The “stimulus” and economic assumptions

What seems to get lost in all this shuffle about whether or not the Senate will pass Obama’s economic stimulus package, in what form, and what compromises will have to be made with the House, is that there is absolutely no debate about what form the economy should take. It is simply taken for granted that what is needed is to enact provisions that will spur spending and kickstart once again the cycle of consumer-driven “growth”.

That we call it “growth” masks the real costs of such an economic system: the fact that millions, even billions of people are left by the wayside, their prospects not growing but quite the opposite – growing only in hopelessness, despair, hunger, and the inability to procure for themselves and their loved ones the even basic necessities of life; the increasing strain on an already-sick planet as we poison her air, water, and land in the drive to extract resources to fuel the production of “goods”, the increasing purchase of which will fuel continued “growth”, all driven by the (ought to be clinically) insane belief that a world with finite resources can support infinite, exponential economic growth.

Even the language of recession bears witness to our idolatrous worship of progress, for is not recessing the very opposite of advance, of progressing? It would do us good to see the current economic crisis as just that – an eco-nomic crisis. The most common definition of “crisis” in the common parlance, is something like this (from Mirriam Webster’s online dictionary): “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending… a situation that has reached a critical phase”. As instructive as this definition may be in so many ways, there is another definition of “crisis” to which I wish to point your attention: “the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever”.

If the economic system currently accepted by the Western powers is causing the entire planet to become sick, then perhaps the best language to use regarding it is not the language of progress and prosperity, but of disease and illness. Consumer-driven corporate capitalism might better be understood as a pathogen, a disease-causing agent that is draining the life of our home, the earth itself. The current economic crisis provides an opportunity for reflection and action to possibly break (at least some of) the power presently-existing economic structures hold over our lives, the life of the earth, and the lives of humankind.

Furthermore, even the word eco-nomic is significant. Eco is derived from the Greek oikos, meaning “household” or “home”, and nomic from nomos, or law. Eco-nomics, then, is the ordering of the home, running the household. While we moderns have so often limited economic discussion to the performance of markets and its effects to factors that can be reduced to matters of cents (and dollars, euros, yen, etc.), it doesn’t make any sense to limit discourse on the economy to these things. Perhaps we like them because they’re more easily quantifiable, or perhaps it’s because it hides from us those things we do not wish to face head-on: the plight of those who are systematically disempowered and impoverished by the “advancing” global economy, and the pain we ought to feel if only we were in touch with the voices of the earth and its other, nonhuman inhabitants. Let us instead seek to formulate an eco-nomics that will enable us to more rightly order our life together in our home, as inhabitants of earth and of the particular communities in which we dwell.

The eco-nomic crisis has the potential to be a turning point in our understanding of how we relate to our home and how we order our existence within it. Christians in particular, who believe the earth to be the creation of God and a gift into which we have been placed by our loving Creator bear a particularly acute responsibility to enable oppressed voices to be heard. This is no less true for the voices of the nonhuman creation than it is for the voices of people of color, women, GLBT/Q, and others who have suffered exclusion and oppression at the hands of the discourse of power and its embodiment in socio-politico-economic structures. For the church, the current crisis provides a golden opportunity for prophetic engagement, for sensing the heart of God and communicating truth in the now, and not only that but also for putting flesh on prophecy – creating economic relationships within the church to serve as a witness and a model to the world that we can live in ways that are more faithful to our nature as created beings in relation to God, to each other, and to the land, water, and air – a holistic eco-nomics with a trajectory towards health, not disease.

May your basilea come, your will be done – just as in heaven, so also let it be upon the earth. Amen.

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6 Responses

  1. Sorry Barr This is just a deflection to what our problems are. This is the double edge that the Bible has thrown at us. The Bible clearly says to rely on prayer but also says the God helps those who help themselves. This problem is man made, we as men need to fix it. Pray for the strength to live through it, the knowledge to fix it, and the foresight to prevent it from happening again. We as Christians find it easier just to say “this is just a test from God” or “his Will be done”. But that just takes us out of the situation. So that in our minds we are then blameless. So then no matter the out come we are able to put it on God. I get annoyed with how we as Humans keep finding ways for ourselves to be as blameless as possible. “Daddy didn’t hug me as a child thats why I stole the car.” etc.. And these are now acceptable reasons. We should hold ourselves accountable and as Christians to a higher standard.

    enough of the rant.

  2. The Bible says God helps those who help themselves? Where? It ain’t in my Bible.

    I don’t think you’ve really understood what I’m saying here. What do you mean by deflection?

    The problem is indeed that we have created systems that are doomed to failure, and action must be taken to make changes, but the first step to change must be imagining how things could be different. That means examining the ways we think about things, and reassessing the language we use to describe the situation is a key part of that.

    Humankind is responsible for our idolatry (in this case idolizing economic progress over honoring the creation God has made, of which we are a part, and each other who are created in God’s image), but it is also certainly true that some are more responsible than others and some are in positions to make decisions that will affect others, when those others have no power to affect those decisions. The pending closing of your plant is one example.

    I believe the place to begin imagining differently is the church, who are supposed to be the people of the new creation. Imagining differently leads to living differently, and change is necessary (and not the Obama kool-ade kind of “change”, either).

    It isn’t as if simply rolling up our sleeves and getting down to business is a Biblical solution either. We have to have a vision for action that begins with God’s vision, which must be rooted in the scriptures. It must honor commands such as the imperative to “love justice, practice mercy, and walk humbly with [our] God.” A solution that starts otherwise is no solution at all.

  3. Hello Everyone,

    God’s will is that we bring forth righteously. Capitalism, coercion, and pollution aren’t righteous.

    I agree with you, Jason, provided I may qualify the “GLBT/Q” aspect. I don’t hold with coercion, but I don’t hold with the lie that homosexuality is harmless: “Homosexuals: What they ignore.”

    By the way, it took me a while a couple of years ago to figure out what each letter in GLBT stands for. Now, what’s the Q for? This is the first I’ve seen it.

    Furthermore, I tried to join the “Friend of Missional” group. I put the linked image on the RLCC site and informed them that I agree with everything in their statement (at the time) with the exception that I don’t have any doubts about Jesus and God. I was never added to the roll and was never contacted, even though I did a follow-up email. That was weak of them. I’m negatively impressed.

    Blessings To All,

    Tom Usher
    Real Liberal Christian Church

  4. Tom,

    Q stands for “Queer”, which in some circles is used as a summary of GLBT and other categories that may not fit within GLBT.

    My reason for including GLBT/Q is because in my experience, people who identify as such have more often met with suspicion and hostility in “Christian” environments, and I don’t think there’s much question that they qualify as a historically-oppressed community in the Western world. It’s not necessarily an endorsement of lifestyles.

    I joined Friends of Missional and it took several weeks (maybe even a couple of months, I don’t exactly remember) before someone contacted me in return. It’s unfortunate.

  5. Hi Jason,

    Do you acknowledge that the homosexual lifestyle is inherently harmful?

    If not, why not?

    If so, do you acknowledge that we are always obligated to be truthful about that with everyone including children?

    Again, if not, why not?

    I won’t go into the semantics of the term “oppressed” at this point, because I don’t want to distract anyone from the questions immediately above.

    I’ve asked direct questions. I look forward to direct, unambiguous answers (no implications; just prompting).

    God Bless Truth,

    Tom

  6. I don’t think “homosexual lifestyle” is a very helpful term, because in my experience there is a wide diversity of lifestyles to be found among queer people, just like there is among heterosexual people. And “homosexual” as a blanket term does not cover the diversity of identities implied by GLBT/Q.

    That being said, I don’t think there is any way to square same-sex romantic relationships with Biblical prescriptions for life (though for me notions involving gender as a social construct are still open to debate). And because I believe the Bible teaches us about the nature for which we have been created, I also believe any way of living that is not consonant with Biblical prescriptions is going to be unable to help people become what they were created to be. And the call to both personal and social holiness, rooted in agape love for God and each other, should be the basis of all our preaching and teaching – including (perhaps especially) regarding sexual matters.

    I also don’t think that precludes us from noting that GLBT/Q people have been objects of oppression in various ways within the dominant political and social discourse, as well as mistreated by the church. But that’s a matter you wanted to avoid at this stage in the discussion, so I won’t say much more about that except to say I have also encountered queer people who view anything less than full acceptance as oppression, and as a Christian committed to seeking a Biblical view on all things that is something to which I cannot give assent.

    That’s probably the closest you’ll get to a direct answer from me on most questions, sorry if that’s not direct enough.

    God is Truth,
    Jason

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