Monday, November 28, 2005

week 9 reading analysis

Here are a few comments on the reading for the week. I found this book fascinating (it was my favorite so far). I will follow the standard quote-comment layout.

1 – “Cultures are arenas in which different ways of articulating the world come into conflict and alliance. . . . Meaning is always a social production, a human practice; and because different meanings can be ascribed to the same thing, meaning is always the site and the result of struggle” (x,xi). There are obviously a lot of philosophical assumptions here that I don’t have the space or ability to discuss well, but aside from this there is clearly much truth in this statement. We as the church must learn to talk about ourselves as an alternative “culture,” a way of seeing the world that doesn’t have to fit itself into existing categories, that doesn’t have to share the assumptions of other cultures. Our task is in part to create meaning for people, to help them see reality from God’s perspective and align with who he is and what he is doing.

2 – “The culture industry has depoliticized the working class – limited its horizon to political and economic goals that could be realized within the oppressive and exploitative framework of capitalist society. . . . The work of the culture industry is to arrest and imprison our cultural and political imaginations, thus making it increasingly impossible to think outside the prevailing structures of power” (28,29). This is so prevalent in the church! Every time I talk to someone about politics or economic issues they assume that we aren’t allowed to think out of the bounds of the present system. As mentioned above, our task is to equip and train people to resist “the culture industry,” offering real, creative alternatives to the tired ways of dealing with the problems in the world today.

3 – “By supplying the means for the satisfaction of certain needs, capitalism is able to prevent the formation of more fundamental desires” (29). I was thinking about this one in connection with our inclusion of capitalism as one of the factors that has led to our current economic problems. It pretty much speaks for itself.

4 – “Modernism’s self-image – an exclusive and excluding cultural practice – disguises the fact that modernism’s autonomy as a cultural practice . . . is dependent on the very market economy it pretends to despise” (42). This, too, I found intriguing, although I don’t have a lot to add by way of comment.

5 – “[Hegemony] produces a situation in which the interests of one powerful section of society are ‘universalized’ as the interests of the society as a whole. In this sense, hegemony is used to suggest a society in which, despite oppression and exploitation, there is a high degree of ‘consensus,’ a society in which subordinate groups and classes appear to actively support and subscribe to values, ideals, objectives, cultural and political meanings, which ‘incorporate’ them into the prevailing structures of power” (49). Along the same lines as 2, this quote helped me understand why people react the way they do when presented with real alternatives in the real of socio-political identities. We as the church are expected to underwrite liberal democracy and the free market system, systems that, while supposedly upholding equality and the possibility of success for anyone, often end up oppressing and exploiting the very people they supposedly aim to assist.

6 – “Culture is no longer ideological, disguising the economic activities of capitalist society; it is itself an economic activity, perhaps the most important economic activity of all” (65). To be honest, I don’t really understand yet what this quote means, but I do find it interesting and I get the sense that it is important. Maybe someone out there can help me get it.

7 – “National borders are becoming less and less important as transnational corporations, existing everywhere and nowhere, do business in a world economy” (107). On the one hand, this presents the positive result of the demise of nationalism. While it arguably replace it with something just as harmful, it would be nice if Americans released the grip of the “American” identity being primary, with its attendant allegiances and assumptions. However, Storey later presents the view that globalization is really more like Americanization – where everyone drinks coke, eats at mcdonald’s, and so on. He writes, “In this scenario globalization is the successful global imposition of Americanization, in which the economic success of US capitalism is underpinned by the ideological work that its commodities supposedly do in effectively destroying indigenous cultures and imposing an American way of life on ‘local’ populations” (109). While he points out the flaws in thinking about globalization in this way, this view is still popular, particularly among many of the people in the churches where we minister. This flawed but popular view of globalization reinforces the nationalism that should rightly be put to sleep by globalization. All that to say, our task still involves helping Christians see “Christian” as a legitimate alternative socio-political identity.

"I believe those were my thoughts; I hope I've crystallized them for you." (Brian Reagan)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

week 9 analysis

I’m going to again focus on what may go into the wiki rather than directly commenting on the reading (and yes, part of the reason is that I didn't do a whole lot of it).

Here is my proposed final answer to the question: Why ought Jesus-followers be involved? I have tried to keep things relatively simple and very clear, and I have included Scripture references where appropriate. Let me know if there is anything I need to add or remove. If a person came to our site who wasn’t quite sure if we should indeed be involved, would this information help them think in the right directions (and, hopefully, convince them)? If not, why not?

*God has always given his people economic responsibilities. From her inception Israel was commanded to be a society who cared for people in need, both Israelites and non-Israelites (Deuteronomy 15.1-11; Exodus 22.21-27; 23-6-12). During the days of the monarchy, the ideal king was one who would look after the poor and needy within the kingdom (Psalm 72). Especially notable are the prophets, who called Israel to embody God’s love and justice in their economic practices (1 Kings 21; Jeremiah 22.13-17; Micah 3.9-12; Isaiah 3.16-26; Amos 4.1-3; and many more).

*Jesus places economic demands on his disciples. He called all of his disciples to abandon the pursuit of wealth and instead trust God to provide what is needed (Matthew 6.11,19-34; 13.22) and taught that it was easier for poor people to follow him than for those with lots of money (Mark 10.17-31; Luke 7.20,24). He also placed a demand on his people to care for the poor and needy (Matthew 25.31-46). The bottom line is that it is impossible to confess Jesus as King and not have that affect the way we handle our financial resources (see also Luke 4.18-19).

*The NT church developed distinct economic policies and practices. To name just a few, special care was offered to those who couldn’t provide for themselves (Acts 4.34-35; 2 Corinthians 7.13-15), economic sharing was an integral aspect of their life together (Acts 2.44-45; 4.32), and economically-driven favoritism was strongly condemned (James 2.1-13). Everyone was expected to work in order to contribute to the needs of the community (2 Thessalonians 3.6-12), even to the point that ignoring the needs of the poor was considered sub-Christian behavior (1 John 3.16-20).

*Money is an unavoidable aspect of life in our world. Since it is at least partially true that “money makes the world go round,” it is impossible for us to ignore economic issues. Paul’s instruction to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” necessarily involves the way we spend our money (Col 3.17). We have to buy, sell, shop, save, and so on, so as followers of Jesus it is our responsibility to do so in a way that honors him.

I still haven’t gotten to develop my answer to the “what should we do” question, but here are some thoughts that I will be developing and working through. I welcome any suggestions that you may have.

*Refuse to be seduced and driven by consumerism, materialism, and capitalism.
*Develop spending and saving habits based on the teaching of Jesus. (for instance, refuse to support companies who engage in child labor overseas).
*Develop business goals and practices based on the nature of the kingdom of God.
*Develop and implement ways to provide for the needs of the poor within our churches.
*Practice ‘economic sharing’ within smaller groups of Christians.
*Support holistic ministries in poorer parts of the world.

As you can see, many of them are very general, so I may develop the specific subpoints and then do away with the general headings.