Politics and Justice

The link between the resistance to facing climate change today and the arguments for slavery in the 19th century

Today I participated in a Diocese of London study day which was very good. I will blog about Rowan Williams address later as it has really challenged me, and spoken right into some of the things we have been discussing in Moot.

One of the sessions I went to today, was to listen to a leader of AROCHA the Christian Ecological justice organisation.  In that talk, they talked of the work of Jean-Francois Mouhot.  This study makes the connection of the historic arguments that American Evangelical Christians made – both theological and economic arguments – about justifying and keeping slavery.  I cannot believe I have never thought of this before.  It is so true.  Always we can’t do it because X country won’t do it, and arguments that our capitalist economic system could not cope with it, and a refusal to see the biblical evidence of the call to stewardship.   As the Clapham Sect and William Wilberforce had to sustain a continued battle in the country and parliament – so we need to sustain a consistent approach to this issue as we face major biocide and climate change in our current times.

To listen to a podcast of the work of Jean-Francois Mouhot, click here.  I will upload a link here to the talk in London later on.  It is extremely scary when you think about the link between this form of American Evangelicalism and its unthinking and unquestioning allegiance to capitalist economics which has very little to do with the bible or the basis of Christianity. Just think for a minute about the Evangelical Christian campaign that thinks it wrong to offer health insurance to the poor.  The London Seminar also argued that one of the main reasons why dualism was such a problem in modernity, was because it had to make a separation between humanity and natural justice and the planet to justify slavery in the first place.  So we have struggled with dualism from the enlightenment onwards, because of the need to justify slavery which as many of you already know, was the device that enabled a surplus to be made through oppression, which was the beginning of global trade and capitalism as we know it.

So it is with then the theological issues and economic arguments today.  Even more reason that we promote deeply biblical theological arguments for facing climate change, as well as committing to raise our voices and votes in the political system.

POSTED 20.09.12 BY: ianmobsby | Comments (2)

Slaves to economic forces?

Therefore, although in Christ I have no hesitations about telling you about what your duty is, I am rather appealing to your love, being what I am, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for a child of mine, whose father I became while wearing these chains: I mean Onesimus. He was of no use to you before, but now he is useful both to you and to me. I am sending him back to you – that is to say, sending you my own heart. I should have liked to keep him with me, he could have been a substitute for you, to help me while I am in the chains that the gospel has brought me. However, I did not want to do anything without your consent; it would have been forcing your act of kindness, which should be spontaneous. I suppose you have been deprived of Onesimus for a time, merely so that you could have him back for ever, no longer as a slave, but something much better than a slave, a dear brother; especially dear to me, but how much more to you, both on the natural plane and in the Lord. So if you grand me any fellowship with yourself, welcome him as you would me; (…).

From Philemon 1:8-17

One of the best critique of capitalism remains Karl Marx’s work, and in particular “Das Kapital”, and although communism as it has been implemented failed to produce the expected results (USSR) or has been superseded (China, and now Cuba), its eschatological essence should – and this is obviously a very personal opinion – remain a source of inspiration, in particular to Christians. Again, Marxist theory should not be used to implement a similar economic system, but solely to remind us of the limits of capitalism.

One of Marx’s strongest contentions in his Theory of Commodity Fetishism is the idea that, in the capitalist system, workers get their worth from the product of their labour and how they relate to others depends on the current price of their output. As a result, how people relate and how they value themselves are not dictated by human relations but by relations between the relative values of products. By privatising output, we loose any scope for people in a group or in society to be free to relate humanly. In other words, we are slave to economic forces no one is fully in control of. Today we would probably add that people’s sense of value depends on what they can afford (hence taking a demand rather than supply approach), but then what people can afford depends on the value of their output, with only limited scope for credit, which is a short-term distortion. In the long term, we’ll assume that ceteris paribus: individual purchasing power = value of individual output.

The sense many in the society currently have that they are subject, or let’s call a spade a spade, slaves to economic forces seems true. The question then, and in particular as Christians, is: what should we do about it? Should we challenge the current order? Should we accept it? Is there anything we can even do?

Hinkelammert, a Costa Rica based German liberation theologian (and an unreconstructed Marxist), argues that St. Paul’s approach would be to recognise the existing political and economic forces as valid but not legitimate. He gives the example of Onesimus, a slave to Philemon. We all know that Paul tells slaves to obey their masters. Paul is not one to challenge the existing order it seems. However, Hinkelammert’s point is that Paul challenges Philemon to treat Onesimus as a fellow Christian brother, implicitly asking Philemon to give Onesimus his freedom. He does not challenge slavery, or the fact that Philemon owns Onesimus but implicitly confirms the validity of laws of ownership (of human beings in this case). He however challenges Philemon to give Onesimus his freedom because this is what a transformed Christian ought to do. Pauls reaffirm his authority as religious leader, and as such affirms that Onesimus is to be free if Philemon is any Christian.

Paul never calls for political change at the macroeconomic level, but for spiritual change at the individual level. Freedom, as given by Christ, is the realisation that only God’s power is legitimate, and is based in eschatological hope for freedom from the current powers that be. However, as of today, we are called to function within the realm of the existing structures and powers. Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

So should we just accept that we cannot change the current economic system? This is the wrong question to ask it seems. Rather the question we should ask ourselves is: how do we find freedom in our daily lives by making choices that uphold the current economic system as valid but not as legitimate? I would argue that an examen of our individual economic and political choices should help us discern ways in which we perpetuate a sinful system that is not legitimate in God’s eyes because it dehumanises people. The real challenge then is to give up a critique of others and start with holding ourselves and our sinfulness to account. Then through our conscious de-legitimisation will we be able to truly challenge the economic forces that hold us in slavery. Only then can real change happen as it did when a small sect of so-called Christians changed a whole empire, and eventually changed the whole world over the past two millennia.

POSTED 30.07.12 BY: Moot Archive | Comments Off on Slaves to economic forces?

Our economy is like a sick man in hospital

The economy these days does not look unlike a sick man in hospital, constantly needing attention, with doctors unsure of how to cure him and with his dependents not knowing whether his health will improve soon or continue to worsen. In particular, dependents (the majority of the population that has little to no say in how the economy is run) are increasingly frustrated at failed recovery attempts and fear the potential loss of their livelihoods. The doctors (economists and politicians) seem completely aloof and out of touch with their suffering, and the nurses (financial sector workers) plainly selfish and uncaring.

Imagine however that the dependents start discussing among themselves how they themselves can seek to address the situation directly as they have lost confidence in the hospital staff. They have agreed that they have four options, which are:

a. Take the sick man out of hospital, believing the very idea of a hospital is rotten and nothing ever good will come out of it;
b. Seek to have the existing staff sacked and hope the next team of doctors and nurses will act less selfishly and be more present. The rules by which the doctor and nurses abide would however not change;
c. Listen to non-accredited doctors with unproven experience in medicine but with great promises of healing through heterodox methods;
d. Continue to employ the existing staff but change the rules of how the hospital is run.

They ponder on each possibility. The first one, to take out the sick man out of hospital, or to do away with the market economy, would leave them in unknown territory, and with the danger that no good alternative can be set up in time to save peoples’ livelihoods. Are people really ready to go back to a solely self-sufficient agrarian economy with no means of exchange such as money?

The second one, which would include a change in the hospital staff, i.e. elect another government, is no long-term solution in itself. A change in government would not ensure that those in power seek the long-term welfare of voters as they are incentivised in such a way that their policies last as long as needed to be re-elected.

The third one, to listen to unproven gurus, is of course a possibility as our democracy should enable choice, but also a great risk that most of the population is not ready to take. A radical change in how we approach the economy is most likely to give a fatal shock to the hospital patient, and there would be no certainty of success in the long-term as unproven methods are exactly that… unproven.

The three solutions above would be faced with the same challenges our current approach to the economy is. For instance, how do you ensure that scarce resources (time, medicine, etc.) are split fairly between all patients? My guess is that the relative success of the market economy in comparison to other models introduced before is no mistake, but the result of a long and painful evolution from less perfect forms of economic markets. Lessons can be learnt and the evolution process continue towards an even less imperfect way for our economy to work.

These views are my own, but I remain convinced that individual behaviours, rather than how the economy works, should be the focus of activism and change in policy. Seeking to change radically how our economy functions is too big a task that would require much more time before any benefits can be reaped, and given that it would be a new and unproven approach, would heighten the risk of failure that could be avoided through intelligent evolution.

There are many unanswered questions. What sacrifices can people make, what are their actual needs? What behaviours are fair, and which ones are unfair? In particular, what are acceptable incentives and what are not, and how large they should be? How do we define success? What prohibitions and what punishments should be put in place to ensure that people behave towards the common good? Who should develop such policy to ensure there is no conflict of interest? How much freedom should individuals have when taking decisions? How do you ensure the freedom given to policy makers is commensurate with the level of trust that can be attributed to them?

The debate, then, should rather be about what behaviours are seen as leading to a fair outcome and which ones are not. Everyone will have different answers to that question, but I believe Christian precepts should help us inform our notion of “fair outcomes”. There is much research to be done until political and economic actors find a solution that is both practical and philosophically satisfying. The Church and Christians should certainly participate. The Good Samaritan, then, will be a listening and questioning one, one that doesn’t look for the right answers or easy solutions that are completely out of whack, but one that will seek first to fully understand the problem and ask the right questions.

POSTED 25.07.12 BY: Moot Archive | Comments (2)

Tax Injustice is a matter that needs to be acknowledged by the Churches

Tax is always a very difficult issue to talk about, because its personal. But in a time when huge cuts are being made in our benefits system caused by the greed and lack of prudence of the financial services industry requiring the biggest bailout and nationalisation (of the banks) in history, we also need to come back to a small matter of fairness.

Benefits affect the most vulnerable and ill in our society, and these groups are easy prey in our power-driven market society and democracy, (I personally hate the displacement of government policy to displace this at the so called ‘scroungers’ which is victimisation and the bullying rules of the playground).  Yes benefits need to looked at again (remembering people die when they can’t eat or afford to remain in housing).  BUT, the biggest area that really needs to be addressed is tax-justice.

How can it ever be right that the wealthy pay less tax because they can work the system and loop holes?  How can it be right that the Church does not speak out about this – because it might sound (socialist).  Well, I think this is one issue that the Church should be speaking out about and loudly.  The statistics in the UK are shocking.  Low to middle income earners in the UK pay the majority of the tax in the UK – because the richest pay as little as 1 to 2% by sending it abroad using loop holes that never seem to be closed (because parliament itself colludes with tax loop holes and injustice).

From a christian perspective, we are challenged to look at fairness and God’s preference for the poor with the idea of Jubilee and inclusion in the Hebrew Scriptures.  In Jubilee all debts and unfair advantages are required to be put right so that the slate is brought back to a sense of economic justice.  Just imagine if that was our situation now?

Granted, Government has not got this right – I remember the injustice of the raid on peoples pension contributions by the party I voted for which was utterly wrong.  But equally it is now time to get tough with tax avoiders (which are a great number of the rich to middle income earners).  If you are going to point the finger at the poor and the vulnerable – then there are three fingers pointing to the rich and the affluent who can afford tax advisors to create an immoral system that perpetuates privilege.  We hear a lot of talk from the Conservative Government critical of the ‘entitlement’ culture of the poor.  Such hypocrisy when you think of the actual culture of privilege where the poor cannot compete with access to education, opportunities, health care and so on…. We most definitively do not live in the UK in a meritocracy – but one that is still driven by a class-driven feudal system of ‘knowing your place’. The Church as Ekklesia (the Greek word for Church) was all about challenging privilege and exclusion.  The new Ekklesias included slaves, the poor, women and children all excluded from the power systems of patriarchy, unrestrained capitalism and Empire.

For me as a Christian in the 21st Century, the tax-injustice and violent defensiveness of those who think this is ok, is a toxic boil that needs to be burst – that reveals a nasty side to British Culture which is in great danger of entering a renewed neo-feudalism.  We remember that it was ironically the black death in the UK that allowed market forces to free workers from slavery to being paid properly for work from their feudal master overseers that led to the long march towards emancipation and the desire to limit the unjust consequences of an unrestrained market society.

According to Jonathan Bartley, Ekklesia and other writers – it is the Church who appear to be one of the organisations that do not want to face up to this.  Surely this is something that we as Christians and Church have a duty to be active about if we are going to be true to following Jesus Christ and Ekklesia if we seek to be authentic Christians? See the Ekklesia article here.

We the Church need to advocate for those less fortunate than ourselves to campaign for tax justice and a fair treatment of the poor and ill.  This is one of our big responsibilities.  For a good blog that faces the issues – do see Tax Research UK, which I find helpful.  Very interesting to see which big voices who are involved in world action on poverty and injustice seem to be somewhat silent on their tax justice responsibilities?

I long to be in a Church and a country that sees justice and fairness as important principles.  Where has the compassion gone.  I am still in a bit of trauma after sitting at a cafe last week where an old woman with an obvious severe mental health problem was shouted at by someone at the next table with such hate in their voice saying ‘get a job’.  How could she get a job?  She could hardly walk or even speak and was obviously very hungry.  It brought real tears and anger in me.  We are becoming a very dispassionate and unkind country, and I am not sure I want to live here if this continues.  What happened to fairness and owning our own responsibilities and kindness to those worse of than us?

POSTED 28.06.12 BY: ianmobsby | Comments Off on Tax Injustice is a matter that needs to be acknowledged by the Churches

SACRED ECONOMICS: An evening with Charles Eisenstein Thurs Jul 19th 7-9pm

Moot is proud and excited to be hosting a very exciting lecture by Charles Eisenstein on July 19. His book Sacred Ecconomics has this to say for itself:

Sacred Economics traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth.

Today, these trends have reached their extreme – but in the wake of their collapse, we may find great opportunity to transition to a more connected, ecological, and sustainable way of being.

Reserve your ticket here.

POSTED 12.06.12 BY: ianmobsby | Comments Off on SACRED ECONOMICS: An evening with Charles Eisenstein Thurs Jul 19th 7-9pm

Roundhead or Cavalier: Which are you?

In all that is going on with the Jubilee celebrations this year, I have been really struck by the questions raised in this BBC programme. There is a very real tension, as this documentary shows, between two very different sides of British or I should say English society and culture.  With all the challenges facing the UK in the years to come with massive debt, dwindling prospects and the great problems with the Euro and European Union, it is fascinating to reflect on what is going on in this bank holiday weekend.  I do often think the USA has Hollywood and we in the UK have the Monarchy. Do not get me wrong, there is much about the UK I really like – the importance of free speech, a sense of fairness, a desire for a better world and a willingness to play our part on the world stage…. but I wonder if sometimes we have problems facing the future and prefer nostalgically to look to the past.  I think the BBC in the programme touch something quite deep in our psyche at the moment.

For a link to the BBC information page see here.  The programme is repeated this wednesday.

POSTED 03.06.12 BY: ianmobsby | Comments (1)

Even the rain

This amazing film is out next Friday. Gabriel Garcia Bernal plays a film director trying to portray the injustices commited by Christopher Columbus, but blind to the same injustices blowing up around him and his crew in what fast becomes the now infamous Water War in Bolivia of 2000.

A preview screening is happening at the Venezualan Embassy this Wednesday at 7.30 – near Goodge St – tickets are a tenner or £8 concessions. Anyone want to come? I’ve just seen it but it’s so phenomenal I’m very up for going again. Get in touch with me or leave a comment here.

POSTED 11.05.12 BY: Moot Archive | Comments (1)

Justice and the London Mayoral Elections

As we approach the London Mayoral Elections, I would ask Mooters to reflect on the findings on the campaign group My Fair London.  London is fast becoming the most unequal City in London, which says a lot about many things including some blindness about poverty and injustice.  Rightly, My Fair London has been addressing the policy position of candidates, and I would encourage all Christians to consider their analysis.

Now more than ever we need a strong democracy to hold accountability of local and national government, particularly in the hard fought for areas of welfare and health for those less fortunate than ourselves.  So see the link above.

I also had their latest press briefing

Final Press Release – Boris Wont Sign

POSTED 30.04.12 BY: ianmobsby | Comments (1)

Good Friday: The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus

On this day Christians remember the trial, suffering and death of Jesus the Christ. There are many theories and approaches to understand what this death is about. The words of Jesus and later of Paul, indicate that his death was to do with challenging the very system that lies behind the order of life. The most common word in the New Testament for ‘world’ ‘Kosmos’ can be translated as ‘domination system’. So when Jesus stands before Pilot, the Roman Governor of Judea, (the Holy land) on trial for his life when he has done nothing wrong – his words which can sound pathetic in English – can be understood – as ‘I am not of of this domination system’ shows that Jesus is seeking to change the system that holds us and the universe in a form of tyranny and bondage, and Jesus believes his death is part of the need for change as God seeks to restore all things back into right relationship through love.

So on this day we followers of the way of Christ remember in sadness and awe, the intentions of our loving God, and the anguish and pain this caused. No one can say this better than my favourite Welsh poet, R S Thomas

Crucifixion by R S Thomas.
God’s fool, God’s jester
capering at his right hand
in torment, proving the fallacy
of the impassible, reminding
him of omnipotence’s limits.

I have seen the figure
on our human tree, burned
into it by thought’s lightning
and it writhed as I looked.

A god has no alternative
but himself. With what crown
plurality but with thorns?
Whose is the mirthless laughter
at the beloved irony
at his side? The universe over,
omniscience warns, the crosses
are being erected from such
material as is available
to remorse. What are the stars
but time’s fires going out
before ever the crucified
can be taken down?
there is only this one option
before me. Remembering
as one goes out into space,
on the way to the sun,
how dark it will grow,
I stare up into the darkness
of his countenance, knowing it
a reflection of the three days and nights
at the back of love’s looking –
glass even a god must spend.

Not the empty tomb
but the uninhabited
cross. Look long enough
and you will see the arms
put on leaves. Not a crown
of thorns, but a crown of flowers
haloing it, with a bird singing
as though perched on paradise’s threshold.

We have over-furnished
our faith. Our churches
are as limousines in the procession
towards heaven. But the verities
remain: a de-nuclearised
cross, uncontaminated
by our coinage; the chalice’s
ichor; and one crumb of bread
on the tongue for the bird-like
intelligence to be made tame by.

POSTED 06.04.12 BY: ianmobsby | Comments Off on Good Friday: The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus

Features of New Monasticism I – Belief as faithful action

Rightly people have started to ask me the question, what is new monasticism in our current UK context? To begin to answer this, I am going to start putting up blog postings coming out of the discussions I am involved with at the national CofE Advisory Council for Religious Communities and Diocesan Bishops that I was co-opted onto last year. We have been working hard on a proposal to assist the Church to discern, recognise and nurture New Monastic Communities as authentic ‘Acknowledged Religious Communities’. In this document, there is a section on features of new monasticism that I will be using in this blog for our reflection, to which people are more than welcome to respond in the comment section.

So we start with the focus on ‘belief as faithful action’, (you may want to listen to the current podcast entitled followers of Jesus ….. as it does relate to this subject to).

For Monks, Nuns and Friars – there has been the commitment to take very seriously, the stories of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. In these texts, Jesus gives a number of directions and commandments about faith in action. For Jesus it seems – faith is very much about doing – not just thinking. What we do says as much about who we really are. So Jesus’ commandment to Love God, love ourselves and love others – is the central teaching for a faith that leads to action. Also there is the calling to love your enemies, love your neighbour, and a strong call to non-violence. These callings then are very important to new monastics. As illustrated by St Pauls writing in Galatians 5:19-24 there is a strong commitment to the fruit of the Spirit around love, patience, humility in the place of anger, fear and pride.  So how we do community, how we live out and treat each other not just in ecclesial communities, but also how we relate to people has a huge focus in this model of church.

So for new monastics, life then is about belief as faithful action or what is called orthopraxis (right acting or doing). This is why New Monastics have a Rhythm of Life – of the balance of activity of worship, mission and community. So the Moot Community for example has aspirations, spiritual practices and postures which are about how we live as much as they are about what we believe. This is because new monastics believe strongly in what St Francis kept talking about – experience that leads to understanding. So why is this so important? Well as the cynical but truthful video below demonstrates (sorry for the expletives) is that the world is sick of people who call themselves Christians but do not act like they are followers of Jesus Christ. Rightly – the world is not happy with forms and expressions of Christianity that are oppressive or violent in orientation. So for New Monastics – it is about getting back to the basics. The calling to live with the God of love as the orientation of your life, and the struggle to live with gentleness, kindness and humility in a world dominated by power and the ego, and our increasingly post-christendom context.

I think the video below demonstrates this. It is uncomfortable to listen to, because something of what is being said is absolutely true. And for non-Americans – lets not be smug. These same issues are alive and well in the UK Church and beyond. My hope is that New Monasticism in all its smallness and fragility, can play its part in contributing to a more loving expression of church that seeks to follow Christ rather than act like it is God. In this way we hope that New Monastic Christians can be whole, balancing head, heart and wellbeing or rather Orthodoxy, Orthopraxis and Orthopathy and follow Christ so that we can grow into our potentials as human becomings, where discipleship then becomes a whole of life pursuit about living and doing that brings life to ourselves, to others and to the ecosphere. In my next blog, I will try to unpack what the three levels of aspirations, spiritual practices and postures represent. See the vid below! Any questions – do use the comments section.

POSTED 23.01.12 BY: ianmobsby | Comments (5)