Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Christian in the Polis

I like the way that Gideon Strauss put it on the Dialogical Coffee House when he called 'Libertarianism' "Egyptian Gold". There are things in the philosophy that do, I believe, resonate deeply with Christian values. But, also, there are things that rail against it and so must be examined and critiqued. I am not a wholehearted endorser of the Libertarian movement. One such place is the over-focus on individualism. While individual liberty is a very important thing, it is not the only thing. Libertarians must be concerned with familial liberty, too. Also, since the family is the building block of both the Church and society, liberty in the family becomes how to express the desire of "liberty under God for all".

Second, many 'Libertarians' think that their philosophy allows them to be 'Libertines', those who have no moral foundation. They think that if there is no State to enforce anything, then I can do anything. The Christian horror at this should be obvious. There is no such thing as liberty without covenantal authority. In other words, those that believe they can live without God's Torah or nomos (Hebrew and Greek words for God's ordering principles), are fools (Ps. 14). This leads to something very important: there is no such thing as 'pure' liberty, only derivative responsibility.

This can be seen in Creation: sun, moon, and stars are given authority over what God had originally made to stand by itself--light. Man is given authority over beasts, birds, and bass. Authority (or, if you want, government) is creational; but is it derivative. It must answer to its higher authority, which is always and in all things going to be God. Part of the original creation is that God has set boundaries that keep order and preserve Creation for its true development. If any of the governing authorities let those boundaries be ignored or intentionally transgress them (the original meaning of 'transgress' is to step over a line), then their is chaos and oppression and violence. When these things get out of hand, all Creational boundaries are set free (by God) to stop those that would seek to establish their own boundaries (the Flood being a prime example of this phenomenon).

Along with this, there is also the recongnition that no single created authority is total or absolute. Only God is the absolute ruler and rules over all things. All governments (whether cosmic or human) have their boundaries that they must not cross, under penalty of divine judgement. Part of the right stewardship of God's creation is that we must determine those boundaries and preserve them through our politics, our economics, our ecclesial structures, etc. This can be done through many means: legislation, wisdom traditions, community standards (both implicit and explicit), etc. Determining how to enforce these boundaries is also part of the wise stewardship of Creation. Thankfully, we are not left alone to decide these things: God offers his Torah/nomos as the foundation of our thought about wise stewardship (I take Jesus' commands as part of that Torah/nomos complex, but not the only part).

In that sense 'government' is creational. This is because God has created hierarchies into His Creation, to glorify him and for the best use (least waste) of His Creation. However, that does not mean that all expressions of this created reality are good. Many can be totally rebellious, preserving only the idea of authority as their creational component. As neo-calvinists, we must realize that sometimes created structures are so distorted as to look 'new under the sun'. Just because there is a centralized State does not mean that is it good or the ultimate will of God, it may just be a perversion of God's mandate of caring, bounded authority. Too often we look at the institutions of today and think that since this is way it is, it is a good (maybe slightly corrupted) way. If 'government' steps outside its boundaries, it is not good and must be called back through prophetic speech and action.

What, then, are the different types of 'government' and their boundaries? That is one of the most important questions that can be asked. Another is, is there a hierarchical structure to them, in other words, is one form of governance more important than another?

First, there is family (or self) government, which is the most important type of all. If the family is weak, all of society (Church, State, business, agriculture, etc.) is weak. Families are the place of moral and educational training (Deut. 6 and the book of Proverbs); discipline (Proverbs and various Deut. laws); and long-term welfare (I Tim. 5:4). It is in this context that most of the things of life are to be exercised. Dominion (in the 'keep and till' meaning, not domination) is primarily a family enterprise: being faithful with the little we are given, not desiring more and not despising it, though it is little. That is why the fifth commandment is so prominent: the family is the basis of social order, if it is despised or mistreated, then all of society has no hope. Adultery leads to the same thing, societal collapse. Man can be most easily faithful when his family is given the freedom to puruse their own interests (in the context of a faithfilled community that lives by the Biblical narrative) and his authority wont be lost or nullified by a bureaucracy. I have spoken at this from an economic standpoint in "Creational Capitalism", to which I point the readers.

It is 'civil government' (too often erroneously shorthanded to simply 'government') that is the tricky issue. Civil government is to be concerned with the welfare of the poor and the establishment and protection of justice. No Christian, whether Left, Right, Center, or 'off the map', would disagree with that. The question is what the words mean and their proper boundaries. "Welfare of the poor" is that the '60 Great Society ideal? Or does it mean that in the court system, the local magistrate has the economic liability (and responsibility) to take up their case so that the rich cannot use their clout to buy the case (the Old Testament idea...which is probably the right one)? The 'establishment and protection of justice' is another tricky phrase. Most activities by man are not under the jurisdiction of the 'civil government', according to Scripture. Notice that no one is charged to enforce the Jubilee laws or the gleaning laws, the laws that we today call 'justice to the poor'. Instead, it is the responsibility of the poor to cry out to God and He will personally see to their justice (through His Church's generosity and teaching and through His historical sanctions). Any State that decides to enforce its own (non-Scriptural) defintion of 'justice' is in rebellion to God.

My hands and mind are tired and taxed at this point...I'll try and continue later.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Creational Capitalism

I am a capitalist. In some circles that I run around in, that is one of the most degrading terms that can be applied to a person. I, however, carry it as a soiled badge of honor. Soiled? Yeah, because capitalism separated from the rulership of Jesus produced the military-industrial economy that has set itself up as end and means, as the idol of consumptive, ignorant, idolatrous masses. As a follower of the true King, I want nothing of this false kingdom (although, in this case, words are much easier than actions). Capitalism cannot, let me emphasized this, cannot happen without the rule of God.

The basics of capitalism, as I see them, are (1) there is such a thing as a 'market' where people exchange goods and services, (2) that people, being both consumers and producers want to use this market, (3) people need the freedom to choose what is best with regards to their local communities and families as to what they will offer, buy, and leave out of the market, and (4) the civil government should have as little of a part in the market as possible. Obviously, these basics are colored by my Christian roots, but to present them otherwise is impossible.

The idea of a market is inevitable. As humans, we are not completely self-sufficient. We cannot produce everything we want or need for ourselves. That leads us to recognize diverse and different talents among our fellow men and women that we would be happy to trade something for their services (whether monetary or not). I, for example, have currently no good way of disposing of my wastes, so I pay the sanitation company to deal with them (this is a bad metaphor, I know, since most sanitation companies are government run therefore most of my waste ends up back in my drinking water or in someone else's backyard--but, for this point, it is an admittedly bad example).

A couple things culturally have led to our misuse of the market into its current, idolatrous, monstrous form. The first is reductionism: we have made everything into a "marketable" entity, when (we learn from experience and God's word) not everything should be made so. The second is the loss of any self-sufficiency: why make for ourselves what we can have others make for us? The third is our dependence on civil government: there are few services NOT provided by the civil government in this country, the basic premise being that if we give the government the power to run our lives, it will.

Is there any way to be a Christian capitalist?

Yes. First off, God is the freer of people to responsibility. Right after the Exodus, God gave His people the Torah. They were in covenant relationship, not autonomous entities (there is no such thing as autonomy). If the Son has set us free from sin and death, we should live that way. In our economic dealings, we should love God with all our heart, mind, and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves. This requires, secondly, a suitable anthropology: man is a limited creature and shouldn't puff himself up to believe that he is. Here is a lot of the problem of modern 'capitalism' (which I don't think is capitalism at all, with its corporate dependence on government hand-outs, bail-outs, and contracts): man believes that through the market he can be the ruler of the world. There is only one ruler of the world and he delegates authority to those who show themselves responsible enough to use it. We must, in other words, be 'creational capitalists': humans who understand that God has committed extraordinary power into our hands, but who also understand the responsibility that entails and the limits that are inherent in it and that must be self-imposed.

Part of this, though, is the aspect of community. There is no such thing as a global economy. We work in our local areas after local standards, which should be the rule of economic dealings. We (by which I mean Christians) should not be trying to out compete people in other locales as they try to provide services to their communities. Instead of competing, we should be working with our local communities to offer services that actually are needed and helpful for all to follow their callings. A case in point for any entrepenuers in Beaver Falls: WE DON'T NEED ANY MORE TATTOO PARLORS OR BARS! (I might include here tanning salons, but considering the lack of sun for the better part of every winter, that might be an illadvised statement).

In this aspect of community, families must be (as much as possible) economically self-sufficient. Can we produce our own food, clean up after ourselves, and possibly offer something that we lovingly (after the pattern of God's creative acts) craft to our neighbors, whom we profess to love as ourselves (do loving neighbors offer each other food that is going to be detrimental to health or to the local ground, air, or water supply)?

Creational capitalists believe that God has given man freedom to pursue diverse and complementary callings in the care and development of the world. We cannot give these callings over to the government, but must pursue them in local, sufficient communities that are built upon the Greatest Commandment. We must care for what we earn our livelihood from and reduce human waste. Unlike socialism, we do not expect and do not want the government to handle all of this. Instead, we want to develop into mature, godly men and women that are responsible for our lives and the lives of our communities.

What then is the responsibility of government? Depends on which form of government you are speaking about. Self-government (by which I mean the self-governing of both individuals and families) is the first preventative step in the market. As families, the critique of products and services is likely to be more stringent and careful, since we will first offer the products to other family members (basically, I'm not going to give my family stones that I have advertised as bread). Families have an amazing economic control and regulation over themselves--read any essay by Wendell Berry to get a flavor of this--but families must have some backbone and not be worked over in fear by the other members. Family reconstruction and strengthening should be the chief purpose and issue of the church today. Church-government is the next step. If a person falls out of line by offering some sinful product to the market that the family has either been negligent about or not seen, the church steps in and disciplines both the family and the 'seller' in its redemptive way. Problem with that is listed in a previous post, "Elders for Everyone"--basically the church has become largely effeminate. As a strong community though, a whole church refusing to buy products from certain vendors makes a load of economic clout--all churches in an area doing it makes it even more powerful (but, like all power, this must be used wisely and with lots of hard thought and prayer). Thirdly, we have local civil government. Here is where things get a little tricky. Many have argued the line of anarchism in the market, but local government should be in place to limit any sinful activity: prostitution, pornography, etc. that has slipped through the first two levels (and if it has, the community has worse problems than prostitution, etc.). The point, though, is that the government is local and of a manageable size--less corruption comes from less power.

If we as Christians are the cultural vanguards of a creational (that is, limited and responsible) capitalism (that is, God-fearing and life-affirming voluntary and free exchange locally), we can have a great avenue to address the issues of cultural renewal, especially as they speak to things like individualism, consumerism, and other related things. Creational capitalism is the hardest economic theory to put into practice because it takes discipline and hard work, which the modern economy is rabidly against: but God is pleased by hard, good quality, honoring, and enduring work.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A New Blog

The word studies I promised won't be found on this blog. They will be found at DavarLogos, which is a combination of the Hebrew and Greek words for 'word' (or to speak, I kinda mixed a verb with a noun). None of the studies are there yet, but they will come. I try and throw out a heads up when I get one up (since, thanks to Gideon Strauss it is rumored that I have thousands of readers on this blog!), so more to come.

PS--I'll also explain what I mean by the "Creational Capitalist" in a soon to be blog.