Saturday, November 6, 2010

Capitalism and Eschatology: Part I Method

A Quick Review: This post is part of a dialogue/debate between Matthew Anderson and me that began when Matthew wrote a post entitled "Wallis versus Brooks: The Debate That Wasn't" in which he discussed the recent debate between Jim Wallis and Arthur Brooks at Wheaton. He noted the similarities between the two and suggested (quite rightly in my opinion) that Wallis' real problem is his underlying theological anthropology. I wrote a post in response entitled: "Capitalism, Socialism and Theological Anthropology" in which I commended the turn to theological anthropology but worried about the Utopian strand in Matthew's post. He then replied with: "Utopia and Capitalist Christianity" to which this post is a reply. The reason I want to keep this discussion going is because Matthew and I share a lot of common ground, especially with regard to our admiration for the theological anthropology of John Paul II, and I believe this common ground allows us to push the discussion further than most such debates do.

In his own defense in reply to my charge of Utopian traces in his thinking, Matthew says:
My worry is that inasmuch as capitalism takes its anthropological cues from an unnatural order (namely, humans under the domain of sin), it will ultimately undermine and work against the witness of the gospel through the Church. . .

Again, I am not equating capitalism and socialism. I am more interested in the question of whether capitalism is commensurate with Christianity, and how. Perhaps there’s a Barthian streak to my critique, but I want to maintain a healthy wariness of any system that ultimately comes in competition with an ethic that is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. My sense–and I posit this all quite tentatively–is that our economics needs to be eschatalogically oriented without immanentizing the eschaton. That probably opens me up to the Utopian critique, but it is a charge I might be willing to accept. Jerusalem may be the pattern, but I make no claims about who constructs it or how it is built.
There is so much to agree with here that to pick it apart may seem pedantic, but I think there are a couple of small problems that need to be identified. I think Matthew and I will end up in agreement if we talk this through to the end, especially if we think about how John Paul II treats marriage as offering some clues on how we should think about economics.

Matthew says that, although he does not want to immantize the eschaton (which is where Utopainism comes from), he does want to have an eschatologically oriented economics and avoid letting an "unnatural order" determine our economics. Here I agree completely with his goals but I suggest there is an unnecessary "either/or" at work. We need an economics that is rooted in creation, which takes sin into account, and which is eschatologically oriented as well.

If we look at the structure of John Paul II's theology of the body, we find that part one is built around the three words of Christ. In the first chapter on part one, he examines the response of Jesus to the Pharisees' question on divorce in Matthew 19 in which Jesus points them back to Genesis 1-2 (in the beginning it was not so). Jesus tells them that Moses gave them laws allowing divorce because of the hardness of your hearts (i.e. because this is a fallen world) yet Jesus affirms the Divine ideal as revealed in creation before the fall (for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh, Gen. 2:24).

The third chapter of part one focuses on Jesus' words to the Sadducees in Mark 12:18f where, in response to their attempt to trap him, he tells them that they know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God and that in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor give in marriage. Here Jesus looks forward to the final state in which our resurrected, spiritualized, divinized, glorified bodies will attain a higher state. While we will still be male or female, which is fundamental to our identities, we will no longer need to procreate and therefore will not marry. John Paul II examines Paul's teaching on the resurrection body in I Cor. 15 in some detail.

For John Paul II, marriage belongs to creation and to this fallen world, this plane of existence we now inhabit, but will be transcended in the eschaton. Yet the eschaton is by no means irrelevant to the Christian understanding of marriage in this life because what marriage points to - the full and perfect communion of persons - is what draws Christian life on toward its fulfillment.

The second chapter of part one is an Augustinian reflection on life in the tension of the "already-not yet" life in the Spirit lived by the Christian who is simultaneously immersed in this fallen and sinful world and also filled by the Spirit of God. John Paul II probes what it means to live as a person in the process of being redeemed in the midst of a fallen and sinful world.

Then, in the second part of the theology of the body, John Paul II meditates on Ephesians 5, in which the creational reality of marriage becomes an analogy of the eschatological destiny of the Church and we see that even though marriage as we know it with sex and procreation is not part of the eschaton what we might call "the creational intent or trajectory" of marriage is fulfilled in the eschaton. Ultimately, there is continuity in the form of good and better, prototype and finished product, potential and realization between the creation and the eschaton.

Now, with this as background, let me suggest that in economics we need to identify what is rooted in creation, what is perverted by sin, and what is promised as eschatological hope. But then, we need to go further and try to discern how what is given in creation is fulfilled in the eschaton. And then, a final step will still be necessary: that being to meditate upon how the eschatological fulfillment of the creational intent should affect the way Christians should think about economics today. The result will be that we identify a way of living in the tension of the battle between flesh and spirit in the already/not yet age between the first and second comings. This entails resisting both the danger I identified as so prevalent today, namely that of immanentizing the eschaton by buying the snake oil hawked by socialists who glibly assume that a federal program can take care of the sin problem, and the danger Matthew points to, namely that of holding a set of convictions about economics that are based only on this sinful order and therefore sub-Christian. The former is Wallis' temptation and the latter is Brooks' temptation.

Matthew and I agree, I think, that the goal is to have a properly formed philosophy of economics that is informed by creation, fall and redemption in the way that John Paul II's theological anthropology is so informed.

Since this post is getting long, I will postpone my discussion of how to follow this method to the next post.

1 comment:

mary said...

I am enjoying this discussion and look forward to the next posting. Thank you.