Tag Archives: Lenten Season

Our Bondage And Our Freedom: on Lent and neoliberalism

William T. Cavanaugh provides an intriguing analysis of modern consumer culture in relation to Christian social norms and morality in his work Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. He addresses many questions that many Christian wrestle with on a daily basis. Namely, how does one embrace the teachings of the Gospel and Christianity in general while simultaneously participating in a culture that espouses an amoral foundation on material consumption? The ramifications of this answer not only have an impact on the local level but globally as well. This question is deeply rooted in articulating the human relationships in the midst of a capitalist society. At times in the United States the culture of consumption seems to be both inescapable as well as inevitable. From this insight another question becomes apparent. What is the true meaning of freedom in a free market economy? Cavanaugh seeks to answer this question in the first chapter.

milton friendman obamasized

He first points to Milton Freidman to identity the traditional notion of freedom in a free market capitalist society.  Friedman believes that freedom comes from absence of external coercion when two parties enter a mutually beneficial exchange of production (pg.2) According to this understanding all exchanges must be voluntary and informed.  Perhaps equally as important is that free market is defined in a negative sense. It is freedom from “eternal coercion.” Many have interpreted this to mean a freedom from state or government intervention.  In other words, freedom here is defined by the absence of external interference which ideally frees the individual to enter upon a mutually beneficial agreement. What is not factored into this notion of free market capitalism is the idea of telos. In relation to capitalism markets telos is broadly defined as common end through which desire is directed.  Every individual who embarks on an agreement according to this view of free market capitalism does so, based on their own individual interest. Neither communal good nor the wellbeing of society as a whole is factored into the decision making process.

 

Cavanaugh next point is to employ the work of St. Augustine as a corrective to this view of the free market. One of the more obvious flaws in Friedman’s view of free market capitalism is that quite often people do indeed enter into exchanges that are not mutually beneficial. One group is exploited while the other group does the exploiting. Perhaps the greatest example of this in modern society is the phenomenon known as global outsourcing.  Cavanaugh notes that many American businesses in the mid-20th century began to move overseas to Latin American countries because labor costs were much cheaper abroad. However, several decades later these same businesses moved again to the Asian continent because they hire laborer even cheaper there. Whereas the cost of production in Latin America was around 60 cents an hour for the average worker, in China that same labor could be outsourced at as low as 12 cents an hour. Compare this salary to the revenue generated from selling these items to American customers and it becomes apparent that this type of free market exchange is not mutually beneficial.

 

I think it is appropriate here to illustrate the exploitative nature of outsourcing through the context of the current season of Lent. Many people celebrate what is known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday for spiritual or secular reason. There are several aspects of this festivity that can be seen as problematic. Particularly, the Mardi Gras beads that are so readily celebrated are the result of exploited Chinese laborer. David Redmon’s documentary Mardi Gras: Made in China, exposes American fetishism of these beads and the paltry condition under which they are made. Workers in these factories, primarily teenage girls, spend 14-16 hours a day laboring over mardigras beads. For all of their efforts they make around sixty-two dollars amount by which they are supposed to support both themselves as well as their families. Redmon even notes how the factory owner states that he does not want more than 10 percent of factory workers to be females because the females are easier to control. The owner also mention how he docks one month’s worth of pay if he catches the workers fraternizing with members of the opposite sex. The list of exploitative practices could go on. Suffice to say Friedman’s notion of free market freedom does not provide the sort of freedom that he hoped for when it is practiced. Freedom from something in a free mark capitalist society is certainly not freedom from exploitation.

 

Augustine fits into this equation because for him freedom is not merely from something but for something. Freedom is the ability to work towards a common good or telos. Everything that we do should be for a greater good and to serve a greater purpose. For Augustine this good is deeply connected to God. All interactions and relationships should connect God’s goodness to society at large. This has implications on how to understand telosin relation to free market capitalism. Model of production as well as economic relationships should be based on the telosof promoting God’s goodness for anyone who considers themselves a Christian. This means that one has to recognize the exploitative nature of free market capitalism as articulated by Milton Friedman. Outsourcing labor that leaves one group at a gross disadvantage does not promote God’s goodness. God’s goodness is revealed through the divine equality that everyone shares. This should be reflected in human relationships. So what does it mean for a person to understand an economic system with a conception of telos?

 

Cavanaugh at various points in his work makes several recommendations on how to conceive an economic system while having in mind, what end that economic system should meet. As previously noted for Christians this telosshould be towards the purpose of serving the greater good, articulated as God.  There are many ways this can be accomplished however; I would like to emphasize one that I think is particularly important towards understanding freedom. Individual practices can be the way that any person can participate in their own liberation. What Michel Foucault calls practices of freedom can help to navigate a Christian perspective of how to view a free market system as freeing. Foucault’s notion of practices of freedom is the process by which an individual’s employ practices aimed at alleviating their own domination. According to Foucault oppression is not solely an institutional process. As such it cannot solely be attacked at an institutional level. It is up to individuals as well as communities to fight oppressive forces. For Foucault when oppression is examined through the lens of the individual it is more aptly termed domination. Individuals alone may not be able to overthrown oppressive systems but that does not mean they have to play a role in their own domination. Through using specific practices the individual is able to exercise agency in the midst of oppression or domination. In other words, through practices they are able to acquire their own sense of freedom

 

Free market capitalism as well as many other economic systems are so easily linked with exploitation that individuals lose any sense that they may be able create change. Thus it is imperative that individuals recognize their own agency in these situations. It is equally important that individuals realize that they do not have to contribute to their own domination. Practices of freedom can include education, speaking out against exploitative practices etc. It is the responsibility of every Christian to also engage in these practices of freedom as well. Through participating in practices of freedom Christian can actively work toward the telos that Augustine describes and that is necessary for a Christian understanding of economic relationships in a free market society.

(Photo description: Obama-ized photo of Milton Friedman where half of the photo background is red, the other blue. The words “FREEDOM” appear in text across the bottom. Found on Flickr.)

What I am giving up for Lent: Kyriarchy

Lisa Simpson

Image via Wikipedia

 

So last week, I announced that I was giving up KYRIARCHY for LENT.

I guess I did not announce it yesterday and that makes me a bad person. But yeah, I am giving up KYRIARCHY. If you notice, my blog posts have been a tad bit angrier and more detailed, because a small group of people going unnamed until later keep infuriating me with their smugness. So, I have responded with theological critiques of their world view, with my primary sources being that of feminists and womanists, what many would consider “The Other.”

For those not familiar with Kyriarchy, I apologize for making assumptions, so kyriarchy defined is:

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.
Patriarchy – Literally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms.  The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men to not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves).
– Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books   New York 2001

 

Thank you, Lisa.

It is a term that has superseded “PATRIARCHY” as such.

So, I will continue doing so for the remainder of the Lent season.  It’s not that I have never read or written on  feminist or womanist theology before, I did take two courses on Womanist theologies, but their words remained important yet truly never at the center of my work.  As a Black, heterosexual, (some would say traditional on social issues) male, I felt disturbed by the recent trend on biblio-blogs and theo-blogs with the lack of recognition for women.  Already I feel that my theology is shifting a bit, and re-reading Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza last week has renewed my hermeneutic of suspicion.  I feel guilty for not going to an Ash Wednesday service, but to make up for it, please enjoy this piece on the lives of women, from Women IN Theology, An Ash Wednesday Reflection.

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March: For Lent, NCAA Hoops, & Women's History Month

Or Should I call this Can The Subaltern Blog, redux?

Back in November 2009, there was a fuss of sorts in the biblioblogosphere where bloggers took sides in the debate on whether or not the Biblioblogs was gender exclusive. I remember arguing in the post linked above “Can The Subaltern Blog?” that to the extent that institutional Christianity excludes women from pulpits and biblical studies in general, that the heavily Christian Biblio-blogs will thus take on the same gender exclusion.

I am not trying to conjure up old ghosts, but I guess what I am trying to say, is that I admit failing today on my part to be “dedicated to anti-sexist movements within Christianity.” Even though I am one to intentionally use inclusive language when referencing to God and humanity, I am far from perfect, and perhaps my traditional views of marriage may see problematic for some, but that’s for another day

Earlier this afternoon I returned home to read a comment left by Kurk Gayle, who raised such interesting points, it bears repeating on this post, as  I have his permission.

My original post re-posting the February 2011 Biblical studies Carnival said the following,

“I must say, while back Deane Gailbrath did perhaps one of the best biblical studies carnivals of all time, but Matthew Crowe’s perhaps has made one of the most inclusive.”

Kurk made the following case against my remark, which I subsequently edited (I know when I have been corrected),

“It’s most inclusive if your name is

Adam Couturier
Andy Rowell
Ben Myers
Ben Myers
Bill Heroman
Bill Heroman
Bill Heroman
Bill Heroman
Bill Heroman
Bill Heroman
Bill Heroman
Blake White
Bob Cargill
Bob Cargill
Bob Cargill
Bob Cargill,
Brian Fulthrop
Brian LePort
Brian LePort
Brian LePort
Brian LePort
Brian LePort
Brian LePort
Brian LePort
Christian Brady
Christopher Hays
Claude Mariottini
Claude Mariottini
Claude Mariottini
Claude Mariottini
Claude Mariottini.
Dan Wallace
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk
Daniel O. McClellan
Danny Pierce
Darrell Pursiful
Darrell Pursiful
David Stark
Derek Leman
Dirk Jongkind
Doug Chaplin
Doug Chaplin
Doug Chaplin
Doug Chaplin
Doug Chaplin
Doug Chaplin
Duane Smith
Ferrell Jenkins
Gavin Rumney
Ian Young
James “Casanova” McGrath
James McGrath
James McGrath
James McGrath
James McGrath
Jason Staples
Jeremiah Bailey
Jeremy Thompson
Jeremy Thompson
Jim Linville
Jim Linville
Jim West
Jim West
Jim West
Jim West
Jim West
Jim West
Jim West
Jim West
Jim West
Jim West
Joel
Joel Watts
Joel Watts
Joel Watts
Joel Watts
Joel Watts
Joel Watts
John Byron
John Byron
John Byron
John Byron
John Byron
John Byron
John Cook
John Hobbins
John Hobbins
John Hobbins
John Hobbins
John Hobbins
John Hobbins.
John Hobbins.
Joshua Smith
JP
Ken Schenck
Ken Schenck
Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown
Kevin DeYoung
Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado
Marc Cortez
Marc Cortez
Marc Cortez
Marc Cortez
Mark Goodacre
Mark Goodacre
Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens
Matthew Malcolm
Matthew Malcolm
Matthew Malcolm
Matthew Malcolm
Matthew Malcom
Matthew Montonini
Michael Barber
Michael Barber
Michael Barber
Michael Barber
Michael Bird
Michael Bird
Michael Bird
Michael Bird
Michael Heisler
Michael Horton.
Mike Aubrey
Mike Aubrey
Mike Duncan
Neil Godfrey
Nick Norelli
Nick Norelli
Nick Norelli
Nick Norelli
Pat Roach
Peter Enns
Peter Enns
Philip Davies
Richard Beck
Robert Holmstedt
Rod Decker
Rod Decker
Rod Decker
Rod Decker
Rodney Thomas
Rodney Thomas
Rodney Thomas
Rodney Thomas
Rodney Thomas
Rodney Thomas
Sean Tabatt
Sean the Baptist
Seth Rodriquez
Shaun Tabatt
Steve Wiggins
Steven Robinson
T. C. Robinson
T.C. Robinson
T.C. Robinson
T.C. Robinson
Tim Bulkeley
Tom Verenna
Tom Verenna
Tommy Wasserman
Tommy Wasserman

“Rachel Evans invited ministers to tell the truth…about a lot.”

But to tell the truth, and sorry to hijack your post here Rodney, but just only including Rachel Evans among all these men only is hardly “most inclusive.”

Apparently, my errors have prompted Kurk to start blogging once again at Aristotle’s Feminist Subject. YEAH! GO ME!

Kurk’s criticism of me has inspired me for this Lenten season. I had been contemplating what to give up for Lent. No I am not joining Kevin of Diglotting in giving up biblio-blogging this Lenten season.

Instead, I think I will “give up” KYRIARCHY, in that I will try as much as possible in the area of blogging to reject my male privilege and use sources that are written by women during this Lenten season. In addition, I will try to make it a habit to link primarily to theo-blogs by women, and I’ll leave to your imagination what my next two ballots for the Bibliobloggers Top 10. Henceforth, I also give up my use of the oh so problematic term “empire of God“; although it may be accurate, it is no better than the “kingdom of God [thanks, KJV writers!] so I will try to find a better term, I am leaning towards either administration (theological accuracy, bureaucracy, angels, etc) or commonwealth.

Happy Women’s History Month. Let’s hope WHM trends on Twitter.