One of the ideas that struck me from the lecture last Wednesday was the analysis that scarcity was not the fundamental problem of humanity. I’ve long been dissatisfied with capitalism as the model for our society because its values and goals seem so at odds with the values I believe would make a better society. So to say that scarcity is not the problem is to undermine the philosophy of capitalism, which is predicated on scarcity to create demand and therefore increase productivity and growth. Jim Wallis, in “Rediscovering Values” which I am just reading, says that we do not live with scarcity but with God’s abundance. Wells said that scarcity or otherwise is not even relevant – whether we have much or little, fundamentally poverty is in our isolation, and the solution lies in relationships.
At another point in the lecture, Wells talked about the difference between contract and covenant, where contracts have their place, but you don’t want to make a contract with someone to hold your hand when you die. Rather, you want that person to be someone you love. In this analysis, relationships can’t be bundled up and commodified. I interpret Wells’ analysis to suggest that capitalism and its search for wealth and economic growth will not alleviate poverty. Rather, community and relationships will. And, in a happy tie-in with my own research, these are two of the intrinsic goals and self transcendent values identified by Common Cause as being associated with engagement with issues such as climate change and global poverty.
I can’t get along with the idea that religion and politics don’t mix. I’m convinced that my political and social beliefs are inextricably bound up in my religious beliefs. Not to say that only Christians share my politics, but that, for me, I can’t be a Christian any other way. However, I’d like to untangle those connections, and one of the reasons for starting this blog was to create the space to do so. So far, I think I’ve only skirted round the issue, but Harvest Festival has given me a theological concept to make a start.
Most obviously, the Harvest Festival is about thanksgiving for the harvest safely gathered in. This means it carries with it an element of doubt that there might not have been a harvest or not safely gathered. Here in urban Liverpool, there isn’t a great deal of gathering in going on! But where it does happen, the experience seems to be one of abundance. Any of my friends who have a harvest of any kind from garden or allotment have social media feeds full of freezing, jamming and chutney making. There is too much to deal with all at once. Even my limited harvesting is one of abundance – gathering blackberries with my kids from the edges of the local park. We had contributed nothing to the welfare of these bushes, but the hedgerows were dripping with berries. I have similar thoughts in the spring when the flowering cherry trees are in bloom. The blossom is so beautiful and so abundant. But it lasts only a few days before it droops then browns and falls. So much creative energy, so much beauty, and so fleeting before it disappears. It seems so wasteful, so profligate. This is the nature of God’s provision, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.
Jim Wallis (Rediscovering Values, Hodder, 2010) suggests this understanding of the abundant provision of God challenges the market’s fear of scarcity. The capitalist economy rests on creating demand and stoking our inadequacies and insecurities in order to sell us more stuff. In the face of the abundance of a loving God, demand dissipates. Wallis writes “the first commandment of The Market, ‘There is never enough,’ must be replaced by the dictum of God’s economy; namely, there is enough, if we share it”. This is the challenge to us, to share what we have, for the benefit of all instead of the individualist pursuits driven by the market. A society built around sharing the abundance of God with one another without an endless seeking after material wealth might even shatter our capitalist economy.