"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.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
"It is the vision of a society with the goal (according to Saint-Simon) of providing to its members 'the greatest possible opportunity for the development of their faculties', a goal to which Louis Blanc referred as ensuring that everyone has 'the power to develop and exercise his faculties in order to really be free' and of a society in which, according to Friedrich Engels, 'every member of it can develop and use all his capabilities and powers in complete freedom and without thereby infringing the basic conditions of this society'" - Michael Lebowitz, "The Spectre of Socialism for the 21st Century"
This is the dream that cannot die. The fundamental injustice of capitalism is that it subjugates the development of our human capacities, for compassion, for creativity, for spirituality, to the demands of the marketplace. It then mystifies a situation which is the conscious creation of committed ideologues as the natural state of fallen humanity. As Christians, we have the legacy of a vision of the rich human being, exemplified most clearly in Jesus Christ and lived by saints throughout the ages. The subordination of our moral and spiritual aspirations to economic brutalization, along with the military excursions which this requires, can no longer be tolerated.
The division between secular economic life and personal religious life is an historical artifact. The new economic order which arose in the sixteenth century found it necessary to separate religious concerns from economic "necessities" in order to extend its profitable reach. The legacy of this split is the impotence of Christians and other religious to speak with clear and consistent authority on economic practices that violate the fundamental moral truths that Jesus Christ died in bringing to us.
But new voices such as Leonardo Boff who speaks out for another kind of spirituality "based on an ethic of responsibility, solidarity and compassion; and a spirituality founded in care, in the intrinsic value of each thing, in a task well performed, in competence, in honesty and in transparency of intentions." - Leonardo Boff, "Essential Care: An Ethics of Human Nature"
Real wealth is the person who is rich in his or her own humanity, rich in qualities and relations. Real wealth is the development of human capacity, for invention, for creation, for the unbiased pursuit of truth, for an ever-increasing sense of solidarity with others, especially those most marginalized. Jesus has shown us the way to true wealth. He provides the spiritual underpinning of that "development of all human powers as such the end in itself", which Marx spoke of as the goal of liberated humanity. Instead of acting as disposable batteries for the expansion of the wealth of others, we rise up in our essential humanity and refuse to subordinate the rich potentialities which God has given us to that which is fundamentally immoral - the enrichment of the few through the enslavement of the many.
We stand at a point in history where our need for development must begin to take precedence over the dominance of global capital which is destroying the very earth that it leeches from. The means to provide a decent life free from hunger and treatable diseases for all the people of this world now exists. The fact that these means are not being employed to carry out this purpose is a shocking scandal to the Christian conscience. "Our goal, in short, cannot be a society in which some people are able to develop their capabilities and others are not; we are interdependent, we are all members of a human family. Thus our goal must be the full development of all human potential." - Michael Lebowitz, "The Spectre of Socialism for the 21st Century"
This implies that we are participants, not consumers. Our fully developed capacity for conceiving and implementing new social forms requires that we participate in the formation of our own social reality. The cynical passivity which sits at the end of the pipe of production and sucks down whatever is generated by corporations implies a severely stunted humanity. It is by producing that change ourselves that we become transformed and enliven the powers of transformation. Social change is not a gift bestowed from on high by Presidents, policy wonks, or Congressional representatives. It is a burning hunger within ourselves to participate in the shaping of our own political and economic world, shaping them according the spiritual standards that grow within our hearts as we grow in the love of God.
Our struggle - to love God and transform society - is the means by which we grow as human beings. This power is not something we find in the voting booth, but it can only be discovered as we struggle to become more human in our relationships with others and to reject the passivity which consumerism instills. Change in ourselves is the only path to social change.
Orthopraxis is the daily practice of reinventing ourselves as rich human beings. We live democracy by practicing democratic action in our work life, our schools, and in our families. We do not believe that Christ has called us to crippling, impoverishing labor that stunts our humanity in order to glut a tiny minority with enough worldly goods to feed whole countries, which are then frittered away in useless luxuries. If the right to private property permits this, then that right is a slap in the face of God's people.
The consumerist culture is not merely an expression of fallen human nature which we must resist privately by refusing sinful temptations to avarice and gluttony. It is a consciously cultivated ideology which produces alienated and fragmented human beings who must try to satisfy themselves by possessing and consuming things. It is a deliberately anti-spiritual ideology which stunts and truncates human nature in the interests of profit, often with the collusion of Christian churches.
While socialists are often accused, particularly by Christians, of instilling class hatred, the truth is that class hatred is a fundamental feature of this economic system. In this system, we relate to each other as competitors or customers. Thus in every social transaction, we are habituated to treating others as means to our own ends or as enemies. This applies particularly to the relations between owners and workers. The system is designed to objectify workers in the eyes of owners, reducing workers to mere expendable units to be discarded at the least expense when worn out. This is the root of class hatred, not socialist propaganda. Our relationships with others are rarely fulfilling because of the training in manipulation which we have all undergone, and which has left us fragmented and crippled human beings. Human beings torn apart and longing for a real unity with others that always eludes them are duped into a magical unity promised by megachurches.
So what is the alternative? The new Jerusalem, the original unity of the human beings and in the words of Augustine, the common destiny of the world's goods: "God willed that this earth should be common possession of all and he offered its fruits to all. But avarice distributed the rights of possession." The redemption of the world includes redeeming possession, so that all might share in the bounty of the earth.