Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Soteriology, Debt, and Faithful Witness: Four Theses for a Political Theology of Economic Democracy

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Soteriology, Debt, and Faithful Witness: Four Theses for a Political Theology of Economic Democracy

Article excerpt

How might we cultivate theological visions of a just and generous common life in which the flourishing of each is recognized as interdependent with the flourishing of all? This question is perennially before the church. However, amid rising material inequality and the concentration of power in the hands of the plutocratic few, and when the claim that there is no alternative to capitalism seems like common sense, the question takes on a particular hue. Envisioning a shared life of mutual flourishing necessitates challenging the power of money in shaping our common life. This is acutely important as we try to dis- cover just and generous ways of being alive shared between human and non-human life.

The power of money refers not only to the agency of those who control the means of credit, but also to how money and credit-debt relations are a frame of reference for imagining social, political, and divine-human relations. Challenging the power of money is a problem today in part because the very concepts and language we are furnished with in order to talk about our life together as producers and consumers is disenchanted and anemic, with moral, spiritual, and political questions routinely banished from economics as a discipline.1

Challenging capitalism is as much a semiotic task as it is a mate- rial one. Theological speech that accepts the terms and conditions laid upon it by modern economic thought-whether of the left or the right-will struggle to bring forth words of life. It is like trying to box with a punctured lung: one is out of breath and enfeebled before the fight has even begun. It is incumbent upon theology, as part of its own ressourcement and aggiomamento, to discover, or more accurately, rediscover ways of thinking and talking about our common life unbounded either by the mores of modern economics or by capitalism as an all-determining frame of reference. This is not the same as saying theology should rid itself of economic semantic registers, which is as undesirable as it is implausible. Any such attempt would her-ald a disincamate and gnostic attempt to speak theologically outside any actual form of life, which necessarily has an economic dimension. What follows are four theses, and commentary upon them, that are suggestive of how we might go about generating a critically constructive and theologically attuned vision of an earthly oikonomia within the contemporary, Western context.

Thesis 1: Envisioning a contemporary economics of mutual and ecological flourishing necessitates teasing out how Christian doctrines of God and soteriology legitimate oppressive conceptions of debt, and, at the same time, can help dismantle capitalism as an all-encompassing social imaginary to which there is no alternative.

We have lost the sense that the primal vision of salvation given in Exodus, picked up in the law and the prophets, and used in the Gospels to frame the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is liberation from debt slavery. Instead, we have made ourselves debtors to God and each other. Debt is now both the mechanism for achieving the good life and a key paradigm for understanding divine-human relations. Unless we unpick how the oikonomia of God differs from the political economy of capitalism we have little hope of challenging the structures of inequality and oppression that capitalism as both an economic system and a social imaginary sets in motion. For contemporary capitalism is built on the idea that debt is a means of salvation: financial debt and the globalized disembedded flow of credit money are posited as the means through which to achieve human fulfillment, however conceived and at whatever scale. The result is that nothing is priceless and what is sacred is profaned.

Whether we like it or not, economic exchange and debt relations are key semantic registers within Christian conceptions of salvation. The canonical structure of Genesis and Exodus in the ordering of scripture underscores the importance of liberation from debt slavery to a proper understanding of salvation. …

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