"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.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Fist Pounds at the Door

"'The financial crisis that we now face was created by design. It is intended to destroy the labor movement, crush the middle class, quash Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, reduce our foreign debt by 50 or 60%, force a restructuring of America’s debt, privatize all public assets and resources, and create a new regime of austerity measures which will divert more wealth to the banking and corporate establishment." - Danny Schechter, "Behind the Rise in Prices: A Plan to Torpedo the Dollar"

As Christians, we are called to think deeply about economic realities. Cardinal Ratzinger's instructions on liberation theology accuse Marxists of fomenting class warfare in a way that is contrary to the Catholic faith. Without going into a detailed critique of Ratzinger's interpretation of liberation theology, suffice it to say that his method is the opposite of Thomas Aquinas. Rather than discovering the truth of opposing positions by excavating the fundamental truths which are being proposed by one's opponent, he focuses on extreme positions and narrows and exaggerates their tendency. Thus he spiritually dessicates liberation theology of its fundamental truth by creating a false image of it derived from a narrow selection of extreme positions. For our purposes here, let us merely state the obvious - class struggle is a reality of the capitalist world. It was not invented by Marxists. The socialist insight recommends a strategy to end injustice and the oppression of one class by another. Liberation theology does not seek to foment hatred between classes, but to end the actual hatred embodied in the repression of one class by another. A close study of the Bible shows this recognition of injustice to be a biblical insight as well.

So let us imagine for a moment that we were free and that we weren't constricted by thousands of years of compacted oppression in the form of current economic relations. What kind of economy would a lover of Jesus Christ create?

Would we have a division of labor in which some give orders and others obey mindlessly without the opportunity to grow in wisdom and understanding? Would we have an economic structure that is essentially a dictatorship of the owning class? Or would the recognition that we are all children of God lead us to cultivate the gifts and talents of each?

Would we have an ownership system in which some own the means of production and others work for wages? Built in to this system is opposition between the interests of workers and owners. What benefits one side disadvantages the other side. A system that absolutizes property rights and relativizes worker's rights cannot be called Christian. The words of Catejan, commonly considered the greatest commentator on St. Thomas Aquinas, are relevant here, "Now what a ruler can do in virtue of his office, so that justice may be served in the matter of riches, is to take from someone who is unwilling to dispense from what is superfluous for life or state, and to distribute it to the poor. In this way he just takes away the dispensation power of the rich man to whom the wealth has been entrusted because he is not worthy. For according to the teaching of the saints, the riches that are superfluous do not belong to the rich man as his own but rather to the one appointed by God as dispenser, so that he can have the merit of a good dispensation." - Cardinal Tommaso Cajetan, St. Thomae...Summa Theologica cum commentariis Thomae de Vio Cajetani. In other words, our goods are owned by God and given to us so that we can share in His goodness and mercy by freely sharing them with others. Does not class warfare arise from an economic system that contradicts the Gospel root and branch?

Would we have an division of labor in which creative and humanly fulfilling tasks were the exclusive domain of a tiny minority at the apex while the vast majority are treated as human machinery to be tossed aside as soon as their usefulness for profit generation is ended? Does God truly will that some are naturally subordinate to others, that the talents of most are not worth developing while others can explore even the dimmest sparks of nascent creativity? Does the subordinate class truly grow in holiness through obedience to its corporate master? Is this really the vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Finally, would we have a system in which buyers and sellers must manipulate each other in order to survive? In which the smooth application of the techniques of attacking the good of the other must be the most highly cultivated skill set? I contend that such techniques are not an abuse of the system, but inherent in it and that the "virtues" it supposedly engenders are directly contrary to the attitudes and commitments of the Gospel.

Would a follower of Jesus Christ submit to a system which privileges industries that work directly for the destruction of human good precisely because they do NOT benefit the vast majority, but only a tiny minority at the apex of this system of injustice?

"The U.S. spends a fortune on military expenditures. Why? ...why don't big businesses...push as hard or harder for government spending on schools, or hospitals, or rebuilding and generating better housing, all of which can also generate profits? The real reason is conflicting interests at the heart of our economies. What makes military spending a wonderful pursuit, from the point of view of capital, is precisely that it does not benefit anyone but owners and to a degree the coordinator class. Military spending does not enlighten or uplift workers. It does not make workers more secure and confident. These failures, looking down from the offices of the owners, are good because they mean workers can continue to be exploited unmercifully. If, instead of building missiles, tanks, rocket launchers, military bases, etc., the same productive capacity went to education, health, housing, public transport, etc., then the expenditures would leave workers better off, more stable, more confident, better informed, and due to all this better able to bargain for a larger share of society's outputs, eating into owners' profits. That is why owners prefer military spending. It isn't that the elites love bombs like Dr. Strangelove. They are not perverse in that way. It is that owners don't want expenditures to actually benefit working people. A mindset, if you think it through, that is arguably even more perverse. Could markets be any more contrary to human need?" Michael Albert, "Parecon and Solidarity"

Could any economy be more contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than the one which currently holds the world in it's grip and is primarily directed from power centers in the United States?

The judgment on the system of global capital is found in the Book of Jesus ben Sirach, "He who loves gold will not be justified, and he who pursues money will be led astray by it. Many have come to ruin because of gold, and their destruction has met them face to face. It is a stumbling block to those who are devoted to it, and every fool will be taken captive by it." Sir 31: 5-7.

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