...but your lemonade stand isn't bringing in enough money to pay for all that?!?!? Sorry buddy, you're on your own!!! (Not to worry, I'm sure that a charity will pony up some dough for a new thumb at least.)

Let's face it, Libertarianism raise the individual up to the level of God. It also leaves a brutal, social-darwinist trail in it's wake.

CapitalISM: We in America assume this to be the only natural choice. But the fact is that modern Capitalism has only been around for a little over 200 years. Before that, we had "Mercantilism." (Which was a weird combination of Socialism AND Fascism.)

There is no doubt in my mind that a free-market system offers the best opportunity to create an economy that provides the most for it's people. Yet, it is based purely on greed and self-interest...which strikes me as not being very Jesus-like. Yet, maybe that is precisely why it works so well. Humans are sinful. Let's admit it, we're greedy little toads. (I am at any rate.) Capitalism works because it is based on human selfishness in it's most efficient form.

It certainly is efficient. Which is why we look the other way when millions of people around the globe are exploited for the very sake of efficiency. As long as I only have to pay so much for that shirt I don't mind that it cost some dude in S. Carolina his job. (That little kid in Honduras needed his 12 hour work day in the sweat shop anyway.) Doing that makes perfect economic sense. It DOES! That still doesn't make it very Christ-like, does it.

Since I lost my teaching job, I've essentially been in a lower blue-collar position. I'm not in poverty. But I have to be extremely careful with ever check. Sometimes I need my family to help me out. (I even had to go without health coverage for a year.) While all this was happening, I watched my company freeze wages, cut benefits, and force us to take a one week UN-paid vacation...while at the same time spending $120,000 per store to install a camera system designed to spy on the employees. I should also mention that ALL of the upper-managers got their bonuses every single year that this has been in affect.

It was pointed out to me that the department managers get their bonuses by coming in under budget. The easiest way to achieve this is to cut the hours of the other employees. This will result in approximately $60,000 in bonuses per store...even though the total hours cut do not add up to that much in savings. Is that "Capitalism?" Or is there another word for "Thuggery, Exploitation" or perhaps "Bullying?"

An efficient system? Yes. Is it something Jesus would endorse? I dunno. I have no answer, other than to say that all systems are sinful because they were created by sinful men. I do know this: When Jesus establishes his kingdom here on earth, there wont BE any "ISMs" anymore. Our concept of economics will be so radically transformed by his presence that all greed, exploitation, welfare, elitism and class & class-warfare will be gone forever. (It will be very weird to have been a banker OR a homeless person once the kingdom is here in full. Both of them will feel very out of place.)

So this morning, I was reading in Shane Claiborne's book, "The Irresistible Revolution." In Chapter 6; "Economics of Rebirth" there is a section called "Theological Prankster." Shane points to some of the odd ways that Jesus approached money.

In one story, to pay the temple tax, Jesus gets Peter to grab a fish and pull a coin out of it's mouth. (Which really does one-up the old rabbit out of a hat trick.) He was sort of making the point that money was just money, and that God would always provide. Jesus was doing a bit of street theater, lampooning the whole system of finance.

It should be pointed out that not so many years later, the Emperor Domitian use to say that since he was a god, he controlled the animals & nature, and that fish would leap up to lick his hand. Perhaps Jesus was putting a bit of foreshadow in his comedy.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus if they should pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus asks them whose picture is on the coins. He says to give to Caesar what is Caesars...and to God what is God's. Caesar makes coins with his image on them...he can keep them. God made Caesar, and so bares God's Caesar sure ain't God. Shane said, "Once we give to God what is God's, there's not much left for Caesar."

At the end of this section is a story I heard about a few years ago. Shane had one a lawsuit against the NYC police for wrongful imprisonment & harassing the homeless. Long story short, he was given $20,000 to work with. Shane has the spiritual gift of poverty. (Odd gift, I know. But I would rather like to see Mac Hammond & Kenneth Copeland blessed with such a gift.) So money doesn't hold much sway with him or the community he works in...which will help to make the following a bit more sensical.

Shane and all of his homeless friends, poor people, and other people from his community who serve each other through a barter system based on the early church, decided to take this money and have a "Jubilee" of sorts on Wall Street. They sent some of the money in $100 bills to other communities like theirs. The rest, along with other odd bits of change they collected (Over 30,000 coins I am told), they took to the main entrance of the stock exchange. At 8:20 in the morning they proclaimed the jubilee in honor of the New Jerusalem.

They proclaimed; "Some of us have worked on Wall Street, and some of us have slept on Wall Street. We are a community of struggle. Some of us are rich people trying to escape our loneliness. Some of us are poor folks trying to escape the cold. Some of us are addicted to drugs, and others are addicted to money. We are a broken people who need each other and God, for we have come to recognize the mess that we have created for our world and how deeply we suffer from that mess. Now we are working together to give birth to a new society within the shell of the old. Another world is possible. Another world is necessary. Another world is already here!!!" (Page 188)

With that, they blew a ram's horn and showered the streets with ALL of that money.

The freaky part was that the police, who had been ordered to get rid of them, either stood back or joined in. In fact, other strangers began to empty their pockets too. People began to give their coats to those homeless people, and others began to buy bagels for the crowd. One guy even yelled out, "Now I can get my prescription filled!"

I'm still perplexed by this story.

I think that there are some valid criticisms of this approach. But what I can't argue is that a guy like Shane seems to have a much healthier approach TO, and understanding OF money than the average American does. (Certainly in my case.) I also think he understands the provision of God, and God's faithfulness a LOT better than I do.

It has certainly given me a lot to think about this morning.



P.S. I now present the national anthem of Capitalism. (I still need to think of some appropriate ones for the other ISMs.)


  1. That is one of the strangest things I have ever heard. What were they trying to accomplish?

    Money still remains the largest religion on the world.

    This I believe.

  2. I'm not exactly sure. But maybe that GOD is God, and not money. It's pretty freaky to live in a world in which money no longer has a hold on you.