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On the Possibility of Resisting Capitalism

In recent posts there have been some good questions raised about the nature of Christian social critique, particularly of capitalism and how authentic theological action can take place in the face of the capitalist order.  I’ve argued on the one hand that Christians should be ideologically opposed to capitalism on theological grounds.  I’ve likewise argued that all such oppositions to the capitalist order occur within the context of capitalism.  None of us critiques from outside, but always from within the hegemony of global capitalism.  The question this raises regards what kind of authentic theological action is able to open up new vistas of liberation and hope.  How can the Kingdom break into the capitalist hegemony?

This is clearly a question that should be pondered and practiced in many different venues and in many different ways.  While I’ve argued that there is no way to overthrow capitalism or extract ourselves from it, that should not, however mean that genuine resistance, liberation, and hope is not possible or actable-on in the world.  What we cannot do is come up with a theory of another totalized system with which to replace capitalism.  We cannot do this for two reasons.  First, it would take much to make plausible the idea that another global economic framework could ever overcome the capitalist order.  Secondly, and more important theologically, is that the logic of the Christian gospel does not lend itself to any sort of totalizing economic framework which humans could autonomously construct.  All totalized systems of economics are susceptible to the critique of the interrupting Word of God.

One of the ways in which I think an authentic mode of theological action is embodied is within the practices of monasticism, particularly the vow of stability.  In vowing to stay in one place, monastics (and the “new monastics”) create a space in which forms of life can be cultivated, that, at least in some aspects are free from capitalist discipline.  While not a total answer (there can be no total answers) to the capitalist problematic, a community who takes it upon themselves to deny themselves the kinds of mobility and “options” at least is taking on one crucial way of attacking the pervasiveness of capitalist discipline.  This is, of course merely one way in which theological action which opens up experiences of liberation from the capitalist hegemony.  What other modes of theological action would folks put forth?

10 Comments

  1. Geoff Smith wrote:

    Get rich and destroy the whole system by force.

    Become aware of the system, become aware of the fact that the system is opposed to Christ’s way, and then continue living life in said system but based on a Jesus shaped economics wherein individuals and communities learn to suffer so that the other may be whole in Christ and satisfied in God.

    I guess some ways to implement that would involve explaining to others that the present way things are is very obviously in opposition to the God of the gospel, even in America. We could then cease to shy away from economical language when speaking of the sanctification of individuals and the community. We could speak in as spectacular terms as possible of God’s eschatological hospitality and then seek to live in hospitable ways in our churches.

    We could also discuss what it mean to be responsible for others and use Paul’s principles. “Stop stealing and work to help those in need” and “he who doesn’t work doesn’t eat.” In other words, those than can are responsible to tend to the needs of others, those in the community that won’t do not participate in the giving. Such responsibility for the wellbeing of others is a stark contrast, even within the system of capitalism, to the American way of simply getting what you want even if it hurts the other and dishonors the creator of the other.

    I have a difficult time coming up with concrete applications because I’m a college student who works at 2 churches and a school that still has to work 40 hours a week in the corporate world to fund myself. So I have a very difficult time thinking of ways to participate less as my participation in the world of cutthroat capitalism seems to fund my capacity to participate in the church and her work.

    Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  2. Danny wrote:

    The vow of stability I am interested in. If we are associating stability with immobility than I can think of a few biblical figures who are quite unstable. So who these days can practice the vow of stability? Even having a car would make this problematic. I would actually suggest that blogging would constitute a major impediment to the achievement of such a virtue.

    If I recall correctly early church monasticism would be entirely compromised if society at large took an interest in it, otherwise what would be the point. So is the monasticism you are calling for meant for everyone or for the ‘true church’. I grew up as a Pentecostal, which I think is still a pretty cool approach to Christianity (in a specific sense), and heard frequently that this expression of Christianity constituted the true Church becomes they accepted prophecy, the speaks of tongues and their interpretation. Of course Christian fundamentalism suggested the same thing about the five fundamentals, as did the Restoration movement in the 19th Century. Now the Hauerwasian branch is saying that Christianity now has the opportunity to be true-Christianity in a post-Christian America. Monastic folks have been saying the same things for centuries now. Of course, this is what leads to denominations and new Christian sects.

    I suppose I am not seeing a necessary connection between mobility, having options and capitalism. Of course, there can and often is a connection, but there need not be. Also, I am wondering in what way capitalism is resisted by cloisterism. No doubt, a cloistered life is most likely a stable one, but I do not understand the relation between separation and resistance. Actually, I have the impression that becoming too separate is to acknowledge a certain resignation over the status of this world. This separation has a certain coping spiritually that accompanies it. However, I would be all about forming a Christian community that does not view resistance to the evils of this world as suggesting a co-opting of Christian identity for a conception of justice exterior to it. I would suggests working with secular processes it entirely different than working through secular processes (for some reason the two are now conflated).

    For what its worth, I think significant change can happen here and now and I believe capitalism can to some degree be resisted by means other than the new monasticism. There are legions of examples of radical resistance that actually have suceeded to some degree.

    I suppose, of course, it boils-down to ones conception of the world or their doctrine of creation. Overall the church has been quite good to me and I have had great experiences in the world outside of the church.

    Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  3. Danny wrote:

    I apologize about some of the typos

    Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    This is tangentially related to this post but concerns “new monasticism.” I am a proponent of traditional religious orders as they have existed and developed in the Church since the Desert Fathers. The witness provided by these holy men and women is a real force in my own life. While the exact shape of their discipline may not be generalizable in a direct way, the fruit that traditional monasticism has provided to the entire body of Christ throughout history ought to be beyond dispute. My concern with the “new monasticism” is that in my exposure to it, it doesn’t really constitute a special mode of life but rather the way all Christians ought to be living in general. True monasticism has historically involved rigorous ascetical discipline at its core. I think it does a disservice both to the witness of historical monasticism as well as to the message of how in general, Christians ought to live in the world to call it “monasticism,” as if “old monasticism” is some how outdated. In my view, more old monasticism is precisely what is needed. Of course, this is not to belittle these attempts to restore Christian community and life together to our world. They are certainly admirable. I’m not super familiar with the phenomenon, so if someone has a different perspective, I’d be happy to hear it.

    Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 5:18 pm | Permalink
  5. scott wrote:

    I think you are right to emphasize the practice of placed-ness as enabling resistance to capitalism. Recovering (conceptually and practically) the significance of rootedness in place is closely bound up with resisting not just the “mobility” of capitalism but also its “speed” – in other words, I agree with you that such new monastic practices help us think divine space and time in their discontinuities with the space and time of capitalism.

    Sunday, March 2, 2008 at 6:56 am | Permalink
  6. John Santic wrote:

    I think a discipline of simplicity and generosity can be a way to shake the capitalist discipline. For complexity of life is a marker of the capitalist way. The frenetic pace that is thrust upon us in this system is one that often spreads us too thin to be present to others.

    Generosity will subvert the fuel of the capitalist impulse, which is greed. With a practice of letting go, or holding “things” loosely in one’s hand, comes a freedom that enables openness to ‘other’. It places value on those that are (people) over and above things that are (material).

    Sunday, March 2, 2008 at 7:24 am | Permalink
  7. Dave Belcher wrote:

    Halden,

    while the sentiment of the last paragraph is perhaps necessary–and admirable–I would point to Rowan Williams’ dialectic of sorts in *silence and honey cakes* where monastic communities (this is highly significant for his argument) exist in a constant tension of “staying” and “fleeing.” And the “fleeing” cannot be reduced to a mystical, spiritual, and “individual” ascent or escape: it is a going-to the neighbor.

    Hill,

    I was a bit confused by your comment, so excuse me if I misinterpret what you’re saying here (and please correct me–because I might be hearing you say exactly the opposite of what you’re saying, but I am a little unclear). I think we should be leary to “prescribe” monasticism as a universal form of Christian spiritual life for Christian communities (to “generalize” ascetic discipline, that is)…[and I can't tell if you are saying something similar to this as well Halden]…? That may not be precisely what you want to say, again, but I do think it is necessary to point out that spiritual orders (and here I am certainly not saying anything new to you here) are a means of taking on forms of life necessary and beneficial to the wider body that is not an option, or available option, for every member of the body of Christ. Even within these “called out” communities, though, some mixture of “stability” and “instability” is necessary to remind us that we are all of us called out into the world for the life of the world, even if some folks feel called to deep spiritual contemplation to prepare and build up the wider body for the pilgrimage.

    I really believe that the Church must be united in praxis (this is what it really means to be “one body” — not at some institutional level), and yet that the praxis local bodies take must be singular, that is, caught up in a response to the neighbors (the ones we see, as Kierkegaard says) in all of our singular contexts…not leastwise because the “other,” the “neighbor” to whom we are called to respond (to whom we are respon-sible) is absolutely singular. Okay. That’s enough of my two cents for now. Peace

    dave b

    Sunday, March 2, 2008 at 8:55 am | Permalink
  8. Hill wrote:

    Sorry I tend to ramble in these comments, Dave. My only point is that I’m wary of calling any intentional form of Christian community “monasticism.” From what I can tell, the kinds of practices that many of the so-called “new monastic” communities look more like the sorts of things to which all Christians ought to aspire. I just don’t want to dilute the traditional understanding of monasticism, which, as you point out, is not something to which all Christians are called nor could all Christians manage it.

    Sunday, March 2, 2008 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  9. Dave Belcher wrote:

    Thanks for that Hill…I thought I might have been mishearing you–and sorry for my “bad ears”! I think this is absolutely right. I think “intentional communities” in Christian guise almost always tend toward this kind of universality, or obfuscation of the singularity of missional encounter. Thanks again.

    Sunday, March 2, 2008 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    Thanks to all for their comments, sorry I haven’t had time to engage them all. This is a lot of good constructive interaction.

    Sunday, March 2, 2008 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

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