In the last post, we heard that one my colleagues cannot envision lives being transformed, which then transform other lives, without a product or a course or an event. I noted that this is a capitalistic Protestant tendency, which bears an uncanny resemblance to a sacerdotalist Catholic one. I therefore suggested that perhaps we need a Reformation at work.
Allow me to pursue this further.
Slavoj Žižek notes that one of the symptoms of global capitalism is the inability to imagine how things could otherwise be. He says,
Think about the strangeness of today’s situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.*
Similarly, my colleague seems to be unable to imagine things any other way, perhaps like many in medieval Catholicism presumably struggled to imagine grace apart from the sacraments. Since the required prophetic or historical imagination to imagine how things could otherwise be is shaped by Scripture,** we need to get back to Scripture. Perhaps we could take up the Bible-reading outlined in this post. What might the results be?
In general, and following the biblical theme of redeeming the powers,*** I suspect that we would find ourselves redeeming capitalism,**** rather than overthrowing it. And I suspect that we would achieve this, in part, by living simultaneously in an economy of capitalism as well as in an economy of giving.***** The latter prevents any hegemony of the former. It keeps it in check, so to speak.
In particular, it reminds us that multiplying blessing can come apart from products, courses, and events, paid or otherwise. This is not to say that we should not have products, courses, and events but rather, that by encouraging other means of multiplying blessing, we should not depend on products, courses, and events.
So an economy of giving might manifest as the centrifugal relational strategy that I outlined over 6 posts last month. This entailed prioritising people over products, and losing oneʼs identity – as an individual or an organisation – in order to bless others. This is a healthy corrective to the kind of Protestant capitalism that seeks to expand itself by multiplying its own identity.
In a nutshell, I guess it is one thing to deploy a strategy to disseminate the Gospel (say, by using products, courses, and events) but another to allow the Gospel itself to shape that strategy (which may, or may not, involve these media).
* From Astra Taylor’s 2005 film Žižek.
** Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 20012); Walter Brueggemann, The Bible Makes Sense (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 13-22.
*** Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium (New York: Doubleday, 1998); Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1992).
**** Note, for example, that Ha-Joon Chang advocates market capitalism, but not necessarily “free” market capitalism. Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism (London: Penguin, 2011), 248f. Like Žižek, he also notes the failure of the collective imagination [246-247].
***** On the latter, see Lewis Hyde, The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2006).