I’ve been searching for some inspiration lately on what to write on. I came across my Facebook profile’s ‘quotes’ section (who reads the about bit these days anyway?) and thoroughly enjoyed re-reading each one that I had written down. I thought it might be fun to unpack them a little bit – why they mean as much to me as they do. First up, Shane Claiborne:
“When we truly learn to love our neighbours as ourselves, capitalism as we know it won’t be possible, and communism won’t be necessary”
What I love about this is that it confounds the usual arguments of left and right. It rids us of the un-necessary, unhelpful divides that we find ourselves taking part in. Who needs politics when you’ve got Jesus, right?
Free People, not Free Markets
Don’t worry, I’m not about to claim that Jesus was some sort of Neo-Marxist and that all capitalism is clearly evil. At the risk of igniting a heated, emotive debate; I do think Jesus / God had a political ideology.
But before we get to what that ideology is, first I ask that you afford me the time to convince you that Jesus would even have such thoughts. Many Christians like to keep a nice, neat dividing ling between religion and politics. Either because they enjoy their comfortable right-wing agenda or because they’re so far left wing they see politics as a polluted, worldly pursuit not worthy of divine opinion, intervention or plan.
The way I see it, God made the universe, and everything in it. To quote the tradition of Genesis, God saw it and declared it was “good”. Rob Bell helpfully uses the phrase “taking part in the ongoing creation of the world” to describe our role in this “good” world. God gave us raw materials, so we make things.
We make good things, and we make bad things.
We make crops, tools and temples.
We make towers stretching up to the sky, to try to become gods ourselves.
We make systems to help us understand the world we live in.
God recognises all of this; and so God gives us guidance. He proclaims that one day we shall convert our swords to farm machinery. He also proclaims in the book of Leviticus that there should be no poor among you because of his blessing – and in accepting that we aren’t perfect (wow, that’s accommodating!) he even gives us a route out – Jubilee. The idea that even if (IF!) we insist on disruptive, abusive, advantage-taking capitalism; there should be a fair chance for each generation to get on in life and an equal distribution of the means of production (land).
The Old Testament God sounds an awful lot like Karl Marx.
Ok, that was a bit of poetic license. But He’s not exactly advocating regulation-free neo-liberal free-market Capitalism, is He?
This same God comes to the earth as Jesus and instructs people that their accumulation of wealth and status isn’t going to help them get eternal life. Not only is it going to not help them, but it’s going to make it harder for them to see it that way!
But Jesus is also anti-Imperialist. He makes a total mockery of the political system of the day. He doesn’t want any part in its corrupt ways. Yet he was a carpenter.
So it’s good to work, and good to earn money.
But bad to do it as a part of the corrupt system.
Bad to have the mark of the beast upon your forehead.
Wait a minute. The mark of the beast? Isn’t that to do with the end times?
The Greek word used for “mark” is charagma. It was the technical term for the Roman imperial stamp that appeared on various documents. The charagma was a seal stamped with the name and date of the emperor and attached to commercial documents. Apparently, it also stood for the emperor’s head stamped on coins.
Those in economic allegiance with the powers of the day were considered so evil they had what we now know as the ‘mark of the beast’ upon them.
Not something you want, really.
Instead Jesus came to show us a way in which we put people above profit, lives above our livelihood. Jesus is inherently political – he uses overly political language all of the time.
The alternative to the status quo? Love.
To go back to the quote – communism wouldn’t be necessary. We wouldn’t need to forcefully redistribute our resources, wealth, and so on. We wouldn’t need to have a system that robs us of creativity and competition.
But capitalism wouldn’t be possible! We couldn’t do things the way we have been. We couldn’t continue down the same path any more. We couldn’t continue to exploit people if we truly loved and cared for them as God intended us to. Jesus came that we might be free, not that our corporations might be free.
That doesn’t mean we have to go too far the other way. It doesn’t mean some western social democracies have the balance right any more than the USA does (or doesn’t). What it means is that God is calling us to a better political reality. One in which we simply refuse to take part in the broken, corrupt ways of the world and forge a newer, better economy.
To quote Shane again, we need to create an “Economy of Love”.