"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Crime Don't Have a Face
Once we begin to create an economy that puts human need and the flourishing of the specifically "human" qualities (particularly those performed by the "Human One") at the center of all economic activity, we can then begin to live the life of freedom that is fully realized in the kingdom of God. The alternative, presented as "inevitable" by corporate propaganda speaking through its news media, is that "terrible inner sickness of a dehumanised world" which Ladislav Stoll saw as the inevitable result of the capitalist economy. From the Christian viewpoint, the force which impoverishes man in this way is one of the principalities and powers against which we fight: "What is most crucial about this situation, biblically speaking, is the failure of moral theology, in the American content, to confront the principalities - the institutions, systems, ideologies, and other political and social powers - as militant, aggressive, and immensely influential creatures in this world as it is. Any ethic of social renewal, any effort in social regeneration - regardless of what it concretely projects for human life in society - is certain to be perpetually frustrated unless account is taken of these realities name principalities and their identities and how they operate vis-a-vis one another and in relation to human beings." - William Stringfellow.
The ultimate root of the power known as "capitalism" is sin, the sin of preferring "having" over "being" - "'The more you have', said Marx, 'the less you are'. Hence his insistence that 'the transcendence of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and attributes'." - Randhir Singh, "The Future of Socialism". Without addressing an economic system which is founded on this sin, no effective realization of a truly Christian social program is possible. Christ cares about man in his concrete humanity, therefore he cares about the system, the powers that enslave him into a caricature of real humanity. As long as Christianity proclaims that the only method of transforming society is through the persuasion and conversion of individuals, the social ethic of change by osmosis, so long will the powers that keep us in social and economic slavery continue to flourish in behind a mystical obscurity. I'm not proposing orthodox Marxism as the vision of the kingdom - I am proposing that Marx had a keen insight into the sinful power of capitalism, a power inherit in the way capitalism operates in the world today. Ignoring these realities leads to a Christian practice that believes we can live truly human lives under an economic system that deliberately enslaves the majority of the world's inhabits to subhuman conditions in order to enrich itself. Such a system cannot be "reformed", or made acceptable through the actions of "saved" individuals, it can only be transformed through revolutionary struggle which seeks the end of capitalism itself. The discipline of this revolutionary practice is found in the Sermon on the Mount in its social implications.
As much as our current Christian leaders would like to have it both ways, we cannot have an economic system based on institutionalized greed and satisfy the just needs of human beings at the same time. "But to believe that you can assure need satisfaction through greed, private acquisitive drives, universal competition and strife -- the values of capitalism -- and yet hope for a humane society of cooperation and solidarity is utopianism of the worst kind." - Randhir Singh. Christians usually believe that private virtuousness can be fenced off from the surrounding social chaos, that islands of holiness can be created in the sea of monstrous evil which will "leaven the dough" of the world's basic sinfulness. By persuading one individual at a time to cease supporting the structures of sin, we will eventually create the new world. What is found in practice is that it is impossible to resist the structures of sin as individuals - the social power of the group as incarnated in the Church is absolutely vital. But the Church, whether Catholic or the main strains of Protestantism, has resisted the culture of greed with an uncertain and often self-contradictory voice, though it rings out clearly in many of the writings of John Paul II, Paul VI, and John XXIII.
The reality remains the same: "Subordinating humanity to economics, to imperatives of the market, capitalism commodifies life and undermines and rots away the relations between human beings which constitute societies. Its ethos of the market place -- competition, egoism, aggression, alienation, universal venality, in short the rat race -- creates a moral vacuum in which nothing counts except what the individual wants and can grab, here and now. At the end of it all, even when wants are satisfied, the people are ever more subordinated, ever less free, ever more flattened and made passive by the dictatorship of consumerism, that arbitrarily shapes values, imposing on them the heavy burden of uniformity. The values of difference, individualisation (not individualism), all-sided development of man, of human freedom itself, disappear in the market place which is proclaimed to be free. As human beings, people simply don't fit into capitalism, which is a quintessential market society. For a truly humane society to come into existence, capitalism has to go." - Randhir Singh.
A deep understanding of the Sermon on the Mount leads inevitably to a call for social justice. Archbishop Elias Chacour, an Eastern-rite Palestinian Catholic bishop in the region of Galilee, who escorted President Bush on a tour of the Mount of the Beatitudes in Israel on Friday, Jan. 11: "The Sermon [on the Mount] was calling for action in a certain direction. This is where Christ was calling on all his followers to get up and do something to get their hands dirty, protect the poor, heal the sick, release the prisoners - including those in Guantanamo Bay, and I will tell [President Bush] that." - Sojourners, "God's Politics" blog