Monday, November 21, 2016

It tends to be the case that those who have get more, and those who don't have get less or nothing.

I am going to type out several passages from Walter Brueggmann's book The Bible Makes Sense because I think he gave a very good presentation of different ways to frame reality which we impose but which we are most often so accustomed to that we don't even understand we are doing that.  The first one is nearly ubiquitous, it is the common received wisdom the rule of thought that you are required to adhere to if you are going to be held to be a legitimate thinker worthy of listening to.  The Modern Industrial-Scientific model, if not adhered to will get you declared to have a case of intellectual cooties.  This framing is widely shared by all secularists and many who would consider themselves to be religious, even many who believe that the Bible frames their thinking.  I think, in that context, it is useful to remember that when the ultra-Mammonist George W. Bush was asked to name his favorite philosopher, he claimed it to be Jesus, the man who said to sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, who said if you had money to give it to someone who would not pay it back.  What really ruled his actions and his public career was definitely not that Jewish peasant and foremost advocate of an entirely different way of thinking.

The left, secular and much of the religious left,  which believes itself to be the polar opposite of  right-wing capitalism is saturated with this first framing of reality which, as Brueggmann points out, is pretty much guaranteed to produce the opposites of what the left exists to strive for.

The Modern-Industrial-Scientific Model

This model has emerged in the past several centuries and has been of decisive importance in shaping our public institutions.  It includes the notion that knowledge is power and, therefore, that life consists of acquiring enough knowledge to control and predict our world,  and thereby to secure our own lives against every danger and threat.

It also includes the notion that life is built on a reliable scheme of performance and reward.  Put in traditional language,  “Good people prosper, evil people suffer.”  Put in more contemporary language, it means that everyone and everything is valued for his or her usefulness.  Life is governed by a firm arrangement of effectiveness and pay-offs, whether in the marketplace, the home, or the church.  All relations take on a quid pro quo pattern of scratching one another's backs.  Such an understanding of reality places a high value on competence and achieving, on success and getting ahead.  Such a view yields a notion of person hood which says,  “I have value for what I do,”  or in its more decadent form,  “I have value for what I have.”  The human community consists of people getting what they earn and deserve.  Those who earn little and therefore deserve little do not figure;  in fact, for practical purposes they do not even exist.  Obviously,  such a view favors those who succeed and are competent.  It tends to be the case that those who have get more, and those who don't have get less or nothing.  

This model applies to kids in the Little League who never get to play as well as to the poor who never share in the riches of society.  such a model of course destroys those who are left out.  But it also destroys those who benefit, for finally no one can succeed enough, and so everyone is too anxious and too driven and finally alienated.  This model, which lies at the heart of the American perception of reality and which shapes most of our institutions, clearly resists the good news of the gospel,  for it is based on the assumption of that graciousness must be banished. 

As a result, this view puts a premium on what is knowable, manageable, and predictable.  Clearly it does not appreciate graciousness, for everything is earned.  It is not open to mystery,  for everything must be explained.  It has no space for transcendence because everything must be managed.  While much of our modern world is organized this way, and may of us are deeply into it when we least know it, such a model of reality is quite at variance with that of the Bible.

The entire book is worth reading and, as it says in the introduction, to use it as a curriculum for study.  He wrote it more than forty years ago but you can hear pretty much these same ideas in his more recent writings.   Considering that he used texts that are thousands of years old to develop these insights perhaps forty years is likely to add evidence to bolster the case instead of basically altering the conclusions.  

Update:  I was going to hold this until I'd posted all of excerpts, but it is so important, so timely and such a recent statement of the same thing I will post it now.

October 23, 2016 Faith Forum Walter Brueggemann

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