Sunday, January 04, 2009

Attempting to respond to market economy as a Christian

Having learned how to decode some elements of the market economy, the next step is to examine how the immense depth of our Christian tradition can be drawn on to respond to the market economy. I think the theologians and ministers have the imperative task of examining we could respond to market economy corporately as a body of Christ, which means exploring different avenues together with the laity. It is here that I would like to offer some insights which I have thought about during my studies in the last semester. These insights are possible because of Prof. Karen Westfield Tucker for teaching us Christian liturgy at Boston University School of Theology, Prof. Shelly Rambo for familiarizing us with some contemporary feminist theologians, and Prof. Nimi Wariboko at Andover-Newton Theological Seminary for acquainting us with Max Stackhouse.

1) Introduction
How could we draw from the depth of Christian tradition in response to the forces of market economy? The market economy is telling us that we are consumers, that our labor is exchangeable for monetary worth, and it is only right that each of us seek to maximize our profits. In my previous blog entry, I have wrote briefly about William Schweiker's analysis of the significance of sign-values; Max Stackhouse's demarcation of various domains and economy is one of the subsystems; and Karl Barth's interpretation of Christian ethic grounded in relationship with God. In this blog entry, I will write briefly on how Eucharist empowers us as Christian, how Karl Barth's doctrine of creation can be a framework for responding to market economy, and Sallie McFague's model of relating to God that challenges our mind set about individualism.

2) Our Eucharist
The Eucharist consists of elements that offer us hope, theological imagination, and sign-value to challenge the neo-classical economics. By partaking in the Eucharist, we are called to remember Jesus Christ’s Last Supper. His body is broken for us, his blood is sacrificed for us, and we are to eat the broken bread and drink the poured wine in remembrance of Christ, and we are commanded to do so until the day He returns. By partaking in the Eucharist together as one community, we are witnessing,
Reconciliation and sharing among all those regarded as brothers and sisters in the one family of God and is a constant challenge in the search for appropriate relationships in social, economic and political life… All kinds of injustice, racism, separation and lack of freedom are radically challenged when we share in the body and blood of Christ…. Solidarity in the eucharistic communion of the body of Christ and responsible care of Christians for one another and the world find specific expression in the liturgies. [1]

The Eucharist is a powerful symbol that locates our self-understanding in the reconciling work of Christ. Christ’s reconciliation breaks down the barrier between God and us, and between us with the others, and radically challenges the perception of who we are. We are not consumers, but full-bodied being created in imago Dei, and God’s historical agents capable of shaping the present and future by creating meaning, social sphere that embraces all other beings as God’s beloved creation. By partaking in the Eucharist collectively, we recognize every one as body of Christ, with the mission to challenge the world view shaped dominantly by the logic of economy. By our strength alone, we won’t succeed. We rely on God’s spirit, on the deep richness within our faith tradition, and on one another for collective will and strength to break the stronghold of injustice. Eschatology does not begin in future, it begins now when we know who we are in relation to God, and that we are living within and for God’s body.

Embodied within the liturgy of Eucharist is a pattern that is meant for us to live in our daily life. In our holy communion, there is always a recollection of the night when Jesus was betrayed to voluntary suffering, and Jesus Christ in his last supper took bread, gave thanks, saying 'Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you.' Likewise also the cup, saying, 'This is my blood, which is shed for you; when you do this, do it in remembrance of me.' We eat and drink to remember the past; and because of what happened in the past, we are continuously transformed in the present; and are holding on to what we believe will happen in the future. The act of Jesus breaking his body and shedding his blood demonstrates God's immense love for each and everyone of us. The minister takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and distributes it. By participating in the holy communion as one community, we are given a model of Christian life that consists of "taking, blessing, breaking, distributing." We take whatever we have from God, we bless what is given to us, we learn how to fraction it so that we have enough for ourselves AND FOR OTHERS, then we distribute it to the others. Do you see how this model challenges the market economy where corporations seek to maximize profits?

3) Karl Barth's doctrine of creation
The existence and being of the creature willed and constituted by God are the object and to that extent the presupposition of His love. Thus the covenant is the goal of creation and creation the way to the covenant. Nor is creation the inner basis of the covenant....The inner basis of the covenant is simply the free love of God, or more precisely the eternal covenant which God has decreed in Himself as the covenant of the Father with His Son as the Lord and Bearer of human nature, and to that extent the Representative of all creation. Creation is the external - and only the external - basis of the covenant.[2]

According to Barth, creation is only the external basis of God's covenant. The internal basis of God's covenant is God's free love towards us. Creation's existence is for the goal of God's covenant. In other words, creation which consists of time, space, and the four dimensions exists, as the basis where God could make a covenant with us, His creation. The purpose of material objects is then not our accumulation or monetary profits, but as the means to usher or to point to God's love for us. In the market economy, creation is for exploitation so that the investors can reap maximum returns. We work to generate the capital to maximize our human labor. But, no so, according to Barth's understanding of creation. Our ability to gather resources, to earn a certification so that we are legitimized to access limited resources is rooted in our covenantal relationship with God. The earth's resources such as air, water, land, and our own resources such as life, ability are meant to be combined together so that we can be better administrator of God's creation based on our covenantal relationship with Him. The creation exists so that we could enter into covenantal relationship with God. Within this covenantal relationship, we are called to take good care of the whole creation. This calls for corporate responsibility and to the need to identify common goods of the society. This further implies that our economy must not be planned for the elite or the middle-class, but must be take the poorest among us into account, as well the ecosystem that we are living in.

4) Sallie McFague's model of God-world relationship
Sallie McFague puts forth a new model of God-world relationship that is very relevant in addressing the ecological disaster that we have wrought today, in her article “Is God in Charge?”[3] She examines different models to describe our understanding of God-world relationship in the creation-providence story in Christian creation and cautions that “no one model is adequate, for each allows us to see some aspects of the God-world relationship, but shuts out others.”[4]

The traditional deistic model divorced God from human beings, and portrays the world as a finely-tuned machine for our use. This model does not do justice to the passionate and suffering God. Another model, known as the dialogic model, believes in “God speaks and we respond,”[5] but only in the inner human subject. This model restricts one from contemporary understanding of creation, and suggests that God’s incarnation is limited to human individuals. The next model, the monarchical model, emphasizes the power and glory of God but keeps a clear distance between the Creator and creatures. The agential model assumes God as a personal agent in overseeing the world in every way, and source of the overarching purposes and goals in the traditional creation-providence story, but has made God so much “like” us.

After examining the deficiencies in each model, McFague offers a different model, one that places us “within” God, as the whole of creation is God’s body. By living within God’s body, we see everything as interrelated and interdependent, and the “whole flourishes only when all the different parts function well.”[6] Sustainability and distributive justice are the two basic laws for us to live interdependently in God’s body. By portraying ourselves to be living within God’s body, McFague’s model provides the framework for living interdependently, and to put the sustainability and distributive justice issues into our ethical concern as we plan our economy. She further suggests that the GDP should be replaced by United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) which takes into account the life expectancy and education on top of per capita economic growth.[7] Based on HDI, the quality of life for all is being accessed instead of the excessive wealth for some.

5) Synthesizing

As the market economy dictates our worldview, Christians have the resources to refuse the logic of maximizing monetary returns to be our dominant lens. The Eucharist, or the feast of thanksgiving, which has been celebrated since the 1st century is a constant reminder that our identity is rooted in what Christ has done for us, by God's indwelling presence, and an eschatological hope that there will be a new creation. The Eucharist heals our divide, provides an avenue for us to stand in solidarity who are powerless against the exploitation by the market economy. By partaking in the Eucharist, we not only commemorate what Christ has done for us, but we accept God's gift for us and allow the significance of this gift to be part of our identity. In no way are we allowed to pursue individualistic profits at the expense of the poor and powerless, because we will be held accountable for what we have done, and by choosing not to live the essence of Eucharist in our lives, we betrayed the meaning of the great thanksgiving embodied within the act of partaking Eucharist. By choosing to be active agent in reinforcing the market economy in our lives, we are the our birthright to be who we are based on our covenantal relationship with God.

We refuse to see ourselves as consumers, but as a person capable of shaping meaning, fabricating our social reality that acknowledges the basis built on God's love. The creation is an external basis for God's covenant. The creation is the means where God speaks to us. The creation is therefore not an end, and does not hold value for us until we are in covenantal relationship with the triune God. In this covenantal relationship, we recognize ourselves as stewards of creation, not exploiters of creation. Sallie McFague's model of us living within God's body is an appropriate lens to view our creation. All creations are bodies of God, and we live within it, and not on it. By living interdependently within God's body, we are the responsibility to ensure the sustainability of our ecosystem, and the wider community. By living within our community, and as stewards, we are called to mind of those people who have been neglected by our system. Is there any social policy that marginalizes any racial or income group? If there is, is there any way or avenue to rectify it? As stewards of God's creation, we are called to represent the weak, the poor, and the oppressed for legislation that recognizes their plight and to alleviate their living conditions.

What legacy are we leaving behind for our descendants? A market economy model that teaches them how to exploit the environment and other people? Or a modified economic model that ensures sustainability and distributive justice that acknowledges the rightful place of economy? Economy must not be allowed to be our dominant worldview, as it betrays the essence of our Eucharist, and our covenantal relationship with God. We are called to remember, to act, and to live out our identity rooted in the reality shaped by our covenantal relationship each generation. If I were to leave any legacy, I wish I could be remembered as someone who is faithful to my covenantal relationship with my Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

Endnotes:[1] Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry - Faith and Order Paper No. 111, World Council of Churches,
[2] Karl Barth, "Creation as the external basis of the covenant," Church Dogmatics, Vol. 3: The Doctrine of Creation, quoted in eds. J. Philip Wogaman, Douglas M. Strong, Readings in Christian Ethics: A Historical Sourcebook (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 249-50.
[3] Sallie McFague, “Is God in Charge?” ed. William C. Placher, Essentials of Christian Theology (Westminster John Knox), 101-116.

[4] Ibid., 116.
[5] Ibid., 106.
[6] Sallie McFague, Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 104.
[7] Ibid., 112.

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