Re: Sabbath economics [was: Life after the oil crash]

From: Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com>
Date: Tue Nov 01 2005 - 10:58:43 EST

Bob Schneider wrote:

" You wrote that you used to be a biblical literalist in your youth, but your examples are not examples of a literal interpretation, but of reading things into the text of Rev."

In this instance, I was a literalist in the sense that I believed at the time the two beasts could be identified with specific entities in our world. Obviously the author did not intend the beasts to be taken literally as beasts but as allegorical figures representing monstrous evils in the world. Anyone who interprets them in any specific way thus of necessity reads things into the text. But the fact that one believes they are to be interpreted in terms of specific contemporary entities is characteristic of the literalist mindset.

Bob: "I would say the present system of global capitalism has been impoverishing an enormous part of the world's population,...."

Don: How much capitalists are impoverishing vs how much they are enriching is up for debate. I vote strongly on the side of enriching. For example, think of the many Chinese and Indians, etc., who are rapidly raising their standards of living because they are able to sell their products and services to Americans. Previously it was Japanese, Taiwanese and South Koreans. Debts have indeed been a huge burden to several of the poorest countries, but one must ask where those countries would be if they hadn't been furnished the funds that got them into debt in the first place. The fact that there were lenders to lend them the funds was only because there were capitalists who had those resources. Are you arguing that every poor country is entitled to gifts of money, as much as they like? Or is it that the lenders should never have lent in the first place?

Then there's the question of the role of governments. Many loans to poor countries in the past have actually been forgiven, and large gifts of money and other resources have been dumped on many of the poorest countries. Guess what? Those doing the giving are now coming to the realization that those gifts have been of little or no long-term help. The economies of such countries just never get any better as a result of this largesse. What many of these countries need instead is to build their economies from within--like China and India. They need to generate products, and they need markets for those products. Here's where rich governments could be of real help: Stop subsidizing their own farmers, and facilitate trade with poor nations.

Bob: "...We as individual believers in one of the world's wealthiest nations need to start reflecting on how we have become part of the problem. I recommend to all that they meditate on Mark 10:17-31. It's a story about economy; try not to spiritualize it or explain it away."

Don: Jesus gave us many hard sayings, and the Mark passage is of course one of them. But was this intended as a universally applicable economic principle? Only minimal reflection tells us that, if everyone followed Jesus' command to the rich man, there would be no such thing as an economy, and everyone would be dirt poor and starving. Is this what Jesus intended? We could think so perhaps if his second coming had been only a year or two away at the time. We cannot think so when we know people need to work to survive over a much longer period. Then an economy becomes essential.

So what lessons do we take away from the passage? First off, Jesus really does stand up for the poor, and our efforts to help them are almost certainly less than he would want. But then we use our heads and realize that we are far better able to help the poor if we maintain our sources of income than if we make ourselves poor. This is especially true when you talk about the poor of distant nations. The only way most of us will ever be able to help such people in any substantial way is by giving money to charities that, we hope, will make a difference. If we simply dump all our money on them, in a short time everyone will be poor, because it's well established that those poor won't know how to use our money for their own long-term benefit.

Actually, the real message of the Mark passage is not at all about economics but about level of commitment. Jesus saw that this rich man was so firmly and elementally tied to his possessions that he could not truly commit his life to God. For him it was necessary to make a radical break.

Don:

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Robert Schneider<mailto:rjschn39@bellsouth.net>
  To: Don Winterstein<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com> ; asa<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>
  Sent: Monday, October 31, 2005 7:18 AM
  Subject: Re: Sabbath economics [was: Life after the oil crash]

  As Karl Marx once wrote of capitalism, "Accumulate, accumulate, accumulate--this is the Law and the Prophets."

  No, I'm not accusing you, Don, just asking you to think about your defense. You wrote that you used to be a biblical literalist in your youth, but your examples are not examples of a literal interpretation, but of reading things into the text of Rev. I think that the economics of the Kingdom of God as presented in the true Law and the Prophets and reinforced in the teachings of Jesus do not demand that we return to an agrarian society, nor does it demand that we throw out capitalism. But if we are as Christians to take the message of God's Rule seriously, then we need to study it carefully and examine ourselves to see to what extent we are enmeshed in the present market-driven political-economic system, give close attention to its excesses and inequalities, and find practical ways to transform it, starting at home and in our communities. You said yourself that "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." I wouldn't say, "from time to time"; I would say the present system of global capitalism has been impovrishing an enormous part of the world's population, and that in many "poorer" countries, the people are suffering even more than they did a few decades ago, especially because of debt-burdens (compare Galilee in the first century). Something transformational needs to be done. The millenium Jubilee program that many churches promoted for debt-relief was a start. More importantly, we as individual believers in one of the world's wealthiest nations need to start reflecting on how we have become part of the problem. I recommend to all that they meditate on Mark 10:17-31. It's a story about economy; try not to spiritualize it or explain it away.

  There's more than could be said, but I'm too busy presently to continue.

  Bob

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Don Winterstein<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>
    To: asa<mailto:asa@calvin.edu> ; Robert Schneider<mailto:rjschn39@bellsouth.net>
    Sent: Monday, October 31, 2005 9:30 AM
    Subject: Sabbath economics [was: Life after the oil crash]

    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.

    Don

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Robert Schneider<mailto:rjschn39@bellsouth.net>
      To: asa@calvin.edu<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>
      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 Tue Nov 1 10:58:16 2005

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Nov 01 2005 - 10:58:16 EST