Saturday, 8 January 2011

Shalom Economics

I have been reading the study noted from my first Workshop session. The session was called "Re-imagining hope." The second session was on "Discovering shalom" (Anvil Trust 2010, pp 18-26). In reading and reflecting on this material, I have been challenged to rethink my economic emphasis.

When talking of a revised economic system, the emphasis was on Christian economics. Unfortunately, the word 'Christian' carries a lot of excess baggage in people's minds and you can be distracted from the emphasis that you really want to give. I have also talked of God's giving economy and of a people first economy. A giving economy has some of the central concepts of my thinking but is an incomplete description. People-first does shift the focus from a monetary emphasis but it ignores other elements such as the environment and the entirety of God's creation. Creation-first or environment-first are terms that carry too much baggage or could place emphasis in the wrong place. Shalom with its emphasis on 'wholeness' or 'completeness' is more inclusive. It also carries an emphasis that would see the economic focus shift from individual or national to global or cosmos.

The workshop notes say "The word shalom is usually translated 'peace'" (p 18). They contend a better translation is 'wholeness.' They say that "Shalom is created from the verbal form shalem, which has the sense of = 'to make something complete.' The words they use for the "root-meaning" of shalom are "'wholeness,' 'completeness,' 'intactness,' 'holistic,' ''integratedness,' 'harmony' - 'everything fitting perfectly together'" (p 18). It is this last phrase that is key in economic thinking. It isn't trading off one thing against another rather it is fitting all things together perfectly.

They go on to place emphasis on shalom as "a declaration of how things should be and it is an affirmation of how things should be" (p 19). It reaches "from the centre of God's purpose for both society and the cosmos" touching "the heart of the individual." They content that it is nothing short of full salvation since "it demands that all basic needs are met, that justice is established everywhere and that the human heart display integrity" (p 19).

Shalom economics therefore requires a focus on 'meeting basic needs,' establishing justice, and maintaining integrity. This isn't just for people but for all of the cosmos.

The needs of the environment, animal and plant life have to be kept in balance with the needs of people. As the Workshop authors say it is "to live in harmony with the God-given order" so that all things find their "full-divine potential" (p 22). Eden represents living in the context of or from "the undying source of life" (p 22). Man isn't the gardener, caretaker, or consumer imposing human order but rather part of creation living in harmony.

What are the implications of this style of thinking on economics? The emphasis vanishes for profit making or balancing the books and shifts to the building of harmony and the meeting of needs. It is no longer "how can we afford to meet this need>" It is shifting focus to meeting needs and going beyond that to enabling the finding of full potential for all of the cosmos. It is seeking to know what that potential is and seeing it blossom.

If we look at international conflicts, they would vanish in a shalom economy because there would be a desire to bring all nations to their full potential and to ensure that all had their needs meet. The environment would not be exploited but man would learn to live in harmony with it.

I often see where plants are reclaiming old building sites or the traces of human exploitation. Nature fights back to bring equilibrium. I believe the same applies to the climate. I don't believe that we have yet seen the full impact of nature fighting for survival. Rising sea levels and high temperatures may be insignificant signs of nature's fight for survival as man continues to destroy in order to maintain an emphasis on growth.

A sustainable economy may address some of the imbalance with nature but it is not the same as an economy that seeks to bring harmony while meeting the needs of all of the cosmos.

It may sound extreme but I believe humanity will be forced into submission or will self destruct unless humanity learns what it means to live in shalom.


Re-imagining hope - living at the edge of time. (2010). Workshop - because faith is a journey. Course Notes. Anvil Trust.

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