The Decade of Anger: Capitalism(s), Wisconsin, Egypt, and Beyond

Or Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Marxist ?

On December 31st, 2010, I was just shooting the breeze, and yet:

Tunisia.

Egypt.

Libya,

Bahrain.

Wisconsin.

Ohio.

Soon to be Texas.

One could not have imagined that non-violent protest would take the world by storm, but it has, and I am truly hopeful.

Christian Salafia suggests that it is Governor Scott Walker‘s fault for Wisconsin’s economic “crisis.”  However, that is impossible. Governors cannot cut taxes on their own. They need help from legislatures. According to this document, the Wisconsin legislature took up a vote for the tax breaks, but it was anonymous since no roll call took place. Now, if it turns out that even one of the 14 “missing” Wisconsin Democratic Senators voted in favor of the tax cuts, I think it would be safe to say that they are the ones who are guilty for behaving irresponsibly.

Over the past few days I have been keeping up and re-tweeting (that is not an endorsement) a few posts I disagree with, and many I do agree, but one in particular from Craig Carter’s fatigue of theologians who criticize capitalism.

I do not expect every Christian theologian to agree, but at least in mainline and progressive seminaries and churches it seems to me at least that capitalism is somewhat of a whipping boy, through the use of generalities.  What is agreed upon in these circles, for my two cents, is that the economic inequality as well as the uneven power distribution is at the heart of America’s moral crisis. From all the critiques of capitalism I have read in theological texts, it is not the abstract “labor theory of value” that is put into question, but the concrete evidence and statistics that points towards economic inequality and in-opportunity.  What is questioned is the impact that policies have on human persons.

In the first place, there are many forms of capitalism, and so one must distinguish between pre- & post- industrial capitalist setting, and secondly, with the advent of  de jure human enslavement (14th-19th centuries), I can hardly call that capitalism. At best, it should be considered a capitalist-friendly brand of mercantilism  and at worst, the re-birth of feudalism.  So when liberation theologians talk about capitalism in the U.S., it is more appropriately called corporatism, for it is the heads of corporation (and not the stockholders) who wield a majority of the economic power.  This undue influence is a product of Keynesian economics, where the state and corporations cooperate with such projects such as corporate-sponsored public projects (charter schools, prisons). What Craig Carter seems to be defending is this corporatist economic system which he and others mistakenly refer to as capitalism. However, I think I side with Ayn Rand (on this issue) in that capitalism has really never been tried. Especially when one thinks about the histories of racial segregation and denials of opportunities for persons of color up until the 1950s.  That, my friends, we cannot call capitalism, for it was a feudalistic racial oligarchy that went unchallenged for decades.

My concern for human flourishing, with human (bodily) freedom as the norm in the political economy allows me to agree with the critical analysis of persons such as a “Marxist” and “Laconian” philosopher such as Slajov Zizek, who consistently takes aim at chrony capitalism, while allowing me to reject his suggestion of communism as a panacea for our political situation.

In a collection of essays, John Howard Yoder compares the modern Christian theologian’s use of Marxist analysis to the early Christians’ assumption of the various Platonisms available to them in their surrounding contexts. I believe this comparison is quite accurate, with a few qualifications. Yoder’s “Liberating Images of Christ” in The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking suggests that the use of Christ as the norm in constructive theology relativizes all philosophies, so that no one philosophy is declared absolute; in Colossians 2:8 NRSV, the author advises believes to avoid having the Gospel captivated by any philosophy in our freedom to use human tradition to advance the Good News.

We have yet to see if capitalism works because it has never been tried, and what I see as problematic in the political economy is a government that intervenes in favor of companies that support politicians in power; Congress is not alone in this, for even this week, a federal judge is on trial in Louisiana for taking kick-backs for sending impoverished teenagers to a for-profit juvenile detention facility.

My inner-Minarchist says that this is exactly why only government should have the right to detain criminals in its capacity to protect citizenry.

I think with all of this in mind, the beginning of the Decade of Anger has convinced me that my interests for a potential PhD program may be the study of historical theology, with a minor concentration, possibly, in economics. Tentatively, I envision a theological economic project where the principle of non-violence is put at the forefront, similar to probably the free market pursuit of non-aggression, but with a concern for violence done to the victim, but definitely a call for the separation of corporation and state (thank you, Chad).

Enhanced by Zemanta

0 thoughts on “The Decade of Anger: Capitalism(s), Wisconsin, Egypt, and Beyond

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Decade of Anger: Capitalism(s), Wisconsin, Egypt, and Beyond | Political Jesus -- Topsy.com

  2. Ryan

    Yeah, I’m not sure if the choice is between capitalism and communism. It’s between an economy that serves people’s needs, and an economy that serves the interests of a few. I think that the less concentrated the economic power the better–no matter if it’s public or “private” economic institutions.

    Where are you looking to do your PhD?

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

      Good point Ryan. Craig Carter would argue that capitalism meets persons needs, and I would say it does so in a limited way, but it is not beyond criticism, especially theologically. So yea, whether it is public or private, the idea that any economy serves the few is problematic.

      Right now, PhD wise, I am looking at Southern methodist in Dallas, Rice in Houston, Vanderbilt, Duke, and maybe Notre Dame.

      Reply
  3. Brian LePort

    Rod, you are a prophet. I forgot about your prediction that this would be a decade of anger. Oh has it been that very thing!

    I am praying you will have a better oracle in December 2020.

    That being said, your Ph.D. idea is awesome. Do you have any particular figures in mind in church history that would provide you a dialog partner on the subject of economics?

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

      Obviously Clement would be one of them, since his writings address a quite wealthy Roman Egyptian Church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer also interests me, he was both pro-workers rights and pro- liberty (i would say). Martin Luther may be another (to get behind Bonhoeffer), and probably Moltmann.

      I would like to study the religious influences of Franklin Delano Roosevelt before I decide who else to study. I also need to ask around for more sources about how some Christians like Craig Carter come to the conclusion that capitalism is beyond criticism, and completely compatible with Christianity without qualifications. I think I’ll go comment on his blog to ask him.

      Reply
  4. Joe Mudd

    Hi I’m new here.
    Are you saying that you see communist teachings in the gospel’s?

    “Marxist analysis to the early Christians’ assumption of the various Platonisms available to them in their surrounding contexts. I believe this comparison is quite accurate, with a few qualifications.”

    because if you follow a Preterist perspective all of those verses would have to
    taken in the context of a warning for the church to be ready to get out of Jerusalem
    and to sell their land to literally Exodus Jerusalem to escape the soon coming judgment.

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

      Not what I am saying at all.

      What I am saying is this:

      Like the Platonism that eventually became popular in the culture of the early Church and was used in theology, John Howard Yoder is saying that that is how theologians today use “marxism,” as one of many philosophies to address the culture. Its more about cultural relevancy, for Platonism is no longer popular (in most circles).

      I am not aware of the preterist reading of Acts 2 church, I am guessing. I’m post-mill.

      Reply
      1. Joe Mudd

        It is the same as with the Gospels that the first covenant end of the age culminates
        in the 70AD destruction of jerusalem and the new covenant church is now the recipient of Gods favor. Thus the reference to the selling of land so that they could all get out before the destruction took place. The old covenant Jews were the
        Whore of Babylon and the Romans the Beast; prophecy fulfilled.
        I have not read Yoder I’ll have to check him out.

        Reply
        1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

          Well, Joe, at least the way I read Scripture, especially in letter to the Hebrews (especially chapter 9), Jesus’ death nullifies the First Covenant, and that the New Covenant is only superior because it is the Old Covenant, opened up to the Gentiles. There is no more need for sacrifice because Jesus’ death is final. I do not think that any other historical event can take the place of the Crucifixion.

          My understanding of Romans 9-11 tells me that God still cares for the Jews and that the Church while receiving God’s favor, it is only because the Jews received it first and we would not know what God’s grace is without them (John 4:22).

          Now, when Jesus tells his disciples to give their possessions and give to the poor, he does not mention Jerusalem, but he does say, that you may be perfect. I do not think we need to put intentions and thoughts into Jesus’s ministry when they are not there. What also complicates your reading of the Gospels is that Jesus before he ascends tells his disciples to stay in Jerusalem to witness and have some go out to Samaria, and the ends of the world. (Acts 1:8). Now, if you want to add to Jesus’ original intent, be my guest, but I will stick with the text.

          As for the Old Covenant Jews being babylon, that is only one potential reading of Revelation.

          Reply
          1. Joe Mudd

            Rod I completely agree until the revelation remark but this is all too timely for me as I have been reading Joel Mcdurmon’s articles at Americanvision.org on the parables in Luke and they have really come alive with context. I have been following the Preterist point of view for 20 years now; I was saved in 77 in jail but the word of God never fails to keep teaching; reteaching and revealing new (to me anyway) understandings. I came here because I searched the words Political Jesus as I have been so frustrated with the church’s non response to the happenings of our nation and the world. Anyway Mr Mcdurond’s series of 4 or 5 articles are (I believe)
            huge in the meaning of the political context of Jesus transfer of old to new covenant. I hope these are in order.
            http://americanvision.org/3962/wheat-tares-mustard-leaven/
            http://americanvision.org/3984/parables-of-judgment/
            http://americanvision.org/4002/jerusalem-the-have-not-whore/
            http://americanvision.org/4037/great-expectations-great-actions/
            http://americanvision.org/4068/the-time-is-short/
            For instance in the first article his description of the type of Tare and it’s
            properties can lead the student of scripture to very exact interpretations
            of these parables and their applications.
            Don’t get me wrong I’m not anti Semitic at all; I just feel Jews now have to
            enter the kingdom the same way as everyone else.
            Have to run but I’ll be back
            thanks.

  5. Rod of Alexandria Post author

    @Joe Mudd,

    I really do not read the parables in the manner that the people at American Vision do. Missing from Christian reconstructionists’ vision such as American Vision is the grappling of the idea of the restoration of Israel. I am not a dispensationalist, but I do recognize that there are promises in the Old Testament that are yet to be fulfilled. I reject any notion of “disinheritance” when it comes to the promises of God, I mean, unless one is talking about Howard Thurman’s idea of being disinherited.

    I would not call you personally as anti-semitic, but theologically, preterism has anti-Judaic tendencies, and with that Dominionism as well. The history of Christian anti-semitism poisons all Christian denominations.

    When one talks about political, in the literal sense, it means the literal word polis from the greek, the city. So the title of this blog is not just simply about government and notions of statehood, but making Jesus relevant to the whole of society. I would encourage you to read our About Political Jesus page, and the 2 posts that explain the title. It may clarify where Chad (the co-author) and I stand.

    http://politicaljesus.com/about-political-jesus/

    Reply
    1. Joe Mudd

      Hi Rod
      I think most Christians have sat through a plethora
      of sermons on the various parables as I certainly have but from time to time the holy spirit speaks and for me this latest bunch from Joel M. really has my attention. The political context of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus has to enter into
      the discussion of interpreting the scriptures; yes?
      I’m after the TRUTH period no matter where that leads. I want to know what Jesus meant; why He said what He did and what were the surroundings and goings on at the time. All this brings the prophets reward of understanding. Isn’t everything else just the satisfaction of hearing ourselves speak? I don’t know what God is doing with Israel; I stand by US being their ally non the less the angels dance when one accepts Jesus as Lord and isn’t that the point of the new covenant. I’m trying not to make this too long.
      I see the end times belief’s of the majority of todays churches as bad fruit from errant teaching
      and the political ramifications of this is loss of salt and light under a bushel and the judgment of having to live under a Godless govt.
      I hope this discussion isn’t irking you.

      Reply
      1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

        ‘I see the end times belief’s of the majority of todays churches as bad fruit from errant teaching”

        I completely agree with you in that regard.

        No, I am not irked at all. I appreciate you sharing your point of view, and introducing an interpretation that one rarely sees, albeit, I disagree with the approach. The political context of Jerusalem is important, but most of Jesus’ ministry happened out side of that city. It is important to understand the historical context and importance of each place that Jesus went to, in order to understand his audience and therefore, his message.

        Reply
  6. Pingback: Week in Review: 02.26.2011 | Near Emmaus

  7. Pingback: My Oracles for 2011: A Wrap Up |

Leave a Reply to Joel Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *