Where to from here?
Having addressed the prosperity system, McLaren (2007) tuns to the equity system. He sees the prosperity system being the driving force causing the equity system to be out of balance. McLaren opens the chapter with the reference to a song by Jackson Browne called "The Rebel Jesus." McLaren says that Browne truly understood Jesus' message and that the system killed him. McLaren says "Browne can't help being cynical even about holiday charity. The seasonal giving of gifts among relatives contrasts with the locks and guns with which people guard their personal assets the rest of the year. ... he quickly adds that our charity goes only skin-deep, because if we go further than charity - to the realm of justice - and deal with the systems that make and keep poor people in poverty, we will get "the same as the rebel Jesus"" (p 228). Browne concludes that he is "a heathen and a pagan" "on the side of the rebel Jesus" (p 228).
I think I need to hear this song as it seems to reflect much of my own feelings and thoughts. Much of what happens in society goes against what Jesus taught. Consequently we need to rebel but as this song says we will "get the same as the rebel Jesus."
McLaren goes on talking of the inequalities within the system. My thoughts went to the current crisis and the fact that bankers continued to get paid huge bonuses supposedly for earning large sums for their banks while the people whose money they lost continue to suffer. This isn't simply inequality. It is outright failure of the system to consider the causes of the recession and to address them.
What would happen if the reward was attached to solving the equality issues? Would bankers be more proactive in ensuring that their actions and decisions favoured the poor rather than the rich? Would they be more conscious of systemic injustice and work to solve its problems? Are bankers simply good at playing the prosperity game or do they really have the brains to solve the equity issues?
We get what we reward and the reward clearly favours those who turn their backs on equity issues and play the prosperity game to its full potential. I have no sympathy for bankers or property tycoons when things go into recession and their fortunes are depleted. They played the game and argued for the system despite all of its faults. Reminds me of McLaren's earlier statement, they were so busy working for growth or to obtain more that they never had the time to enjoy it.
My previous paragraphs place blame at the feet of bankers and developers but as McLaren says it isn't their wealth that causes poverty. Rather it is "systemic injustice" that contributes to "the wealth of the rich" and "the poverty of the poor" (p 237). The wealthy have simply done what the system required. Sure they didn't look at the injustice in the system but they did what they believed the system required and what they believed would bring prosperity to all. They didn't see the widening gap or the poor's lack of self esteem that cripples their ability to pull themselves out of poverty.
McLaren goes on to talk of how Jesus subverted the system (pp 238-242). Jesus sought reconciliation rather than "fair" punishment. He addressed issues of unequal opportunity rather than focusing on quantity of work performed or rewarding based on work performed. or rewarding based on work performed (Matthew 20:1-16). McLaren argues that Jesus created "an economy of care for the common good" (p 239). McLaren argues that "the justice of God is not unfair; it goes beyond fairness to include a concern for social sustainability, healing, and transformation; it doesn't fall short of fairness, but its fairness includes a grace ... that can heal society and undermine systemic injustice, not just maintain its status quo" (p 239).
I have argued that we would not have terrorists if America and Britain addressed the underlying concerns of the terrorists or at least that allowed or enabled the terrorists to recruit soldiers. This is address systemic injustice and we need to be doing this in relation to the inequality in our society.
In looking at Luke 16, McLaren argues that the man is "reducing an unfair debt" and as a consequence easing the oppression of the poor and reducing the advantage of the rich (p 240). I can see people objecting to McLaren's reasoning but when you see the framing story as one that puts the power in the hands of the rich and impoverishes the poor then McLaren's interpretation makes a lot of sense.
McLaren ends this section with a call for "the rich to generosity" saying that they need to "invest their energies for the good of their poorer neighbours" (p 246). However, the also says "we will work to improve the system. to detect and remove systemic injustice, so that the equity system of the societal machinery would indeed be equitable" (p 246). I see this as tinkering with the system when it really needs a complete overhaul. That is it needs to be dismantled and reconstructed. I can not see how an economic system that places emphasis on balancing books ahead to the welfare of the people can be corrected without complete reconstruction of the rules. Nor can I see a system that has no means of determining value, since the mechanisms for measuring value are themselves traded, can ever ensure that all are treated equitably. There is no measure that can be gauged as equal or fair.
It seems to me that although McLaren critiques the current system, he is still tied to it and assuming that something of value is in it that is worth saving. I simply can not agree.
New kind of question
McLaren isn't the only one to recognise the inequality issues. He quotes Kofi Annan (December 2003) who said "We should have learned by now that a world of glaring inequality - between countries and with in them - where many millions of people endure brutal oppression and extreme misery - is never going to be a fully safe world, even for its most privileged inhabitants (p 249).
This echoes my previous conclusions but it also shows how difficult it is for those who supposedly have influence to bring about the required changes. If Kofi Annan, as the Secretary General of the United Nations, saw this, then how many other political leaders understood? None appear to be able to bring in the required changes. Legislation or political will is not enough. There needs to be a ground swell from the people that brings down the discredited system.
McLaren argues that the rich nations have the resources to invest in solving the world's problems but the security issues drain those resources crippling all action (p 250). The framing story is so powerful that no one is prepared to change the pattern of investment even though they know that they spend more than needed on military capability.
McLaren argues that we need to ask questions that will encourage "people to think rather than react" (p 253). I am inclined to say we need to present the alternatives more clearly as options. Not simply as theories but as workable alternatives. People need to see the variations in solutions and to be able to evaluate the outcomes.
McLaren talks of extending the frame of reference and recalls "the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Nation: "Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations" (p 253). What I see is that the indigenous people rather than the empire builders retain the understanding of being one with the world. This is true of the New Zealand Maori.
McLaren also quotes Dr Martin Luther King Jr. who not only emphasised racial equality but also economic equality in his book "The Trumpet of Conscience" (p 254). There seems to be no end to the people who recognise the existence of inequality and dream of solutions. What we don't see is a lot of progress toward a lasting solution.
McLaren refers to this research but again I see most of its proposals as tinkering with an ineffective system and not changing the framing story. I have no dealt the proposals would have some impact but they wouldn't address the current economic crisis which is pushing governments back to securing their own interests at the expense of other countries. Under the section on limits, McLaren does talk of an "overconsumption crisis" rather than an "environmental crisis" (p 260). What he contends is that we, in the developed world, consume more than we need. I was recently told there is no recycling in Texas but that simply shows a complete lack of concern for waste disposal. It is what Douglas (1974) called "productionism" rather than "consumerism." Douglas argued that we produced for waste rather than need. I see this reflected in the collection of mobile phones that we were given and the collection of computers that I saw taken to recycling. Was the purchase of these all necessary or were they purchased simply because there was a new updated model available? Need didn't drive the equation. I see the same with clothes. I have many that are wearable but no longer quite fit for purpose. The temptation is to purchase something that is a better match but what happens to the old? Recycled, shredded, ... wasted not needed.
One element where I probably agree with development economics is the importance of community. He refers to Wendell Berry who defines communities as "families of families linked together in a local environment of land, water, air, and climate" (p 263). He goes on to talk of "publics" as "larger networks of people whose influence spreads over many corporations, institutions, cartels and media" (p 263). It is argued that systemic injustice "works on the level of publics, and publics weaken or destroy communities as they seek more power or profit" (p 263).
In communities, the ability to build equality dwells. If we are to establish equality or equity then we need to strengthen communities rather than destroy them. I believe it is through building strong communities that solutions will be found.
Believing and Hope
McLaren argues that we need to have belief in an alternative system, otherwise the current dominant system will retain its place. Simply destroying confidence in the dominant system will not bring a solution. We need to inspire belief in a system based on community.
McLaren also emphasises the importance of hope particularly for those who are oppressed. Where there is no hope, it is difficult to inspire and foster change or progress.
McLaren says "A community who begin to wake up to the covert curriculum in which they swim each day would want to band together to share their insights about it. They would help one another not be sucked in, not be massaged into passivity, nor be malformed by this powerful educational process ... They remind one another of the alternative framing story they had come to believe was good, beautiful and true, and they seek, together, to love by this alternative framing story, the radical good news" (pp 291-292).
This to me was the heart of Anabaptist community. Members challenged each other to live in the "fear of God" and to live out their faith in interaction with each other.
McLaren, B. D. (2007). Everything must change: when the world's biggest problems and Jesus' good news collide. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Douglas, C. H. (1974). Economic democracy. Epsom, Surrey: Bloomfield Publishers.