Sabbath economics [was: Life after the oil crash]

From: Don Winterstein <>
Date: Mon Oct 31 2005 - 09:30:20 EST

Modern economies couldn't have come into existence without accumulations of capital. In fact, everything peculiar to the modern world depends (or has depended) on accumulations of capital. So taken at face value, Sabbath economics implies our world is not just sinful but is based on sin. Note also that modern scientific research could not be undertaken without accumulations of capital. And we would know petroleum only from where it seeps out of the ground.

In other words, Sabbath economics taken to extreme would allow only for agrarian cultures.

Hmmm. For a short interval in my youth I would have fully subscribed to this. That's when I was insisting on literal biblical interpretations and thought the first beast of Rev. 13 was godless philosophy and the second was science with technology--the latter also to be identified as St. Paul's "man of lawlessness" of 2 Thessalonians. At that time I thought agrarian society without benefit of any technology from science was the only kind of society that could be truly godly. Think dark ages = best of all times.

Maybe I was right then, but I hardly think so now. Now I believe that God intended for us to acquire the fuller understanding of the world that has been possible through science; and science has been possible only through massive accumulations of capital.

Capital accumulations also make possible the creation of huge cities with jobs for millions. These support large populations at much higher standards of living than an agrarian economy ever could. (I mention this when people start going on about the virtues of the Native American lifestyle and values.) There's no question that capitalists have trampled on the poor from time to time and that many aspects of capitalism and modern jobs are dehumanizing. We need to work on eliminating or correcting such problems and abuses as best we can. But to throw out capitalism at this point would have catastrophic consequences for hundreds of millions. (Go to communism, you say? Communists in practice still work with accumulations of capital; it's just all government-controlled; and government is just some assertive people who didn't earn the capital they use.)

Elevation of human power to the levels that capital accumulations combined with technology make possible can affect the God-man relationship in ways that can be harmful. If God thought the tower of Babel was bad because people were joining forces to accomplish great things, he'd have a thousand times more reason to think modern human achievements and goals were bad. In contrast, agrarian people would always be subject to vicissitudes of nature and are not likely to erect anything that could pretend to challenge God (i.e., apart from idols!).

I agree that it's good to review biblical concepts like Sabbath economics; but the primary value will be in extracting intrinsic ethical content and coming to terms with the reasons why that concept is no longer to be applied literally. Among such reasons would be arguments the apostles used as recorded in Acts 15.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Robert Schneider<>
  Sent: Sunday, October 30, 2005 3:35 AM
  Subject: Re: Life after the oil crash

  Regarding the substance of this conversation about life after the oil crash, I am reading a book that is the subject of discussion at my church: "The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics," by Ched Myers. I recommend it to everyone on the list. It may overturn your perception of how Christians ought to understand life in the community of God's People as opposed to our involvement (or entrapment?) in the capitalist political economy of our time. The disruptions that may ensure as oil becomes increasingly scarce may offer a risk-taking opportunity for the Christian family to lead the way in challenging the world community to think differently about economies of scale and the sharing of abundance, in opposition to the fundamental economic inequalities of our world.

  Bob Schneider
Received on Mon Oct 31 09:28:26 2005

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