Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Does God Use Violence?

Could God have initiated the riots, using the frustrations of the disenfranchised to cause his people to rethink? Is God behind the violent overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya? Isaiah talks of the events of Israel's history declaring God's hand as being behind them. Is it really possible that God would motivate violence and possibly war for the security of his people and their salvation?

When I review the state of the Christian church, there are those churches were the prosperity gospel clearly dominates but even outside these churches, prosperity is clearly a measure of God's blessing. Finding God's peace and confidence in the midst of a struggle to survive and change the world is not seen as God's blessing. Rather the emphasis is being at peace with the possessions that God has given. More accurately, the possessions gained through our labours that conform to our dominant systems. Systems that despite their obvious casting of people on to the scrap heap and into poverty, are seen as being what God has given us and as a consequence should not be questioned.

Into such an environment, how can God catch the attention of his people. They are not hearing the voices of the down trodden or seeing the greed of their own actions. They do not see how their focus on peace in prosperity in an unequal society is destroying the message of salvation and encouraging people to see God as irrelevant. The prophetic voices do exist that call out that the direction in which things are heading is only disaster but do those who call on God's name hear his voice and seek to bring shalom. No, they are too busy trying to ensure their own security and prosperity. They do not hear or see the signs that surround them.

Even the riots do not cause them to rethink their ways and to reconsider the direction in which the systems that they support are taking the world.

As I read Isaianic prophecy, I hear the message of God's salvation of his people, their return from exile to the promised land but at the same time, the prophet says that they are the people who have worshipped idols and turned from doing God's will (Isaiah 48:1-11).

Both in judgement and restoration, we need to question the way that we live asking whether we have heard and are hearing God's voice. God will act to catch our attention allowing the floodgates of frustration to open and possible violence to overflow if we fail to hear his voice and act to bring shalom and his kingdom into being now.

I am not advocating that God's people should use violence. However, I can see that God may permit or use people intent on violence to catch the attention of those who claim to be his people. His people need to be advocates for change, leading the struggle for equality and for sustainable living. Their lifestyle needs to demonstrate shalom in a world that is charging to self destruction.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Productionism

The idea of a production focused economy from the reading of Douglas' (1974) "Economic Democracy." Dobbs in the introduction argues that society is focused on 'productionism' or 'employmentism' (p 19). He argues that if it was 'consumerism' then only what consumers need would be produced. Has anything changed in 36 years?

We are even more production driven. It isn't that we produce for the sake of producing. Through marketing and advertising, we endeavour to stimulate demand. We encourage upgrade to keep up with the current fashion. Last year, our desktop computer crashed. As a consequence, our scanner wouldn't work with the Windows 7 operating system. The scanner hadn't failed. It had just become redundant because it was not supported by newer versions of software.

Computers, software, mobile phones, fashions, etc. are all designed for a short life time and with redundancy in mind. The marketing encourages upgrade and replacement. For mobile phones, there is some encouragement to recycle but our society is in general high wastage and low recycling. Attempts are made to increase recycling but little to refocus production on real need rather than artificial desire.

The whole focus is supposedly on improvement but I wonder whether we are really doing little more than producing artificial goals. How much research is performed simply to satisfy publication requirements. How much real difference will a lot of this research make? I suspect very little. If we were better managing society and balancing needs then such research wouldn't seem to be wastage. We would need something to occupy our minds.

If the society was dictated by 'consumerism' then only what consumers need would be produced.

In the passage about the separation of the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), we see separation is based on how the people responded to need that crossed their path. The sheep, those on his right, feed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, and went to those in prison. These are the people who 'inherited the kingdom.' Are these things about satisfying need on an everyday basis or is this those identifiable occasions? I would contend it is everyday basis since they say that they didn't know they had done it. They saw and responded to need.

Matthew 15:4-6 talks of how tradition can get in the way of obeying God's word. In this passage, this is withholding help to your mother and father because what might have been able to help has been dedicated to God. This may not be the generic helping of others but it does emphasise that tradition shouldn't take over from doing what God desires.

How far has our economic practice moved away from God's plan? Our economic system has replaced religious ritual. To some extent, it is more than the economic system, it is the measures of productivity that we use. The result is that we ignore need and focus on personal advancement.

References

Douglas, C. H. (1974). Economic democracy. Epsom, Surrey: Bloomfield Publishers.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Community

The riots and looting in the UK has raised a number of issues. Many commentators seem to be jumping to conclusions about the cause and proposing solutions or penalties based on those assumptions.

One assumption is that these are people who are on the benefit so the solution or penalty is to remove their benefit. But wait what is this really saying? The implication that I get is that these people shouldn't be on the benefit because there is work out there. They are just too lazy to find it. This is a major generalisation. Some on the benefit may be making little effort to look for employment but there are a lot more who are and are not able to find work. It is easy to target those at the bottom of the heap and blame them for the situation that they find themselves. The other implication particularly of the proposed penalty is that taking it away will force these people to face up to their actions and become part of a working society. More likely, I suspect that the removal of the benefit will cause greater poverty and inequality possibly leading to further crime and ultimately prison where the law-abiding tax payer will continue to pay for their costs while the person continues to develop hatred and resentment for society. So if the rioters are beneficiaries, removing the benefit isn't going to resolve the situation. An alternative solution is required.

However, the evidence coming from the court cases is that a reasonable number of these rioters have jobs. The are not dependent on benefits to live but probably will be after sentence is passed. They are likely to lose their jobs and find it difficult to obtain new jobs. They have incurred a black mark on their character that is likely to put them in the ranks of the unemployed and possibly unemployable. So why did these supposedly respectable people decide to act so destructively against the rest of society?
The New Economics Foundation published an article headlined “London can't afford to ignore inequality any longer” (Whitehead 2011). Research seems to show that unequal societies have more riots and looting. If this perspective is true then society as a whole needs to address issues that lead to inequality. The Equality Trust has a lot to say on this issue backed by research.

Another article that caught my attention was in “The Independent” entitled “Caring costs – but so do riots” (Batmanghelidjh: 2011). The trust of this article is that “These rioters feel they don't actually belong to the community. For years, they’ve felt cut adrift from society.” This perspective says that because the rioters do not feel a part of the community they are able to be brutal against what seems to others to be their own community. They have lost any sense of responsibility for the community and society. Destroying what others might see as important is just a act coming from their frustration and sense of being disconnected.

Both of these articles suggest some underlying issues that may need to be addressed although like the argument to throw people of the benefits, these articles cover all the reasons why people joint the riots and looting. What they do point to is that we need to understand the ills in our society and address them.

But I want to remain a little with the idea of lose of identity with and in society and turn again to look at the focus of our economic system. I have frequently talked about the economic system needing to have a change of focus and put more central the needs of people and the environment. In the current economic climate, all the focus is going on reducing debt but the foundation of the economic system is the expansion of debt and the growth of the economy. As long as there is borrowing with interest, there is no way for the system to ever clear the debt. What we see with countries that are struggling with debt are packages designed to restructure their debt and not to reduce it.

There seems to be an assumption that every nation and economic unit can make a profit but the reality is that exports have to equal imports or production has to equal consumption. There isn't anything magical or difficult in this statement. It is simply that if export or production around the world exceeds imports or consumption then the system is producing for waste. Not surprisingly, the cost of the wastage has to covered in the cost of consumption which if we disallow borrowing means that we can even afford less of what is produced putting the system into a downward spiral of not being able to buy what is being produced.

The solution seems to be to borrow against future income. Ignoring interest for the moment, this means that we buy today's production based on income that we expect to get from tomorrow's production. For the loan to be repaid, that means that some of tomorrow's production must remain unpurchased or we must continue to borrow against future income from production. Add on interest to the equation and the amount of debt required to maintain consumption of today's production simply grows.

In his crash course in economics, Martenson argues that we are looking at exponential growth in debt that can only be satisfied if there is exponential growth in production. When this fails to be the case then we have to expect the system to collapse. Martenson also talks of an energy economy where he highlights the the growing amount of energy required to extract a unit of energy. He contends that some energy sources are simply uneconomical because we are consuming a unit of energy in order to extract a unit of energy but I will leave you to read or listen to his material.

How do we overcome the problems? Possibly through sustainable communities. Daly and Codd (1989) review some research which looks at the impact of export-led economies. As I write this, I realise that this is exactly what my household is. I am dependent on the income that I obtain from exporting my labour and production in order to live. The difference between me and the cases that Daly and Cobb refer to is that the export-led economies tend to deplete the resources that the society is dependent on for survival and for generating their export income. In other words, the economy is not sustainable.

How does this relate to the rioting and looting? Export-led economies is what we all live under and we are approaching the point where they are no longer sustainable. As Martenson argues, we are running out of resources that are cheap and efficiently obtained. We are depleting the resources that we need for survival.

All this sounds quite negative and it would seem that we should expect things to get worse rather than better. There is a solution and it focuses on sustainable communities. Daly and Cobb quote from Thomas Michael Power (1988) who says “development policy should concentrate on things people really want rather than some abstract description of the economic process. What do people really want? Power offers the following list of goals for local development policy: (1) the availability of satisfying and useful work for members of the community; (2) security for members of the community in access to biological and social necessities; (3) stability in the community; (4) access to the qualities that make life varied, stimulating, and satisfying; and (5) a thriving, vital community” (Daly and Cobb, 1989, p 135).

It would seem that a sense of belonging to a community and ensuring the survival of the community should be central to our economic planning. It is also crucial for ensuring that we do not have a repeat of the riots that the UK has experienced.

References

Batmanghelidjh, C. (2011, 9 August). Caring costs – but so do riots, The Independent. Retrieved 14 August, 2011, from http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/camila-batmanghelidjh-caring-costs-ndash-but-so-do-riots-2333991.html

Daly, H. E., & Cobb Jr., J. B. (1989). For the common good: Redirecting the economy towards community, the environment and a sustainable future. London: Green Print.

Equality Trust. Retrieved 14 August, 2011, from http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/

Martenson, C. (2006-2011). The Crash Course Retrieved July, 2011, from http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse

Power, T. M. (1988). The economic pursuit of quality. Armonk, NY: Sharp.

Whitehead, S. (2011, 9 August). London can’t afford to ignore inequality any longer. new economics foundation: a tumblelog Retrieved 14 August, 2011, from http://neweconomics.tumblr.com/post/8689858196/london-cant-afford-to-ignore-inequality-any-longer

Sunday, 7 August 2011

God's Blind Servant

Isaiah 42:14-25 has two portions. The first talks of God leading the blind along paths they had not known or had not thought possible (vv 14-17). Sawyer (1986) says “the second explains in truly Isaianic idiom what that blindness refers to (vv 18-25)” (p 68).

It seems to me that Isaiah isn't talking about the physically blind or about those that lack knowledge of his ways. He is clearly talking about people who believe they are God's people but who live in ways that God does not desire. They are blind to God's way and to the direction in which God seeks to lead his people.

If this is true then when God talks of leading the blind in paths that they thought were not possibly or they did not see then maybe we need to recognise the limitations of our own understanding. As I explore economics, the overriding thought is that our economic system is about restricting people and bringing them into bondage. It depends on money being available and binding people through debit.

If we look at creation, we see that God has created it with a lot of potential, beauty, and resources. The economic system should be about allowing people to contribute to the needs of creation in a way that isn't limited by some accounting for the exchange. The difficulty is that we have indoctrinated our society to the view that each individual must get a fair price for what they produce and that this is dictated by the supply of money.

If we take this Isaiah passage seriously then we need to recognise that God seeks a way that we cannot see and that we don't see as possible. If I believe God's way is one of meeting the needs of creation and each other then I need to act that way believing that in God's economy, he will meet my needs.

When I think of the cycling / triking journey around the UK and maybe further afield, I keep thinking in terms of how I might feed myself and cover accommodation costs. I also think in terms of the purpose; a photographic journey or a challenge to new economic ways. Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing to preach the good news. Am I prepared to trust that God will provide if this journey is really part of his plan?

When I went out for a ride with a friend on Monday evening, I reflected on the different purposes of our riding. My friend is out travel as far as possible as quickly as possible almost like I used to do when I was training for racing and sometimes still do. To some extent, this is the issue that I raise in Friday's (5 August 2011) cycling blog. At times, I see my riding as one of pilgrimage. A pilgrimage in which I explore God's creation and the way that He seeks us to live within it. Distance isn't the issue. Rather it is what can be learnt, shared, and given.

On my last ride (25 July 2011), I set my target as Oxford. Without the camera, I rode to get there in reasonable time. How would that journey have been different if I had taken time to stop and reflect, to interact with people and with God's creation? We are so interested in the goal that we have lost sight of the journey. Maybe we need to be less concerned about getting there and more concerned about what happens along the way.

Reference

Sawyer, J. F. A. (1986). Isaiah (Vol. 2). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.