Monday, March 19, 2012

You're My Brother, You're My Sister

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 
Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

When did the all-guiding, moral-making Free Market work?

In 1492, when Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue and found himself what he thought were Indians? And enslaved them in efforts to find gold? And worked them to death until the population was a few percentage points what it was before?

Or when Cortes and his crew of marauders scampered through the Americas, wholesale slaughtering anyone who stood in his way of finding vast resources of gold, which would economically enrich his burgeoning capitalist country?

Or when the intercontinental slave trade was in full swing? It must have been then, because it brought tremendous ROI's to the traders, despite the fact that they lost a third of their "goods" on the sea route.

Or when the tribes and societies in eastern Africa captured and sold slaves from deeper within the continent?#

Or when the pious New Englanders made some pretty bucks using their ships for the trade? They were also beneficiaries of the capitalist system of chattel slavery. The free market seemed to work wonders for them...

Or when those working for Nike, Apple, WalMart, Target, or any number of fine contemporary capitalist corporations that are raking in billions of dollars are paid a couple dollars a day (if that) while chained to their desks?

Capitalism didn't start with Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. It started with Machiavelli's The Prince. The idea that to build and accumulate wealth through competition through any means was now accepted as a virtue.

This is not to say that communism - as practiced by states - is the solution or so much better. In efforts to throw off serfdom and capitalist systems of oligarchy and oppression, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro and others have turned to excessively violent force - sometimes committing outright genocide themselves, killing millions. And repressing, as authoritarians make their practice, any form of dissent by expulsion, criminalization,

This is also not to say that capitalism doesn't work. Obviously, it's worked quite well for a lot of people over time. And it may be argued that it's benefited the vast majority of individuals in both the US and the world.

But I don't buy that. Capitalism, at its core, is about the necessities of inequality. In order for it to work, some will get most, most will get some, others will get just enough to survive on - if they're lucky. Capitalism is about the fact that we are not all equals.

And I have nothing but embarrassment for my fellow Christians who would argue that we aren't all of equal value. That some people are worth more than others.

That kind of imperial thinking has crept deeply into the American church. And surprisingly, I see it mostly amongst contemporary Baptists. The same movement where members introduce themselves and greet others as Brother or Sister. The same meta-congregation that has refused a hierarchical institutional structure. The same one where church government tends to be a democracy within the congregational members.

This is the movement, however, in its White American incarnation, that has long had the largest association with slavery and Jim Crow. And now, in its most prominent form in the states (as the largest non-Catholic denomination), woman are not allowed to preach or share their gifts. And they are encouraged to strictly take homemaker's courses. In seminary.

Jerry Falwell, long before his political days, used his pulpit to preach against the evils of racial integration. In doing so, Falwell was also preaching against communism. Not so much because of the gulag. Nor because of the massacres or the repressions of free worship or free speech.

But because communism fundamentally teaches that we are all equal.

To Falwell, all people are equal as souls before God. But that's where equality ends. For him, being made in the likeness of God and being people ready for the salvation pitch (like the Africans that his church sent missionaries out to preach to and convert) did not equate, in the

To Falwell, a capitalist Christian who saw his faith as an activity of marketing, branding and broadening his reach - marking his city on a map at the beginning of his pastoralship like a salesman marks out his territory - equality is wrong because equality breaks down the art of capitalism and the structure he had learned, as a young man and the son of a businessman, to be essentially moral.

Even though it wasn't.

And isn't.

Ban The Teletubbies
Ban the Teletubbies - DidbyGraham on Flickr

#Note that while Africa also practiced slavery, their forms of slavery were not comparable to the European slavery in the New World. It was more like the classical slavery of ancient Greece or Mesopotamia. Which is to say it was bad, but not effing inhumane. So the Africans who who engaged in this slave trade - for personal gain - were doing something immoral for profit. But they were misled, to put it succinctly. Some argue that they wouldn't have done it if they had an idea


  1. Good post, however you have a couple of unfinished sentences in it... Also, I'd argue that most get very little if anything at all from the capitalist system.
    While I won't argue for communism I am vehemently opposed to capitalism.

    1. couple of unfinished sentences

      Curse my ADD and habit of writing on the bus.

      I'm probably more for participatory economics (as, praecon, or The Economics of Happiness) than anything else.

  2. Marla Abe12:00 PM

    Interesting that a new variety of slavery in Africa was introduced by the Muslims, following Arabian practices. The Europeans entered into this much later.

    1. Right. But it still wasn't the type of racialized slavery that it became in the New World, was it?

  3. Hey Jason. I've been thinking about this issue, forgot how you introduced this on FB before I absolved you :)

    Anyhow, I've been thinking that capitalism has been an answer to failed community and that capitalism in some ways fails communities.

    On a relational level communities that do not have systems of capitalism are forced to depend on each other, get along, respect each other, etc for their very survival depends on it at times.

    Capitalism has afforded us to take off any responsibilities we may have had toward our communities and this is particularly exemplified with the Wal-Mart-ification of American consumption. We're blind to how our consumption hurts or blesses others. I don't know if this is unique to capitalism but it seems like capitalism certainly endorses, enables and profits from blind consumption that frees consumers from the needs and responsibilities of community.

    1. Absolutely, Rana!

      Capitalism, I'm finding, is about the individual and - at most - the extended family. But even then, like in that tremendous family business movie, The Godfather, it warps the idea of family and estranges them from community.

    2. Jason, think about the political/ economic phrase the Protestant Work Ethic, the historical context that birthed it, possibly a religious settler colonialism veiled in Freedom of Religion? I don't know but I see a pattern here with Capitalism.

    3. That's such a term ripe for the pickings, isn't it? So many implications.

      One being the open contempt for "lazy" Catholics.
      Another being that, with this as a justification, one could see how the American myth of "Hard Work Equals Success" was started.
      Another is how the continents first Protestants didn't know the first thing about work and nearly all died off because they couldn't farm and weren't used to ANY form of manual labor.

      I'm sure there's a lot more. I remember liking this term a lot, as it gave me a sense of pride about my own identity, in the same sort of way that I enjoyed Western Civil and the US's showings in the Olympics...

      That should say a bit, eh?

  4. And ironically, I find that the church has followed a similar model. Rather than *being* the church, church is something AMericans have managed to outsource as well and consume as we please in a detached, distant way. No commitments to each other, living life as individuals, not being in community, not living as parts of the same body of Christ.

    1. I hope you don't mind that I jump into the middle of the conversation. I do believe there was in time in America where people did have a string sense of community and family, though it wasn't completely inclusive. I'm not sure what exactly what to attribute it to but I think part of it had to do with how we interacted with the world. Since then I think we have expanded our world view greatly and knowledge. But family and community connections didn't grow at the same rate.

  5. Jasdye- I do agree that the Machiavellian man does represent the bad, evil side of man. I disagree in the blaming of a system or a tool. And that is what capitalism is. What causes systems to fail is not the system, but the people who work the system.


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