[I]n our world “necessity” and “realism” have become ways to hide the lack of moral imagination.
~ C. W. Mills, from his “Pagan Sermon to a Christian Clergy.”
I concluded my last post by arguing that our Christian identity should “lead us to develop a communal (i.e. political) economics of radical sharing and equally radical dependence.” However, before I begin to explore what exactly that might look like, I would like to take a step back and address one further preliminary issue.
In a bracketed aside in the last post, I suggested that Christianity should lead us to conclude that capitalism is not simply “the best of all the bad options we have.” Unfortunately this position seems to be precisely the position taken by most people (Christian or otherwise) in our society. Indeed, the general contemporary consensus about capitalism seems to be a slightly revised version of what Winston Churchill had to say about democracy: “[Capitalism] is the worst form of [economics], except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” The consensus seems to be that capitalism is not perfect — indeed, we realise that it is far from perfect in many ways — but the catch is that, on the ground (as opposed to on paper), it does so much better than all the other options. Therefore, given this seeming reality of our situation, it is argued that the best we can do is to pursue “capitalism with a human face.”
In sum, we are told that capitalism isn't perfect, but it's the best that we've got and it's here to stay — so let's make the best of it. Indeed, as Christians, it is our duty to make the best of it.
However, I would like to suggest that the pursuit of “capitalism with a human face” is nothing more than an effort to dress a wolf in sheep's clothing. Both “necessity” and “realism” lead us to conclude that this wolf is here to stay, so it's best if we just dress it in a way that makes us feel a little more comfortable in its presence.
That this has become the extent of our economic creativity as Christians suggests to me that we have become accustomed to living with a fatally deficient Christian imagination. When “realism” leads us to conclude that all we can do as Christians is dress wolves like sheep, then there is little or no hope that Christians will actually be a community that offers new life to the world. Consequently, we must learn to let the biblical narrative dictate what is realistic — and if we do this, then I suspect that we will discover that we are called to live as a people motivated by hope and not by necessity. Furthermore, we will discover that this hope is a hope that, rooted in a subversive memory of God's in-breaking into the world, transforms the present in ways that necessity can't even begin to, well, imagine.
Of course, there is nothing new in suggesting that we need to recover our Christian imagination. The opening quote from Mills was written in the 1960s and authors like Walter Brueggemann and Stanley Hauerwas have been talking about the importance of the Christian imagination for the last thirty years. Why then do we, as Christian communities, seem to still have no imagination? Well, I think the answer to the question can be found in another quote, which runs as follows:
What makes a subject hard to understand — if it's something significant and important — is not that before you can understand it you need to be specially trained in abstruse matters, but the contrast between understanding the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things which are most obvious may become the hardest of all to understand. What has to be overcome is a difficulty having to do with the will, rather than the intellect.
~ Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value.
What Wittgenstein teaches us, is that learning to imagine another way of living in this world may have less to do with our intellect and more to do with our will. That is to say, we may be able to begin to imagine another way of living in our minds, but we lack the will to actually embody that way of living in our daily lives, and so our imaginings never go very far. Simply put: we cannot imagine a Christian alternative to capitalism because we lack the will to begin the embodiment of that alternative.
Therefore, the crisis that we face is not only one of imagination, it is also one of willing. Christians in the West have become far too comfortable within the structures of capitalism (after all, the wolf prefers to eat people overseas and not the wonderful people in my neighbourhood — or so it seems) and, consequently, have imaginations that have run dry. We will begin to be able to imagine economic alternatives to capitalism when we begin to embody economic alternatives to capitalism. And it is one of those alternatives that I hope to begin to describe in my next post.