On Capitalism and the Violence Inherent In the System
November 27th, 2007 by Sonja

This is one of my very favorite movie clips of all time. I absolutely love this bit from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. It has so much texture and it’s funny to boot. It never fails to get me laughing. Never. Even though I can just about recite it from memory. But watch … then we’ll talk.

So I was reading over at Bill Kinnon’s the other day about the latest irony in Christendom. I guess Brian McLaren is decrying consumerism by asking folks to buy his books and CDs. Kinda funny, no? Not funny, haha, but funny weird as my Grampy O would say. Yeah, it’s ironic and sorta sad. But Brian is just doing his schtick. He’s gotta make money too, ya know. We all havta make money.

Someone wrote a fairly insightful comment at Bill’s and it got me thinking. Here’s the bit that sparked my brain, but you should read the rest at Bill’s place:

I question our use of a system that is biased towards marketability regardless of quality. This creates a profit oriented motive to do “ministry” and fosters the growth of dubious theology. It entices people to compromise on their values and principles to get better sales and/or increase marketability.

I question whether the growing trend towards fee-for-service ministry is appropriate because it shuts out the poor. One of the marks of the messiah that Jesus shared with the followers of John the Baptist was that the gospel is proclaimed to the poor. — Leighton Tebay

This idea is not fully fleshed out yet, so please bear with me. But my thinking is that we poor humans have absolutely no idea of what to do with an infinite God. In this capitalist age, we are less equipped than ever. In the days when faith reigned supreme we had a chance, but now in the age of reason we are handicapped, stunted and miserly in our perspectives on God and His provisions.

We start young. We begin as children, competing for the attention of our parents. Various behavioral issues are seen as efforts to compete for a limited resource (our parent’s time and attention). It continues even more voraciously in our public schools with 20 or more children in a classroom competing for the limited resources of the school system. Most obviously they compete for the time and attention of the teacher on a daily basis. Life becomes a zero-sum game. And all of us learn how to play it quite young. In places that we’d never suspect it we begin to assign winners and losers in the crevices of our minds. We understand that in an environment of limited resources, we are responsible for grabbing all that we can for ourselves. God helps those who help themselves, right? It’s in the Bible somewhere. And no one wants to be stamped with the scarlet “L” for Loser. Because losers don’t get any of those scarce resources … whatever those resources might be.

Can you hear the violence inherent that system? In such a system we must constantly be at war with one another. True love is not entirely possible, because we must also compete with each other for limited resources. Thus, even while we know that commercialism is wrong, we might tell each other of it in the same breath as asking for increased sales of our books and cds. While this makes no logical sense, it does within the context of our socio-economic system.

There is, however, a better way.  God spoke of it when He revealed himself to us in his human form.  It involves laying aside our limited ideas of wealth, self-care, and resources.  It involves relying on the infinite and becoming careless and carefree.  All of this appears silly and we will become losers in the zero-sum game of capitalism.  But for an infinite God with infinite resources, with whom we do not have to compete for His attention.

No, I have no idea what this looks like.  I’m still thinking about it.  If any of you have some ideas … please put them in the comments, I’d love to hear them.

4 Responses  
  • Janet writes:
    November 28th, 200710:21 pmat

    This reminds me that the bible was written in a time where family, clan, tribe, people group meant something… communal times where your worth was related to your place in the tribe, rather than being about individual worth.

    Jesus had to challenge this prevailing wisdom in lines such as “let the dead bury their own dead”… (ie loyalty to the Kingdom of God was an even higher calling than duty to provide for one’s parents)… but I think Christ would challenge us in precisely the opposite direction in an individualist society.

    Consumerism is just a by-product of individualism. The church is meant to be counter-cultural… a sign and foretaste of a coming Kingdom where there is radical equality, where there is mutual servanthood, where those with material resources giving to those who are lacking, where we have One Lord without competing loyalty to the god of Mammon…

    If our imagination of “church” is an institution to which we turn up for a couple of hours on a Sunday, rather than a family to whom we belong, then Christians will be just as individualistic (and prone to consumerism) as anyone else I think…

    Just a rant off the top of my head…

  • Patrick writes:
    November 30th, 20071:15 amat

    It seems that if violence in inherent in the system (“we’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune…”) then to break the system we have to renounce the taking/purchasing/hording of consumerism and turn to giving.

    Giving is a profound spiritual act of faith, not just in terms of money or tithing, but in what we have. If really done as a community then there is a sharing, a mutuality, in which it might not look terribly different except underneath the surface. Meaning someone who has money gives, say for good words written by someone who had to forsake pursuing money for a time to write them, or music by someone who ponders something deeply, or a service, or some other way of participating in the life of another.

    If we are all giving then it seems like we are also receiving from each other, a circle, but not a circle in which we look out for ourselves but a circle in which we fall into the arms of each other trusting them for, maybe, even our daily bread. We empty what we have, and are filled by anothers emptying.

    Giving. With the key part everyone’s eyes on the ultimate value of the Kingdom.

  • Patrick writes:
    November 30th, 20071:17 amat

    Oh, and I have a lot of trouble with so much of the consumerism conversation. Ever since I had a pastor who on Sunday condemned the congregation for consumerism then during the week played favorites and recruited the person with the most leadership skills to help further his ministry while rejecting others. Consumerism with spiritual goals is sometimes the most pernicious type of all.

  • Calacirian » Living Within the System and Non-violence writes:
    November 30th, 20072:57 pmat

    […] In an earlier post I was pondering the socio-economic system within which we live and how it forces us to make choices that go against the grain of our faith on many occasions. There is a rather large gap between how we are able to live and the standard set forth for us by Jesus. We all have choices that we make on a moment by moment basis for how each us might close that gap, but the truth of the matter is that we will never close it. Not in our current system. I’m not talking here about that abominable chasm illustrated insufferably by the Four Spiritual Laws. I’m simply sayin’ … with the way things are in capitalism, or socialism, or any other socio-economic system that we’ve got at the moment there is a tension between what we want to be able to do and the limits on what we are able to do. All of us make different choices with how we will live within those boundaries. Some of those choices seem nonsensical to others, illogical, even ironical at times. […]

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa