"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.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Seek Ye First the Kingdom of Heaven
As Christians, we should target our economic vision using the fundamental truths revealed to us by the Bible, the saints and Fathers of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas has shown us that the goal of a society should to create a field of virtue in which its members can pursue their salvation in solidarity. Well-being arises from two factors according to St. Thomas: "For the well-being of the individual two things are necessary: the first and most essential is to act virtuously (it is through virtue, in fact, that we live a good life); the other, and secondary, requirement is rather a means, and lies in a sufficiency of material goods, such as are necessary to virtuous action." St. Thomas Aquinas, De Regimine Principum, chap. XV. From this we see that the goal of economics is to provide sufficient material goods to form the basis for the life of virtue. Rather than making security or survival or constant expansion of material goods the goal of economic policy, Christian economics must be centered in promoting the exercise of those virtues which lead to salvation.
Today we see the beginnings of such a society growing in Venezuela. The Bolivarian Revolution is rapidly eliminating the raging poverty which the Venezuelan people have long suffered despite the oil wealth of their country, but beyond that it aims at creating an economic system consistent with the highest standards of human dignity.
Hugo Chavez, the leader of this revolution, is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. He has put into practice the words of Jeremiah, "Woe to him who builds his house on wrong, his terraces on injustice; Who works his neighbor without pay, and gives him no wages. Who says, 'I will build myself a spacious house, with airy rooms,' Who cuts out windows for it, panels it with cedar, and paints it with vermilion. Must you prove your rank among kings by competing with them in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink? He did what was right and just, and it went well with him. Because he dispensed justice to the weak and the poor, it went well with him. Is this not true knowledge of me? says the LORD." (Jer. 22: 13 - 16)
True knowledge of God, according to Jeremiah, is to dispense justice to the needy and poor. Chavez has put love into action by reducing poverty by 38%, lifting up those who would never have had the slightest chance of education or real health care under the brutal oligarchy which flourished by the patronage of U.S. oil companies and is so desperate for the return of its unjust privileges.
A brief examination of the Bolivarian constitution shows that "human development" or what Aquinas would have called "the pursuit of virtue" must take precedence over profit: "In the 1999 constitution, Article 299, for example, emphasizes 'human development' as the cornerstone of social judgments and Article 70 states that the 'involvement of people in the exercise of their social and economic affairs should be manifest through citizen service organs, self-management, co-management, cooperatives in all forms, community enterprises, as well as other kinds of associations guided by the values of mutual cooperation and solidarity.'" - Michael Albert, "Which Way Venezuela?"
In other words, the development of the human person, through participation in collective decision-making, exercising mature social judgement, and learning cooperation through mutual support and empathy is the basis for the new society now blooming across the sea. In this way, the virtue of Christian solidarity is born through actual practice, through recognition of the dignity and capacity for of each person in collective action for the good of the whole. This new path is a stark contrast to the passive despair and brutalization that reigned where U.S. corporate interests dominate.
These beautiful goals have been accompanied by programs which have truly raised people from rampant poverty, unlike the trickle-down theories that have made poverty permanent wherever they were tried. What we see in Venezuela today are cooperative ventures incarnated in new social formations: "Another innovative feature of the Bolivarian project - or revolution - depending on your opinion - are the Socialist Production Units. These 'are companies run by the government and marked by extensive community involvement. UPS's are found predominantly in the agricultural sector, and they promote national agricultural sovereignty. Part of the profits of these companies is invested into community projects, which are identified jointly with local community leaders. In the long term, UPS's will ideally be handed over directly to the community and run as community enterprises.'" - Michael Albert, "Which Way Venezuela?"
Note that profits are made to be invested in community projects. Profits are shared in a way that builds community, that is aimed toward cultivating common interests. Such an economy does not condemn profits, but subordinates them to the good of the entire collective, rather than making them a goal unto themselves.
These are down-to-earth realizations of what I referred to in an earlier posting when I spoke about the difference between an economy that promotes solidarity and one which is based on creating divisions. The owners of capital in our U.S. economy profit more and get higher stock prices for their companies if 1) workers get less pay; 2) workers get fewer benefits; 3) workers work more intensely with less time off; and 4) workers are organizationally weak. These observations are not theories or the result of some emotional animosity to competition, but objective facts. Whether you are a buccaneer capitalist or a pacifist anarchist, these facts are widely admitted.
It is equally clear that such an economic system works directly against the Christian virtue of solidarity. Our primary social duty as Christians is to care for others, and grow in compassion. This growth in virtue can be fostered only by an economic system that vigorously rewards shared interests and common aspirations toward justice and equality. The current U.S. economic system not only works against solidarity, but makes those who obey their conscience less competitive.
Christian economics creates modes of production, allocation, and consumption that enhance ties among people. The Law of Reciprocity in economics means that in order for me to do well, I have to be concerned with helping others to do well. As I seek my benefits, economic forces pull me toward finding benefits for others. Fostering empathy and fellow feeling is the goal of a Christian economy, not efficiency, survival, security or any of the other idols of the capitalist economy. As Jesus proclaimed, "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and all these things will be added unto you."
"Capitalism is the way of the devil and exploitation. If you really want to look at things through the eyes of Jesus Christ — who I think was the first socialist — only socialism can really create a genuine society." - Hugo Chavez