Wednesday, 29 December 2010

An Alternative World View - Part 1

McLaren (2007) is moving on to look at the type of world that Jesus talked about and endeavoured to live out. In line with my own thinking, he talks of giving as "a more secure investment that accumulating and hoarding" (p 135). Security, equity, and prosperity come through generosity. Jesus clearly promoted an anti-prosperity gospel emphasising that anything else will lead to hating God.

The question then is how do you assess a person's value in society? McLaren argues that "Each has intrinsic value in relation to its Creator" (p 138). He refers to the economist Herman Daly (1996) who has suggested "that we should reverse our human egoism and consider our value in relation to our service to others of God's creatures: "We grant ourselves intrinsic value... But we do not count our instrumental value to other species, which is too often negative but could be positive if we cared about it"" (p 138).

Here the author is arguing for a change in the method of calculating worth. Rather than using a monetary value, the proposal is to use "our instrumental value to other species." That is what we are capable of giving to help others survive.

As I write this, I am thinking of a discussion on one of the games forums that was related to religious games. I jumped in being critical of religious games that I had examined because the game play gave a different message to that of the context of the game. The authors hope to portray or teach religious content through using it as the context of the game. However, most of these games still portray different values through the nature of their play and their scoring systems. In the discussion, I have talked of the difficulty of using a scoring system and having a winner when collaboration is the objective. As soon as you talk of having a winner, there is an element of being better than other players. When I have played Carcassonne with the goal of assisting rather than hindering other players, I still find myself winning simply because if the way the game rewards players. If promoting giving or collaboration is the goal then we need to look at other ways of rewarding the behaviour.

I see some difficulty with courses like a team projects course where we want to promote team work but we have a marking system that favours a higher contribution. We don't have a measure that rewards the sacrifice of a personal mark in order to help someone else understand what is being done.

What this really highlights is that our measuring systems are messed up. We measure things in terms of people being better to having an advantage over others. Seldom does the reward or measuring system foster giving or self sacrifice partly because if these are performed in true humility, there can be no measurement other than better equality in society.

Having reintroduced Jesus from the perspective of his challenges to the empire system, McLaren begins to look at each of his three core systems (prosperity, equality, and security). He starts with the security system initially talking of a "peace insurgency" (Chapter 19). He then begins to look at the state of the world and our potential to solve many of the world's problems. He makes some interesting observations.

"The 2006 budget showed that US military expenditures were twenty-one times larger than diplomacy and foreign aid combined, and that the United States was dead last among most developed nations in foreign aid as a percentage of gross domestic product. One wonders what would happen if good-hearted Americans realized that a mere 10 percent of the US military budget, if reinvested in foreign aid and development could care for the basic needs of the entire world's poor" (p 165). He goes on to talk of defence policies built on "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD) and "Shock and Awe" (pp 166-167). We hold other nations at peace because if they attack, they can be assured that as much as they may destroy us, we have the power to destroy them. With Afghanistan and Iraq, it is more a case of striking with such force that the enemy is forced into submission. The Pentagon's Defence University released a report called "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance." In it, the authors say "In our excursion, we seek to determine whether and how Shock and Awe can become sufficiently intimidating and compelling factors to force or otherwise convince an adversary to accept our will" (p 166). To me, this statement condemns American foreign policy and shows its complete lack of concern for others. McLaren at the end of this chapter says "In the eyes of the rest of the world, our "craving for absolute security" has already driven us to the brink if moral bankruptcy" (p 168). The problem is that it isn't simply America that utilises such policies and strategies. Israel attacked an aid convoy going to Gaza. Israel's craving for "absolute security" means that she attacks with military force those carrying out a mission without any military protection. Is it surprising that the people of Gaza seek to attack and destroy Israel?

Later, McLaren says "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy" (p 185). This is part of a quote from Dr King.

Another peace leader, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said "The world has the chance to finally say "no" to the continuing scandal of the unregulated weapons trade... No longer should peace business be undermined by the arms business" (p 172). This statement reflects the stupidity of western nations manufacturing and exporting arms to those whom it is seeking to have "accept our will." In other words through its trade policies, it fosters the very terrorism that it claims to be fighting. This is the ultimate stupidity of American and British security fears. If they refused to manufacture and export arms then many of the conflicts around the world would lack the weaponry to continue.

So what is the solution to this downward spiral? McLaren argues that Jesus might say to us, "You need to choose another type of fighting: instead of fighting against each other, you must fight with each other against injustice, for the good of each other" (p 178). We must fight, not with military force, but with pacifist activism, for peace and reconciliation.

McLaren reminds his readers of Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-26, 43-48) where he talks of being reconciled with those who have something against us. The core requirement for peace is not allowing disputes to go unresolved. We have to address the real issues that cause division and refrain from forcing others to submit to our will. McLaren argues that "Jesus envisioned a people actively dedicated to peacemaking" (p 182). This can be achieved not by forcing others to change the way they live but by voluntarily changing our behaviour in the confidence that such a change will precipitate an unexpected change in their behaviour" (pp 183-184). I would go further and contend that by changing the "unacceptable way that we live," we will remove the objections that others have thus removing the point of contention and strife. Our mistreatment of others leads to what we regard as their unacceptable way of living. Removal of our mistreatment removes the incentive for their behaviour and our response to it.

The Prosperity System

McLaren uses the idea of theocapitalist religion describing its four laws.

  1. Progress through rapid growth
  2. Serenity through possession and consumption
  3. Freedom to prosper through unaccountable corporations
  4. Salvation through competition alone

McLaren argues that the system fosters inequality rewarding the rich and penalising the poor. The idea behind the name, theocapitalist religion, is that these laws are seen as being unbreakable. He says in relation to "salvation through competition alone" that "to violate this law would be to work against the very structure of the universe, and would run counter to the will of God and his "gospel of wealth"" (p 195).

It is this belief in the capitalist system that is hard to shake people's belief in. McLaren says "The market's own mindless expansion, effective as it is in the short-term, inevitably brings its own long-term problems as it further taxers the planet's carrying capacity beyond the already bad overload coming from the population increase. It's not a question of ideology, but of physical limits" (pp 201-202). He makes other interesting comments like the rich being so focused on growth that they don't have time to enjoy what they have already obtained.

So what is the counter laws or way of living? McLaren says God's love economy is "a new way of living as part of God's sacred ecosystem" (p 206). The laws that counter theocapitalism's four laws are:

  1. Good deeds for the common good
  2. Satisfaction through gratitude and sharing
  3. Salvation through seeking justice
  4. Freedom to prosper by building better communities

Where theocapitalism emphasises the individual and the exploitation of resources, the counter laws emphasise community and the sharing of resources. McLaren contends that this is for the benefit of all living organisms.


McLaren, B. D. (2007). Everything must change: when the world's biggest problems and Jesus' good news collide. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Herman Daly (1996) Beyond growth: The economics of sustainable development. Boston: Beacon Press.

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