This is a series of posts trying to deal honestly with what is true in our world; and who has significant interests in us keeping a naive belief that what we’ve always known is somehow more healthy than other competing options.
All of the above is surrounding philosophical context for a Scriptural and traditional economic investigation into what is a really, truly normal system for the human race. Shane Claiborne, in his thoughts on the proper use of economic resources, brings certain assumptions with him. Drawing from his chapter title in 12 Marks of a New Monasticism, he assumes three things.
1) we should share our economic resources,
2) we should do so within community, and
3) this should be focused on the needy among us.
Why does Shane care about these things? Shane cares because of his commitment to letting himself be so deeply and intimately shaped by the Scriptures of the Christian faith that what he prior considered normal in many cases is discovered as abnormal or twisted or (to put it more bluntly) an anti-God force.
Economically speaking, what we have inherited as a “normal” structuring of American society has different building blocks that make the “foundation,” so to speak. Among them, the center of the system is the individual. To be considered productive, that individual must find a way to make money through whatever means possible (preferably within the bounds of law). If the individual has a family, the family functions as a collective individual of sorts; as the resources of the working individual exist for the good of that family unit. Therefore, what is considered “good” or “not good” is often held to the test of whether it supports the well-being of the individual or the modern American family unit. In this system, the money an individual makes is private information that should not be meddled in, the individual controls how much of their resources they disperse to the society at large (God forbid that any institution seek to take away that “right”), “charity” in society is an individual concern that is championed and propped up by individual donations, etc.
In this situation, I believe “church” may exist in name, but the “church” is in essence a collection of individuals who have agreed to stick together for a time and share a certain degree of funds and energy. If the needs of the church, however, infringe on the structure of what is “good” for the individual or the individual family unit, the church should expect to be rejected in favor of another church that fits what is “good” for that unit. Why? Because the health of the community isn’t what’s at stake ultimately, it’s the individual good determined by the individual. Increasingly in our society, this move often ultimately ends up in individuals standing outside community as the absence of relationship relieves the individual or family of accountability to others. Thus, attention to the “needs” (read: much more often comforts) of the individual trump a deep attention to the needs of the whole. Therefore the response to the ancient question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is obviously an emphatic “NO” if my brother’s needs infringe on the comfort of my life.
However, what is “normal” for the typical American is by no means necessarily “normal” in a Scriptural understanding of reality. To put it more bluntly, the Scriptures present a different vision, and where the American and Scriptural systems meet is no less than a clash of civilizations and worldviews. It is a testament to the power of the American ideology and propaganda machine that the American understanding (largely because it is propped up and disseminated every day in a million different innovative ways) is considered “normal.” And even more strikingly, the American system is so deeply embedded now that it is (naively and offensively) labeled as “Christian.” In order to bring this deep mistake to light, it is my challenge to spend some time calling it into question on Scriptural and Christian tradition bases.