Saturday, October 15, 2005

week 3 analysis

This week I focused my research on articles and studies that discuss an appropriate Christian response to economics issues. I suppose that means I will primarily be exploring question 4 – What is the task of Jesus-followers in response to this problem? Specifically, I am trying to explore how we should even begin answering that question. What principles, truths, values, etc., should we take as our starting point(s)? The sources I read mentioned three in particular.

1. The Trinity
One article in particular argued that the Trinitarian nature of the Christian faith provides us with a model and the necessary resources to make the market system function as it should. The contemporary economic paradigm explains “why and how humans are moved by the profit motive to use existing markets to achieve their individualistic aims and how this ‘egoistic’ pursuit results in the common good of feasible plenty.” However, the same paradigm finds it difficult to explain how self-interest should prompt people to do what is necessary to even things out. Thus the basic problem with this paradigm is its internal inconsistency. The Triune nature of Christianity, it is argued, provides the necessary basis to right this wrong, modeling “a system that puts radically different and independent agents into a positive and fruitful relationship.”

2. The Value of Individual Human Beings
Many Christian economists take as their starting point the value that Christianity places on individual human beings. Our economics system should reflect the fact that we affirm that all persons are created in God’s image and loved by God. A society’s vision of man shapes that society’s ethos, which determines its citizens’ economic motivation and habits.

The problem with both of these approaches is that they aim to reinforce a particular human economic construct – the free market system. I wouldn’t argue that this system be opposed completely, but it doesn’t seem that Christianity was ever meant to bolster existing economic (or political, i.e. Constantine) systems.

3. The Kingdom/kingship/reign of God
The last of the three I noticed was the most promising. I don’t want to oversimplify the whole thing (we certainly need more than one starting point), but we must reserve a key place in our thinking for the nature of the Kingdom Jesus’ instituted. I don’t have any specific thoughts on what that even means, but it seems the most promising place to start. What did Jesus’ have in mind when he talked about the “kingdom of God,” and how would he have us to handle economic issues as people who are connected to that kingdom?

I also have a couple of thoughts on what practices give rise to our problems (thinking of our class discussion on Thursday).

For one thing, we all want to find the best possible product for the lowest possible price. That’s why we love places like Wal-Mart and Costco—they provide us with large amounts of useful goods without us having to spend great amounts of money. This practice is an assumed aspect of good shopping. The problem, which I had never considered until I read some of Erin’s articles on Wal-Mart, is that this practice actually contributes to world poverty. By reducing the price of the items, companies lessen the value of the goods and pay suppliers less and less, which forces them to reduce their work force and find cheap labor elsewhere.

Another side issue that came up in my research this week was the contribution of population problems to economic disparity. A practice that comes to mind that may contribute to this problem is the assumption that we have a right to have as many kids as we want to have. When it comes to choosing how many kids to have, few Christians I know would base their decision on how many hungry children already live in our world.

Friday, October 14, 2005

week 3 resources

Here are my resources for the third week. The first three are the ones I recommend that you guys look at. I’ll provide analysis very soon. Sorry the links aren’t done right—I forgot the formula . . . Mike, could you email me an example of how to do the link thing? -- written from a Catholic perspective, this article surveys some of the key statements made by the Catholic Church over the last couple hundred years about economics and globalization. -- this is a pastoral letter sent out by the American bishops in 1986. It is very long and a bit old, but I would encourage you guys to scroll down through the letter and read some of the particular sections that grab your attention. -- argues for a Trinitarian model of Christian economic practice—in his words, “argues that faith in the Trinity provides the basic pattern for the market system–a system that puts radically different and independent agents into a positive and fruitful relationship.” Basically, he argues that the market system is intrinsically good, but that only the Christian faith creates the type of people who can make it work. Paul, I think you in particular might like this one. -- an introductory article for the Institute for Christian Economics (ICE), self-proclaimed supporters of conservativism and the free market. Highly dogmatic and reactionary, more than anything this is an example of the reductionist “Christian” thinking that idolizes the Bible but poorly understands how it should function within the church today. -- this article attempts to catalogue some of the factors that have led to world hunger. Not extremely well organized or deep, but it has some helpful nuggets here and there. -- entitled “The Busy Christian’s Guide to Catholic Social Teaching, this article is a catalogue of the major Catholic writings/statements on a Christian response to the world of economics. Helpful if you want a quick history of what the Catholic church has said, and it includes a nice timeline of economic happenings from 1770-1970. -- a somewhat interesting discussion of “religious right economics,” comparing the work of supposed Christian economics with the Bush administration . . . a great example of a terrible hermeneutic . . . evidence that we need to give serious thought to the way the Bible should inform our evaluation of economic decisions/involvement. -- examines the effect of globalization on rural areas . . . contains some helpful comments from WCOC, the Pope, and other influential people/groups. -- a statement from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, this is a sort of creed on “Christian Faith and Economics”. It mentions areas of agreement as well as areas where the various members have not yet reached complete unity. -- an address by an Anglican (Episcopalian) Bishop to a group within his denomination. His address is basically a review of Robert Kaplan’s book The Ends of the Earth – A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st Century. Contains helpful figures on the effect of population explosion . . . closing comments are good (though fairly simple and pointed specifically to the Anglican Church).

Monday, October 10, 2005

week 1 critiques

Comments for Erin...
I guess I'm still a little confused about how this whole process works. I'm assuming from the length of your descriptions of each article that this is your "weekly analysis." So am I supposed to look up each article and critique them, or are you going to summarize some of your major findings and we can critique that? Since your comments are more descriptive than analytical, I don't know how to offer much of a critique. Anyway, I was able to navigate fairly well through most of your sources, and they were very interesting. You have at least convinced me that any assessment of the U.S. Economic Puzzle must take considerable note of its central piece (Wal-Mart). Would it be possible for you to summarize some of the key arguments and what various “experts” have to say about them? Another thing our team seems to need is a clearer unifying "theme." Otherwise it will be difficult to determine what should be added to our wiki.

Comments for Justin...
Bro, the first thing I want to say is thanks for putting your heart into all this. You obviously care deeply about these issues, and we need to maintain that sense of passion. And I appreciate your bringing in somewhat of a unique source in The Great Gatsby. In terms of critique, some of your assumptions confuse me a bit. You speak of focusing on personal ability to make money as a bad thing, but at the same time you seem to think that individualism is a good idea. You back up this idea with the constituation...while the constitution may be important in answering the question, "How can we be faithful Americans?", it has less value in answering how we can be faithful disciples of Jesus. I suppose the problem seems to be that you assume the value of what you blame for the negative situation of our country's economic problems. If I have misred you, feel free to set me straight. 

Some of your statistics were very helpful...this info has my vote for being included in our wiki, although for now we should probably enter it in list form (rather than as a part of your overall plea in this entry). 

One of the things you mentioned were "relaxed social norms." What do you specifically have in mind, and how do you think that we as the church should approach this issue?

By the way, nice use of the word paltry. Thanks for the hard work man. Welcome to the group.