Posted by: Dan | May 16, 2007

Christianity and Capitalism Part X: Sharing (a final appeal)

Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again… If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same? If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return… Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
~ Lk 6.30, 32-35a, 36.

[C]apitalism is an impeccably inclusive creed: it really doesn't care who it exploits. It is admirably egalitarian in its readiness to do down just about anyone. It is prepared to rub shoulders with any old victim, however unappetizing.
~ Terry Eagleton, After Theory, 19.

I know that I had stated that I was going to move on in this series to exploring “dependence/nonsensical vulnerability” as a key element of a Christian political economics that offers a genuine alternative to capitalism, but I could not resist one final comment on sharing as nonsensical charity.

Of all the biblical passages about sharing, few verses have shaped my understanding as much as the passage I quoted from Lk 6 (see also Mt 5.38-48). Within this passage, I believe that Jesus is describing precisely the form of nonsensical charity for which I have been advocating in my last few entries. Furthermore, I believe that the form of giving Jesus describes here is consistent with the call to giving that runs throughout the rest of the biblical texts. Hence, Lk 6 serves as an appropriate summation and manifesto regarding the form of giving that is to define the community of those who follow Jesus. Christians are called to give to everyone who begs from us, and lend expecting nothing in return. Full stop.

Unfortunately, it is exactly this form of giving that strikes us as nonsensical within the structures of capitalism. Capitalism teaches us to be much more pragmatic about how we give. Thus, for example, we only give to charities that provide us with tax breaks (who among us would even consider giving to a charity that is unregistered and could not give us a tax receipt?). Furthermore, if there is one type of person we are consistently told not to give to, it is those who beg from us on the street corner (I have heard innumerable arguments from social workers, and Christians, as to why giving our change to beggars is a bad thing — but what all these arguments come down to, one way or another, is that giving to beggars is probably an absolutely wasted investment). Capitalism teaches (1) not to give to everyone who begs from us; and (2) to only give after considering what is to be gained from our giving — i.e. to give expecting something in return.

However, I find that I cannot shake the words of Jesus in Lk 6, and so I find myself participating in nonsensical (not only non-pragmatic but even anti-pragmatic!) forms of charity. Jesus makes it clear that we are not to have any motive for giving other than the act of giving itself, and the desire to be like God our Father, whose giving is shockingly and (wastefully!) merciful. That the form of charity for which I have been advocating is generally not the form of charity embodied with the Christian community, suggests to me that we rarely take Jesus' words seriously.

Thus, continuing with the examples provided above, I would encourage Christians to give to all beggars, and I would encourage Christians who donate to charities to refuse the offer of tax receipts. And, ultimately, if we can't entirely shake the pragmatic outlook of our culture, and we are disturbed by the (seeming) fact that our giving does not seem to be doing any good, then I would suggest that the solution is not to stop giving, but to give more.

Two final point: first, at the beginning of this post, I juxtaposed Jesus' words in Lk 6 with a quote from Terry Eagleton about the inclusivity of capitalism. I created this juxtaposition in order to suggest that, just as capitalism doesn't care who it exploits, so also Christians should not care to whom they give. Only this radically inclusive form of giving will provide us with a genuine Christian alternative to the radically inclusive form of exploitation of capitalism.

Second, by subtitling this post “a final appeal,” I am noting that this series is itself a part of the begging that I think is to define the Christian community. What else can we do but beg our brothers and sisters in Christ to reread the Scriptures, to reexamine the contemporary situation, and to rethink what it means to be a member of the body of Christ?

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